COBALT MINERAL CONDITIONS.
Address by Professor W. A. Parks, of Toronto University, with stereopticon views, before the Empire Club of Canada, on November 15th, 1906.
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen,
It gives me very much pleasure to have the opportunity of addressing this meeting, although I fear the subject may be considered a somewhat hackneyed one. The name of Cobalt is today on every tongue. Four years ago the name was practically unknown. Cobalt is distant from Toronto only about 330 miles, and occupies a very conspicuous position in the history of Ontario. On the shores of Lake Temiskaming, Hudson's Bay travellers, and early pioneers of the Roman Catholic Church, over two hundred years ago traversed that district constantly. All the present mining claims are immediately around that lake, and there are found ores of nickel, cobalt, and silver. Silver requires no remark. Nickel has been made familiar to us by the great deposits at Sudbury. The cobalt ore resembles iron in many properties, and is used to alloy steel, giving it much the same character as nickel. The chief use of cobalt is in pigments and stain. The mineral which contains cobalt is arsenide, known as smaltite. It rusts in just the same way that iron rusts, and the rust is known as cobalt bloom, being nothing more than rust produced by the decay of this mineral smaltite. It is a beautiful pink color, very conspicuous and a fine guide for the prospector. Previous to the discovery of cobalt in this region nearly all the world's product was obtained from New Caledonia, but their monopoly is now entirely destroyed.
Cobalt in the ore is worth about forty cents a pound, and many veins in this region would produce $200 a ton in consequence. I have a photograph here of the biggest cobalt vein in the world. There is a cutting through the rock of solid smaltite. That was one of the first, veins opened in that region. Cobalt makes the name unique. Silver makes it great. Associated with cobalt to a greater or less extent is native silver in grains and flakes, and even huge masses, weighing 600 or 700 pounds. You can pick up pieces the size of your hand that have been washed out from the cliffs. It seems strange that the Indians had not discovered this, as they were very keen to discover any sort of malleable metal. From these claims there are taken out slabs of silver such as I show you in the diagram-masses of silver that you see here piled up against that wall. Another early mine was the Little Silver Mine and the McKinley Mine. Now the mine is worth several millions, although at one time fifty or one hundred thousand dollars would have been accepted for it. This is my own camp on Cobalt Lake in 1905, situated today where the big buildings of the Nipissing Mining Company are standing. Here is a picture of the town of Cobalt at that time. Here, a more recent one. It seemed strange lately to be in a hotel, first-class meals, water from taps, beer from bottles, at a time only two years later than when we had to go in and carry our packs on our backs from Haileybury. In the spring of 1905 word had gone forth of the richness of the country. It was then the rush of prospectors began. The advance seen during that year is shown by the map, where the region is extended until it embraces an area three miles each way. The rich section is about three miles square, and most of the rich veins are situated in that area-not all. Occasionally a rich one is found on the borders.
The most of the rich veins are really located in that area. It is no exaggeration to say that you can walk right along on the top of solid silver in many places in this region. And the big vein recently discovered on the Nipissing property is certainly wonderful, five feet wide at one place, running from forty to fifty percent silver. Practically the same thing may be said of the whole area described. Ore running two thousand dollars a ton is common, three thousand dollars is well known, and, of course, ore might be selected that would run almost to pure silver. This big nugget at my hand was raised from the La Rose mine, weighs 610 pounds, and is practically pure silver. It is worth anywhere from three to four thousand dollars, according to purity. It was raised by one single lift of the bucket in that mine, and, of course, we have heard more recently of great masses of ore that have been taken out from the Nipissing property. Here, is a photograph of the mines which are actually shipping ore. It is very difficult to say how many. At that time there were said to be twenty-two; there may be more now. Up to the end of October, I am told by Mr. T. W. Gibson, of the Bureau of Mines, there had been shipped $4,500,000 worth of ore, that is including nickel and cobalt, calculated at a value in the ore, not as a fine product.
