Relive Temiskaming's Glory Days in Art & Architecture

Temiskaming was once one of the most important and lucrative mining centres in the world. It was a rugged frontier where enterprising young men made quick fortunes. As the wealth of the community grew, so, too, did its cultural attractions, becoming known for a wide variety of theatre and architecture.

Two of Temiskaming Shores’ communities, Cobalt and Haileybury, proudly display the scars and splendour wrought by their mining heritage. In some ways, the former still has the authentic hardscrabble identity of a blue collar community, with modest homes and remnants of mining life on full display (including head frames and deep scars in cliff faces from blasting). The latter town showcases the lavish lifestyles of the mine owners, who used their wealth to create architectural gems that persisted long after they left town for their next prospect.

Cobalt- Caitlin Carpenter
Here, in Northeastern Ontario, learning about our history is the full sensory experience of actually travelling in the footsteps of generations past from all walks of life. Both of these communities are compact, and ideal for exploring by bike or on foot. After a couple days of exploring Temiskaming and its mining heritage, you’ll come away with a greater appreciation for the entrepreneurial zeal, back breaking work and community spirit that harnessed the resources to put the region on the global map.

Cobalt: Resilience and Authenticity

Welcome to ‘Ontario’s Most Historic Town!’ People from across North America flocked to this Temiskaming community in the early twentieth century as the town rose to become one of the largest silver mining operations in the world (producing 460 million ounces of silver), using old-fashioned methods and technologies, such as wheelbarrows, handpicks, dynamite, as well as laying the foundation for modern mining technologies. A bustling community sprung up, with celebrities, prime ministers and artists reveling in Cobalt’s reputation as a cultural centre for Northern Ontario. Today, the community keeps its authentic, unpretentious feel and a community pride in the mining district, which is a National Historic Site.

Cobalt bunker -carpenter
Start your tour by parking alongside the
Bunker Museum. The building itself speaks to the values and challenges of living in a rural Northern Ontario community. This sturdy and unadorned Royal Exchange Building was designed with cement to be the first 100% fireproof building in 1910. This proved a wise decision, given the effect of fires on local communities in the early twentieth century.

Stepping inside the Bunker Museum, you will be greeted by one of the friendly volunteers who can take you on a tour of the 20,000 artifacts in their collection. Many of these were donated by Jim Jones, a local collector and WWII veteran. A room, that is a particular visitor favourite, displays dozens of uniforms from military personnel from around the globe. Some are so rare that other, larger museums, have tried to poach a few of the uniforms for their own collection, to no avail.

Cobalt Bunker Museum - carpenter
These treasured artifacts make the Bunker Museum the only international war museum in Canada. While some museums display artifacts from Canadian soldiers and their allies, the philosophy here is that they share the story of the soldier, rather than the country or ideology. Thus, you can see pieces of Nazi uniforms, as well as a uniform from Cold War USSR, which was smuggled piece-by-piece in the mail to Jim Jones from a Russian acquaintance. Other notable pieces include a prayer book that saved the life of Jim’s brother when it stopped a bullet from hitting his heart and the anchor, bell and flag from the HMCS Cobalt Corvette. A particular treat for youth and the young at heart is the chance to ride in the restored Bren Gun carrier for $20 a person.

Just down the street from the Bunker Museum, you’ll see the bright blue sign of the Cobalt Mining Museum. Learn about the hardscrabble life of a Cobalt Camp miner and their families through newspaper articles, videos, pictures and artifacts, including the world’s largest silver displays. The museum runs an above ground mining tour, as well as an underground tour of a real mining adit and shaft - both of these tours are an hour long. You can also pick up a map of the Heritage Silver Trail, a 20-minute driving tour of mine sites in the area.

Cobalt strip- Carpenter
On the same street as the two museums, you’ll find the
Classic Theatre, a restored 1926 theatre. At one time, there were several theatres and operas in Cobalt, a testament to its reputation as a cultural centre in Ontario’s north. Now, the Classic is the only remaining theatre from Ontario’s silver boom. Before planning a trip to Cobalt, be sure to peruse the upcoming music and drama shows.

Across the street from the theatre stands a towering mine head frame, just as it would have looked in the 1920s. Head down toward Cobalt Lake, taking in the photogenic scene of modest, but brightly coloured, homes dotting the shore, the railway tracks leading to the old Right of Way headframe, and the unmistakable water tower rising in the distance. You’ll also note the Cobalt Railway Station (designed by prominent Canadian architect John M. Lyle), which was once a stop on the six days a week, year-round Northlander that ran between Toronto and Cochrane.

Look Out Point to Cobalts Right-of-Way Mine. Tours Available
Look Out Point to Cobalts Right-of-Way Mine. Tours Available!

