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Argentite, Port Cobalt & Mill Creek Settlement

History

Town site photo

The NCR bridge abutments mark the beginning of Argentite.

©Copyright: Yvan Charbonneau

The early beginnings of Argentite were very modest. Some of the first settlers in the future Temiskaming District set down roots and formed the hamlets of Haileybury and New Liskeard. The future rival towns were, by 1895, tiny hamlets in the bush. Some settlers however chose land a few miles south of Haileybury, nearby the 11th concession in Bucke Township. The earliest known settlers in this area were Harry Darke and Andrew Fernholm, who settled some time around 1890.

Thomas McCamus and Angus McKelvie of New Liskeard established a small sawmill in 1897. The nameless creek, on which the mill stood, became known affectionately as Mill Creek. Mill Creek had two distinct advantages; first it was at the head of navigation for small steamers, and second it had direct access to Lake Temiskaming and the Cross Lake area. Access to Lake Temiskaming meant that lumber could be easily shipped to New Liskeard and Haileybury without major difficulties. The route to Cross Lake gave farmers a direct means of liquidating their surplus produce to lumber camps around Cross, Kerr, and Giroux Lakes. In the meantime the lumbermen could float their timber to the mill.

By the turn of the century, a small cluster of buildings was established around the mill. The small mill settlement developed typically, however two events were destined to make the little community bloom beyond all expectations. All they required were rails and silver.

In 1903, plans called for the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway (present day Ontario Northland Railway) to end at Liskeard. Slowly the rail bed inched its way nearer to the Mill Creek Settlement. What was unexpected, however, was the discovery of silver. The new mining frontier town of Cobalt lay just one and a half miles south, at mileage 103. The discovery of silver assured ample resources for the new railway to push the line was further north. By 1909, it had reached Cochrane. A flag station was established for the benefit of the small Mill Creek Settlement.

The newly surveyed town site to the north of the Mill Creek settlement was called North Cobalt. It quickly grew to accommodate the housing needs of the Cobalt miners. With the discovery of silver at Kerr Lake, south of Cobalt, prospectors were quick to learn about an easy navigable route to the lower silver fields, Mill Creek became known as Port Cobalt. All prospectors had do was to disembark at the siding and flag station located at mileage 104.5, and navigate down to Cross Lake, which was within a mile from either Kerr or Giroux Lakes. This was the preferred route for prospectors until a six-mile branch line was built from Cobalt to the Kerr Lake in 1906 by the T&NO.

In 1907 Harry Darke subdivided his farm into building lots and dubbed his town site Argentite, after a mineral associated with silver. The town plots were conveniently placed between the station and mill village and soon the scattered little village became organized into a regular community, with streets, a church, school, and businesses.

As the village prospered, numerous businesses were established. Argentite could count a general store, a bakery, a bottling works, two taverns, an inn and few other various stores. A post office opened under the banner of Argentite in 1907, but closed the following year, and moved within a mile away in North Cobalt. One notable enterprise was the Brady Wine Inn, a brothel where single miners could enjoy a drink and partake in more earthly needs. Cobalt was a dry town and it didn't take long for miners to quickly discover a nearby watering hole.

In 1912, the Nipissing Central Railway established a trolley car service from New Liskeard to Cobalt. The line left from New Liskeard and passed through Haileybury and North Cobalt. From here the line crossed the T&NO line over a bridge and then passed through the village of Argentite. The station and bridge became known as Argentite Crossing. The line continued southwards to the O'Brien Mine and town site and then on to Cobalt. The T&NO spur line was electrified as far as Giroux Lake Station, and for the modest sum of 10 cents it was possible to ride the entire system of some 40 miles of rail.

Unfortunately this continuous period of prosperity was not sustainable. By 1920 some of the major mines had closed and production on other properties was winding down. The village could surmount such obstacles but one tragedy dictated otherwise and silenced all future hopes of economic recovery.

The year 1922 bore down hard on Argentite. The dry summer had brought about a rash of small fires, but the worse was yet to materialize. One September day fire broke out in Haileybury. It quickly, destroyed the town and converged with other forest and grass fires into a massive conflagration. The fire raced through to North Cobalt, and then to Argentite, and reached the edge of Cobalt. Luckily Cobalt was spared but the fire returned on the same path and fed on its ashes for a number of days, completely demoralizing the already destitute residents. The fire also raced north and burned a large portion of South Temiskaming, right up to Englehart. All that remained of Argentite was the mill and a handful of homes. Although a few residents were encouraged to stay and rebuild, most left the area. The mill followed suit and burnt down the following year. After that Argentite fell into obscurity.

In 1935 the trolley cars were shut down and the line removed. All but one mine closed. By then scarcely 50 souls existed in the area. By the 1960's not one home remained and its only testament is a trolley bridge abutment by the ONR line and Silverland Cemetery.