[Cobalt Silver Boom] The hammer and the fox – by Charlie Angus and Brit Griffin (Northern Miner – January 27, 2003)


There’s a story about the discovery of silver in northern Ontario, and this is how it goes: When the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway (T&NO) line from North Bay to Haileybury and New Liskeard was being completed, it had to pass through a rugged section of the Canadian Shield around the area known as Long Lake. Fred LaRose was a blacksmith hired to work this section. One day in late August 1903, he was working at his forge and a fox suddenly appeared.

Startled, LaRose threw a hammer at the creature. The hammer missed and bounced off an outcropping rock. When LaRose went to retrieve the hammer, he realized that the rock was a vein of metal that turned out to be pure silver.

In all probability, LaRose didn’t throw a hammer and there wasn’t a fox, and although he did discover a massive vein of silver, at the time, he thought it was copper. Nor was LaRose the first to make this discovery. Two other railway workers, James McKinley and Ernest Darragh, had discovered silver just south of the same spot a month before.

Such are the facts, but the story of the hammer and the fox found a place in the popular history. It was repeated all over the world by men enthralled by the casual simplicity of it all. This was the era of the great gold rushes. While LaRose was labouring over the forge, the great drama of the Klondike was winding down.

The Klondike was the pinnacle of a strong counter-cultural yearning that had been unleashed in the California gold rush of 1849. The California rush created a myth that incited thousands of men to leave the comforts of civilization and wander the far frontiers in search of mineral wealth.

Tales of the sourdoughs and the forty-niners were spread in penny novels and poems, and by word-of-mouth. They celebrated the accidental and championed the nobodies.

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