Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

Cobalt: the Colour, the Mineral, and the Town

This post is in response to questions from my readers.

[“…my readers.” What? All of a sudden I’m Ann Landers? Sheesh.]

Any way…

Barb Pyett asked, “Is cobalt a mineral as well as a colour and a town?”

Short answer: Yes.

Longer answer? This blog post! And while we’re at it, I’ll answer Deb over at I am, Therefore I Write. She asked me to post a map of where Cobalt is situated, relative to the Arctic. Deb? Your wish is my command.


Click here and you’ll be transported to the main drag of Cobalt. To the cartographers among you, Cobalt’s GPS coordinates are (more or less) 2 degrees north of the 49th Parallel and 19 degrees south of the Arctic Circle.

It all began back in 1903. Two railway workers, Mr. McKinley and Mr. Darragh trod through the woods adjacent to the right-of-way near Long Lake. They were looking for timber to use as railway ties. Instead, they found “cobalt bloom” on the face of an outcrop. They staked their claim, arranged for the proper assays and the rest, as they say, is history.

Pink erythrite (aka cobalt arsenate) or “cobalt bloom” is the weathering by-product of the mineral cobalt. It is an “indicator” mineral. The prospectors knew that cobalt and silver are often found together in these parts.

Wire silver and pink erythrite - also known as cobalt bloom.

Wire silver and pink erythrite – also known as “cobalt bloom.”

However! Mix some aluminum in with cobalt oxide and you get the pigment, Cobalt Blue.


Classic Cobalt Blue – click the image for the source.

For the tons and tons and TONS of cobalt that were found and that remain to be found in these parts, it’s interesting to note that cobaltite crystals are very, very rare from the Cobalt mine camp. Those that are found are very, very small. We haven’t found any yet, ourselves. Which is saying something considering the hundreds of hours spent traversing the mine dumps.

Until we find a local specimen, we’ll have to make do with this cobaltite crystal from Sweden.

A 5.0 mm crystal of Cobaltite from Sweden. Click on the link for more info on Mindat.

A 5.0 mm crystal of Cobaltite from Sweden. Click on the link for more info on Mindat.

OK, so that’s the science portion taken care of. On to the naming of the town site.

As you will recall, Messrs McKinley and Darragh hit pay dirt near Long Lake and the building site of the new railroad. They sent samples of their discovery off for assay.

A more colourful account of the discovery of the Cobalt Silver Mine Camp is attributed to Fred LaRose. Monsieur LaRose worked as a blacksmith for the railroad. Legend has it he threw a hammer at a pesky fox that happened by the forge one day. The hammer struck a glancing blow on the outcrop and, lo and behold, Fred found silver.

Actually, there was no fox. But Fred did dabble in prospecting in his free time. About a month after McKinley and Darragh made their find, Fred also discovered a pink stain on a rock. He thought he found copper. But further investigations by the geology department in Toronto determined that Fred found nickel.

It’s time to introduce Willet G. Miller the Ontario government geologist on duty during the late summer of 1903.  Miller paid a visit to the mine camp to investigate the LaRose find.

Miller found that LaRose had exposed four veins. Three of the veins contained massive native silver including, as he reported, chunks “as large as stove lids or cannon balls.” The pink colour and mistakenly-identified nickel showing was cobalt bloom. [source]

Willet J. Miller, Ontario's first Provincial Geologist and the man who named the town of Cobalt. He has a Sam Elliott thing going on, ya think?

Willet J. Miller, Ontario’s first Provincial Geologist and the man who named the town of Cobalt.
He has a Sam Elliott thing going on, ya think?

Miller returned to the site the following year and continued his geological survey of the area. Apparently, he didn’t care for the “prosaic” name Long Lake. When he crafted a sign for the site of the new train terminal, it read, Cobalt Station, in keeping with the remarkable bounty of silver and cobalt ore.

Categories: It's a Hobby, Mineral Collecting

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

27 replies

  1. I see St Patrick and St James prefer opposite sides of town, eh? That cobalt bloom runs the gamut to me, looking either like someone’s nasty cold, or a really cool piece of jewelry….I am thinking a ring.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the backstory on your new home. I checked that map location. I thought it was interesting that you guys are quite a bit north of “North Lake.” Cobalt sounds better than Long Lake, or, perhaps, North North Lake.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Maggie. I feel not as confounded now knowing that Toronto came into view on the map rather quickly, as well as the northern edge of Michigan! I bet my daughter would love to be you. She has a Geology degree, working with the USGS but in Hydrology right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. And that’s my trivia fix for the day. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As the wife of a confirmed “rock head”, I appreciate the info. I wonder how many discoveries were made when someone threw something at a rock formation ?? Legend or not…it is fascinating. ☺

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think I knew that about your hubby – interesting! You more than some will at least be familiar with the jargon.

      Fascinating – yes! I’ve been reading as much as I can find on the history of the place – after Cobalt, the prospectors moved a couple hours north to find gold – several accounts start with “… the prospector accidentally slipped on some moss and revealed ribbons of gold…”

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I always find your accompanying photos of rocks really interesting and this one is no exception. The cobalt bloom reminds me of a cross between an alien life form and a highly magnified virus bug. What I always find amazing from these early stories is that these guys actually knew (or suspected) what they were looking at.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make a good point Joanne – as far as I can tell from my reading, the men (and one or two women, I hasten to add) like LaRose and McKinley and Darragh had no formal training. Some prospectors went on to take mining courses, but most just spent there days in the bush sniffing out mineral occurrences.


  7. Well isn’t that nifty! I have a girlfriend who loves cobalt blue. SO much. Anyway, I didn’t know any of that, so thanks fer learnin me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks Maggie for your thorough post allowing us to see where you are now living and hearing about the history of Cobalt. I love the name. Thanks for the mention too! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  9. That is one awesome color. I had no idea what cobalt really looked like. I love the history behind things.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Interesting as always! “Cobalt Bloom” (Bluem?) would make a good name for a rock band. Heh. And yes, Miller is rocking the Sam Elliott stare-down. How are you aware of Sam Elliott? (What am I saying?? But go ahead and answer, if you dare.) I’ve always loved what artists call cobalt blue… it’s otherworldly, isn’t it?


    • Ain’t he just the handsomest? And the voice! grrrrrrrrrrrr. gimme some o’ that! To answer (or rather sidestep) your question, how can you NOT be aware of Sammy boy?

      If I had a million dollars (or two or twelve) I’d build a micro-brewery up here and label it Cobalt Bloom with a plain, metallic cobalt blue can.

      Liked by 1 person

      • LOL, well, yeah.. my s-i-l photoshopped a tie-dye t-shirted in-his-prime-Sam into our Christmas family photo one year.. and — man, you’ve got a great idea there!! Shoot, that really IS a great idea. Do it!! Borrow $!!



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