By Ian Ross
The community that bills itself as ‘Ontario’s most historic town’ now has a national designation to prove it. Politicians, local history buffs and business people plan to build a slew of heritage tourism developments over the years to transform the former silver rush mining town of Cobalt into the Dawson City, Yukon of the east.
The Town of Cobalt was notified in May that the historic mining camp, set to celebrate its centennial in 2003, was awarded national historic site status. The boundaries of the designation include the town of 2,000 and parts of Coleman Township.
Now it is up to a steering committee chaired by Dan Cleroux, the Tri-Town and District Chamber of Commerce president, to figure out how to work on the next steps in regenerating tourism using the Cobalt heritage trail as a focal point.
A Parks Canada regional director will provide some guidance on how to proceed in developing a feasibility and business plan to apply for government heritage funding.
Among its immediate goals is a plan to unveil a plaque next summer to mark the designation. Tourism has replaced mining as the town’s main economic driver, with only two operating mills still in existence since the price of silver dropped in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“We get people by the busloads and our museum has never been busier,” says Cleroux, who works as vice-president and manager of SMC, a Cobalt mineral processing plant of precious metals.
The town was the site of the first Ontario Provincial Police detachment, is home of the Northern Miner newspaper, and boasts a popular military, firefighters and mining museum with a downtown walking tour.
The Cobalt silver strike in 1903 helped paved the way for the development for what is now the Ontario Northland Railway.
Among ideas discussed locally is an interpretative centre, common at most national historic sites, and strong consideration given towards preservation of historical buildings such as the Fraser House Hotel.
“We’re very hopeful that this designation will generate funding to dress up the downtown core, in the hopes of enticing business people to get into crafts and tourism type things,” says Reg Holdsworth, president of the newly formed Cobalt Historical Society. www.nt.net/cobalt