How are these properties worked? They are very rich; the veins are small and a large mining plant is not essential. The work can be carried on upon a small scale. Hand mining is largely employed. The ore as it comes from the shaft is handpicked, and graded into three grades, first, second, and third-class ore. First-class ore running $2,000 or $3,00o a ton, second-class a little less, and so on down the scale. One very remarkable feature may be seen in Cobalt that I have never seen in any other mining camp, and that is, that mines are in advance of the facilities for treatment of the ore. In most mining regions capitalized companies are formed and expensive machinery is put in before they have ore to treat. In Cobalt, they have ore already mined before they have machinery to treat it. This is, no doubt, the proper way. This is mining by open trenches. It is not good mining practice, but it is a very easy way to get the ore out. Some underground mining-the proper methodis being done; in fact, the better equipped mines are doing deep mining. To indicate the advance in the general development of that region in these two years, I show you buildings grown up, and the town of Cobalt, as it is, with some six thousand people, although I think that number is doubtful. Here is the clump on the La Rose mine, the waste rock, so to speak, but many a man would be very glad if he had that waste rock, because he would riot need to work any more.
To show the advance again from that time, I will mention another of the veins. It is the Little Silver vein. The property has produced $300,000 worth of silver. It belongs now to the Nipissing Company, being absorbed by that concern. They have mined right through the hill, cut the vein right out and extracted about $300,000 worth of silver from that alone. I would like to speak of the possibilities of prospecting in this region. It seems rather remarkable that even after the first few claims were discovered others did not rapidly follow. It is because the country is so much covered with soil. Here is a photograph of Cobalt near the railway. You can see there are twenty or thirty feet of soil overlying the country. That seems to be universally true. There are ten to twelve feet of soil, very hard boulder clay in some parts, and gravel in others. In any event, the outcrop is hidden, and it seems remarkable how much it is hidden. Take the Foster mine for instance. The Foster property, as you all know, is intersected by a great number of veins. These have all been found by cutting trenches through the overlying soil and finding them in that way, and yet on the Foster property there is considerable bare rock, but on the rack a vein has never been located. The surface of the rock is ground down very flat. This has been brought about by the passage of glaciers over the country during the glacial period, and as a result the veins, where they crop out, lie flush with the surface.
You may ash me what the prospector has to guide him in searching for these ores. First, no doubt, the geological structure of the country. Briefly, up there we find three or four different kinds of rock. In the first place, there is a series of rocks which are universally tilted up on edge. They have been squeezed in some remote period. They are mostly green schists, mixed with green eruptives, and they form a large part of the rocks. To that formation the name Keewatin is given. After the lapse of some period of time, during which the surface of the rocks was ground down, there was deposited a second series of rocks known as the Lower Huronian. These are very largely volcanic ashes mixed with beds of gravel, which have become consolidated into conglomerate, and between the ashes of the rocks and the coarse conglomerate or puddingstone rock, there are all sorts of intermediate varieties. We may obtain rocks from the finest grained kind up to coarse conglomerates. Regarding the origin of this conglomerate, it is very difficult to speak. The conglomerate is of a remarkable kind. It contains round pebbles and angular pebbles. How these two could be cemented into the same rock is more or less of a geological puzzle. One explanation is, that away back in that ancient time there was an ice age; that these pebbles were worn by ice. If this is true, we have an explanation. I have searched for pebbles showing icy action, but I have never found any, although I believe they have been found, and I believe they represent an ice age much later than that in which the lower ones were deposited.
It is very largely in these rocks that silver and cobalt ores are found. There is one other thing that seems to be essentially geological for these ores, and that is, masses of eruptives--such a rock as the farmers in the country gather up and call green hardheads. The presence of this eruptive seems to be the real cause of the enrichment of these rocks with the ores of cobalt and silver. The formation of mineral veins has always been a matter of dispute. The mast distinguished geologists have not settled the matter yet, but the most popular idea now is that mineral veins have been filled by water, which exuded from these molten rocks. Lava is always filled with steam, and it is but a short step to say that all these volcanic or eruptive racks were filled with steam. When they began to cool, steam would gradually escape and work its way up in the crevices and therein deposited the valuable minerals.
