Dipping into the silver stream: Thanks to high grades and loose enforcement ore theft a booming industry in Cobalt – by Douglas Baldwin (CIM Magazine – September/October 2016)


This is an excerpt from Douglas Baldwin’s new book, “Cobalt: Canada’s Forgotten Silver Boom Town”. Click here to order book: http://www.cobaltboomtown.com/#!shop/vu6uk

During the first few years of the silver mining rush in Cobalt, Ontario, mine owners had a laid-back approach to loss prevention. With claim to so much high-grade ore, they freely gave samples of silver to visitors. Mine workers were also not searched at the end of the day and it was easy for the men to slip pieces of silver into their pockets.

The local newspaper, the Nugget, estimated that $1 million worth of high-grade silver had been stolen in the first five years of the Cobalt mining camp. Although several arrests were made at the time, it was almost impossible to obtain a conviction. A mine manager had to swear the stolen ore came from his mine, but since high-grade silver was consistently pure at each project it was impossible to identify what ore came from which mine.

The thieves had to be caught red-handed to be successfully prosecuted. Most “high-graders,” as they were called, were either acquitted or given light sentences.

Prior to the discovery of silver in Cobalt in 1903, Ontario had not been a precious metal-producing province and there were few specific laws to protect a mining company’s private property, i.e. its ore. As the number of high-grade ore thefts mounted, authorities sought a solution to the problem.

In April 1908, John Cartwright, the attorney general of Ontario, wrote to federal justice minister Allen Aylesworth regarding the situation, and in June Cartwright suggested amending the Criminal Code to require those in possession of silver to have proof of ownership, but the federal government took no action.

Then in December 1909, there was a high-profile robbery at the Nova Scotia Mining Company’s mine in the Cobalt camp. One man, a go-between for the robbers, admitted to having taken 17 trips in the previous few months to a small private smelter in Toronto, each time carrying 45 kilograms (kg) of ore.
The thieves received only a small fine because the mine owner could not swear the ore found in the thieves’ possession was his.

For the rest of this article, click here: http://www.cim.org/en/Publications-and-Technical-Resources/Publications/CIM-Magazine/2016/September/mining-lore/Dipping-into-the-silver-stream.aspx