“There’s something absolutely beguiling about these great mineral rushes,” Angus says.
There were the cockroach races that saw miners betting as much as a $1,000 on the outcome. There was the day vaudeville performer Daisy Primrose walked down the street in Harem pants, a new form of female apparel so scandalous that it had been condemned by the Pope. There’s even an appearance by a dog named Bobbie Burns who may well have been the inspiration for Hollywood’s most celebrated canine star.
So if Charlie Angus had wanted, he could easily have confined himself to delivering a robust history of Cobalt, the fabled Northern Ontario mining town in which the New Democrat MP has long lived. But although he is a born storyteller with a passion for popular history that matches the best of Pierre Berton and James H. Gray, Angus had a lot more on his mind when he set out to write his latest book, Cobalt.
He was fascinated by the contrast between legend and reality when it comes to the “wild, ragged and haunted town” that flourished in the early years of the 20thCentury as the world’s fourth largest producer of silver before sinking into an obscurity that lasted for decades until another mineral, cobalt, would rekindle interest in it.
“There’s something absolutely beguiling about these great mineral rushes,” Angus says from his Cobalt home, a rebuilt mine shaft. “They bring people from all over the world, and they’re larger-than-life characters, and every one knows it’s not going to last. It’s a really crazy real-life fantasy story, yet it’s underwritten in tragedy.”