 Art has always been a part of Cobalt’s history: Famous artists have captured mining and Northern life here, including Franklin Carmichael’s famous painting: Houses, Cobalt. Today, you can enjoy several colourful murals chronicling Cobalt’s rich heritage, including one directly across from the Railway Station and one on the side of the Firefighter’s Museum. For another view, head to the LaRose Bridge, which provides a great spot for a photo of the town and lake.

Cobalt - Carpenter

Haileybury: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

While Cobalt provides visitors a true feeling of the life of an everyday miner, Haileybury provides a taste of the finer things in life. Even the view in Haileybury is first class. As you descend the hill into Haileybury, you are gifted with an inspiring view of Lake Temiskaming, its forested islands and the verdant hills of Quebec on the far shore. Architecture lovers are spoiled on the quiet streets of Haileybury with unexpected gems, such as the majestic courthouse and Église Sainte-Croix, as well as street after street of charming historic homes.

Haileybury - Carpenter
In town, you can keep an eye out for a plaque noting the Hardy Boys author,
Leslie McFarlane (aka Franklin Dixon), was a famous resident here. On Farr Street, stop by the Town of Temiskaming Shores offices, which houses the small, but worthwhile, Temiskaming Art Gallery with rotating exhibits by local and international artists.
Haileybury Heritage Museum - Carpenter
Another small but mighty attraction is the
Haileybury Heritage Museum, which you can’t miss once you spot the Ontario Northland railway car and tug boat out front. The museum is home to the restored streetcar (once part of a passenger transit system that connected New Liskeard, Cobalt and Haileybury, and one of 87 street cars that housed the newly homeless families after the Great Fire of 1922). Here, you will find local stories and glories, such as the fact Haileybury was home to the hockey team that became the Montreal Canadiens.

Take a stroll along the waterfront pathway that passes the waterfront pool, waterslide and marina, and enjoy views of the many beautiful waterfront homes running in both directions. In the distance, you can’t miss the gleam of the largest home in Canada, demonstrating that Haileybury’s days of attracting impressive homes for the wealthy is not over.

Haileybury Marina - carpenter
Haileybury was where the mining magnates of the Temiskaming boom built their homes. In fact, Haileybury was once home to the most millionaires in Canada. ‘Millionaire’s Alley,’ along Lakeshore Road, was one of the only few streets in Haileybury to escape the carnage of the
Great Fire of 1922. This inferno was rated one of the 10 worst disasters in Canadian history, and burned over 300,000 acres of town and forest. Millionaire’s Alley, then, offers a romantic glimpse into life of the boom years for these fortunate and savvy businessmen. A great way to see these homes is to walk or bike along the protected path, the Stato trail, that runs between the road and the lake.

Where to Stay: President’s Suites

What better way to appreciate Temiskaming’s heyday as one of Ontario’s most economically and culturally vibrant communities than to live the life of a local mining magnate? The President’s Suites in Haileybury provides luxurious and comfortable accommodations in three stand-alone historic houses, as well as three apartments in the Villa, which was the majestic home of Arthur Ferland, a mining entrepreneur.

Presidents Suites - Carpenter
Built in 1906, this home is the architectural star of ‘Millionaire’s Alley,’ a lakefront street of stately homes once owned by the rising stars of the resources industries. Each of the suites seamlessly blends such period features as wooden floors and sturdy original window frames with contemporary amenities travellers appreciate: a kitchenette, an immaculate modern bathroom, and a spacious, comfy bed with a heated comforter. In addition to a fridge stocked with yoghurt, a tupperware filled with house mix for spelt pancakes, and fruit, you’ll find warm, homemade bread delivered to your suite door each morning. This is the life!

The prime room, in this writer’s opinion, is the Guertin Suite. Its top floor location provides unparalleled views of the deep blue waters of Lake Temiskaming. As you relax in your penthouse suite, you can imagine you are a self-made business tycoon from the early twentieth century. Except, now you have a TV and a gas fireplace burning in the background.

Presidents Suites2 - Carpenter
The friendly owner of The President’s Suites, Nicole Guertin, has an extensive knowledge of local history, as well as natural and cultural attractions, based on years serving as a tourism consultant in Northern Ontario. She is happy to share her expertise and passion for the heritage of Haileybury and area. She can also provide an
app produced by Le Centre culturel ARTEM that gives several driving and walking tours of nearby communities around themes of history, agriculture and mining life.

For those travelling with a group, such as a team building corporate excursion, Nicole and her partner, Jocelyn, can organize dramatic murder mystery-type role playing historical evenings as a fun way for guests to learn about the region’s unique characters and past. They also own the small Farr Island in Lake Temiskaming that can be used for special events, or guests can simply borrow a kayak to paddle out for a picnic or a pirate scavenger hunt.

For anyone who doubts Northern Ontario can deliver true luxury, The President’s Suites will certainly provide a first-hand experience to change their mind. 

About Caitlin Carpenter

Caitlin Carpenter runs Days Out Ontario, a trip planning website and travel blog. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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