A small town in northern Ontario, Cobalt is one of the Tri-Towns, and it's had the most spectacular fall from grace of the bunch.
In 1903, silver and cobalt (hence the name) were discovered here in great abundance. The story is that a blacksmith threw a hammer at a red fox hanging around his forge, missed the fox and hit silver instead. Nearly overnight, as the saying goes, the town went from sleepy little hamlet to great bustling huge get-rich-quick mining town. There were huge amounts of money made here. From Stephen Leacock:
"...presently young Fizzlechip, who had been a teller in Mullin's Bank and that
everybody had thought a worthless jackass before, came back from the Cobalt country with a fortune, and loafed around in the Mariposa House in English khaki and a horizontal hat, drunk all the time, and everybody holding him up as an example of what it was possible to do if you tried."
--Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, by Stephen Leacock
Of course, the boom ran out eventually, and most people went away. The town was left criss-crossed and riddled with abandoned mine tunnels. Records-keeping wasn't a priority. Every now and then someone -- usually a kid -- would wander into one of them and never come out. And then there was The World's Biggest Pothole.
Highway 11 used to go right through Cobalt -- wound right through it just like a snake trying to make a point about flexibility -- and on to Haileybury and New Liskeard. That was before the more direct route was built that went straight through to New Liskeard; the section that went through Cobalt was renamed 11B, "The Scenic Route," and fooled few.
Anyway, the Pothole. One day, 11B just collapsed right in the middle of town. The
polite word was "subsidence", but no one used that but the Reeve. The hole was
something like 60 feet deep; I don't know how far across it was. The mining tunnels had taken their revenge something fierce. Bus drives through town now took an extra ten or fifteen minutes through us, and included some decidedly rural areas, as we navigated the already-rivaling-San-Francisco-in-their-windiness streets of Cobalt without The Highway.
This, at least, was something to look at in Cobalt. I don't want to be mean, but there really wasn't much. There was a mineral museum there -- the display of florescent materials its high point -- and then a selection of The World's Biggest Pothole T-shirts. Other than that there was the Sears outlet, the post office, a few taverns and the CIBC that held the mortgage on
the first house my parents bought. (It was in Temagami, but the CIBC was my parents' bank and Cobalt its closest branch.)
Cobalt is trying to make itself a tourist attraction, and for all I know may be doing quite well; I haven't been back in more than ten years. But I remember that in high school, when everyone who wasn't from the bustling metropoli of Haileybury and New Liskeard was made fun of, no one bothered picking on Cobalt. You didn't mock the dead.