masthead image

Kerr and Giroux Lakes

History

Town site photo

Abandoned building

©Copyright: Yvan Charbonneau

Before the start of the Cobalt Silver Rush, Giroux Lake was a timber-man's haven. During the 1880s, J.R. Booth owned a depot camp on the north shore of the lake that grew into a large enterprise containing warehouses, a farm, a cookery, and bunkhouses. So many men were on site that for a time it actually warranted its own post office By the 1890s everyone had left and stillness was yet again at hand, but not for too long.

Silver had been discovered at mileage point 103, under the right of way of the Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway. The Cobalt bonanza had begun and spurred an unprecedented boom in the district. Prospectors staked all the nearby outcroppings while others pushed to the peripheries hoping to find more silver. In 1904 some had even begun to spill over the Kerr Lake and Giroux Lakes area. They would not be disappointed.

After the rich silver veins were intercepted, mining was a simply a matter of blasting and picking the rich silver slabs. Camp buildings sprouted in a myriad of bunks, cookeries, and later mining structures. A six-mile branch line was built in 1906 and terminated at the south end of Kerr Lake where a freight room, station and wye were constructed. By 1915 the line was electrified and the Nipissing Central Railway ran electric trolleys from Giroux Lake station through Cobalt, North Cobalt, Haileybury and New Liskeard.

The Kerr/Giroux Lake Camp became a significant part of the Cobalt's silver production. The mines situated in this area all proved to be rich producers while other smaller claims produced respectable yields. These included the Reliance, Imperial Crown, Kerr Lake Majestic, Drummond (and Extension), Cobalt Coleman, Silver Leaf, Crown Reserve, Kerr Lake Mine, Foster Cobalt, Lawson, Nugget and Gem Properties, the Hargreaves, Penn Canadian, University, and Glen Silver. Most of these properties stood no farther than a kilometre from the twin lake communities.

The larger producers such as the Crown Reserve, Kerr Lake Mine, and the Foster Cobalt Mine, became infamous producers within the Cobalt Camp. The Kerr Lake Mine for instance, was so rich that it boasted the lowest production cost for any mine in Canada. From 1904 to 1922, a total of 27,005,276 ounces of silver were hoisted out of the property. It was also the only mine in the Cobalt area to produce any gold. Its yield was nearly 1 ounce per ton (or $18 per ton). The Kerr Lake bed was also pumped dry at several intervals and extensively excavated. Mill grade ore from all the surrounding properties were processed by the Nova Scotia Mine situated over 1.4 kilometres (1 mile) north of Kerr Lake.

In 1915 the Kerr and Giroux Lakes area were a hub of activity. Jostling between the mining buildings, nearly 40 homes were constructed in a haphazard fashion. Some were simply perched on dry ground along a roadway directly north of Giroux Lake, whereas others were built on sideroads north and south of Kerr Lake. One small cluster of approximately eight homes located south of Kerr Lake became known as Finntown.

The two communities included a variety of enterprises such as Joe Edward's store that later became the Reamsbottom & Edwards General Store, Leonard Kirkham's billiard room, purchased later by Ed Atwell, Goulet's pool-room and Blanchard's store. A public school opened in 1908 and two churches were eventually established. There was a Methodist church headed by Jamie Little and a Presbyterian Church which became part of the United Church in the 1920's. At its peak nearly 300 residents lived in the area.

A post office opened in Giroux Lake in 1906 with Joseph Edwards as its first postmaster. The office was later relocated in Blanchfields store when Edwards relocated to Kirkland Lake in 1922. The office closed in 1927.

By 1929, most of the mines had closed down. Reamsbottom and Edward's general store moved to Kirkland Lake in 1922 and all but a sparse population of nearly 80 remained. The school closed in 1938 and the churches lasted until the late 1930's.

Brief revivals in mining occurred in the 1940's, 50's, and 70's, when local miners leased the properties and produced some small amounts of silver and cobalt. By 1956 there were still 86 residents in Kerr Lake area, but the population dropped to 53 a mere five years later. A decade later mainly shells were left. Today about half a dozen newer homes have since been built in the surrounding area.

Kerr Lake boasted two famous residents in its lifetime; Big Pete Farah, who was an influential union leader during both strikes at the Cobalt Camps in 1907 and 1919 and Dr. William Henry Drummond, the Habitant Poet.

Dr. Drummond, originally a physician by profession, acquired the Drummond Mine and, along with his brothers, ran the entire enterprise. During the smallpox epidemic that struck Cobalt in 1907, Dr. Drummond diligently took on the task of fighting the plague and later tragically died of exhaustion at his home in Kerr Lake. A cairn was placed on the ruins of his chimney in 1935. Today the plaque and chimney have since been relocated in Cobalt's town square.