(The speaker here showed a piece of conglomerate.) At Cobalt, these various rocks are distributed in the manner indicated in this photograph. At Cobalt bake, all this darker region is bower Huronian rock, conglomerates, slates, etc. This light striated portion that you see here is the Keewatin rock which there comes to the top. This portion is a great mass of eruptive. You see the difference. At certain places Keewatin rock is at the top, and at other places the eruptive rock is at the top, and in the richer you have the Lower Huronian rock at the surface. The question is, are the ores confined to the Lower Huronian rock? It was first thought that they occurred in nothing else, but it has been proven that they occur also in the eruptive, because veins have been found going right through the eruptive rock as well as through the Huronian. Therefore, it is possible to find veins in both eruptive and Huronian rock. Again, some of the ores really occur in the Keewatin. If that is the case, there is no reason to imagine that the Lower Huronian is essential for the occurrence of these ores. The thing that is essential is the proper amount, and the right kind of eruptive, because it is from the eruptives that the right conditions exist for obtaining this ore.
What are the chances for the spread of the area? Are we going to have the thing restricted in area, or is it going to be spread over the whole country? Here is a general map of the country. The Lower Huronian rocks are known to extend clear across in this direction, away over to the Height of Land, and passing into Quebec. The Lower Huronian rocks certainly extend that far. Do these Huronian rocks contain the necessary eruptive? In many places they do. It is quite safe to say that the geological conditions essential to the presence of these ores are very much more widely spread than the township of Coleman. Now, Cobalt is the index of cobalt-ferous formation--cobalt bloom. Does it necessarily follow that we must find silver? At Cobalt, cobalt accompanies the silver ore almost universally. Where you find cobalt you have a chance of finding silver. It is well to remember that over a wide extent of country there are proper indications of cobalt.
At Cobalt, there are capitalized at present, roughly, thirty companies, which conservative estimates will say are good companies, and which have a prospect of turning out ore. Many of these are shipping and there may be more. These thirty companies are capitalized at about $40,000,000, and there are a number of close corporations not capitalized at all-many of them some of the best producers in the country. Putting these at $10,000,000, that makes a total capital of $50,000,000 for the companies which are almost certain to pay, to some extent at least. We must add to this a longer list of companies which have not paid any dividends, which have no definite silver veins in sight, which are floated on the market in the prospect that they may find some. I do not wish to say that these companies are all " wildcats." Some of them are legitimate companies, in possession of mineral land in the vicinity of Cobalt, from which they hope valuable veins may be obtained. However, they are not paying at present. The capitalization of these; altogether, is $30,000,000, probably more--doubtless more at the present moment, so that a very conservative estimate of the capitalization is $80,000,000.* Now, the veins are small, comparatively speaking, and it is a reasonable assumption that ten years' active mining will mine out most of the veins that are now working. Take a million dollars as a basis, ten years is the limit of time for mining, and in order to return the capital, evidently $100,000 a year must be mined for every $1,000,000 of capital for ten years. No mining operation will pay under twenty percent, considering the risk and difficulty of transportation.
Instead of saying twenty percent say fifteen percent, in order to make up for the return of capital which we are putting back at the rate of one hundred thousand dollars a year. That means, at fifteen percent that the mine must produce $150,000 a year, to pay interest and a reasonable profit. That means, that for every million dollars of capital we must produce $250,000 a year, or in all, $2,500,000 worth far every million dollars worth of
* NOTE.--Estimates in 1907 would make this total at least $250,000,000. Editor.
capital. That means, therefore, that the whole region at the capitalization we have given it must produce $20,000,000 a year, or it must produce $200,000,000 in the ten years that we give it to be worked out. Now, although we cannot proceed on that basis because some of these companies are selling away above their capitalization, many others are selling far below it. But it is not fair to them, that we put it in that way, such being the required output, that is to say, $200,000,000. Let me see what the output really is up to date. There has been produced in all $4,500,000 of silver, cobalt, and nickel, altogether $4,500,000. The output is increasing, of course, and I am informed by Mr. Gibson that in the month of October there were mined 1,120 tons of ore, which represent one million dollars, so that the month of October produced one million dollars. Our figures require $20,000,000 a year, therefore, at the present production we fall $8,000,000 a year short of the necessary output, and, furthermore, we must remember that that production of $12,000,000 is from just a few of the very best mines, and the great majority of them are not paying anything. It is a wonderful region, and is one of the richest spots on the face of the earth, but overcapitalization and over-sanguine investors are apt to cause the usual mining boom, and the usual depression which follows it. The newspapers have been warning us against this possibility, and I would like to close by saying that we must be careful not to be led away by the fact that some of these properties are very valuable and selling at a high figure, because there is just as sure to be a fall as there has been a somewhat inflated rise in the case of some of these companies.