History - Non-Fiction

Cobalt: The Making of a Mining Superpower by Charlie Angus

The writing in Cobalt is so descriptive and eloquent- it reminds me of touches of Neil Gaiman fancy coming from the mouth of a grimy old man at the pub. Every single sentence is so rich and evocatively detailed.

Angus tears apart the standard history we’ve been served about Canada and describes the people replaced by white people, who had a flourishing silver trade and how myths came about to make a salacious truth palatable in our mouths.

Angus sets the scene by describing the consequences of where Cobalt ended up and why the history needs to be recorded. He then starts his story with how colonialists stole mining sites from Indigenous groups in copper, silver and cobalt. Those colonialists proceeded to get rich as they took more land for their own uses.

“If you’re looking for a well-written, highly researched history on Cobalt, the metal and the town, which is a highly inclusive and intersectional read bursting at the scenes with Canadian pop culture, this is the book for you.”

I find it fascinating how much history is tied up in the background on Cobalt – everything from union busters and formers, to boxing, to heightened racial tension becoming accepted interracial unions at a time the rest of the country (let alone North America) did not approve. Then there’s Joseph Jones, the first Indigenous hockey player, the smuggled-in hockey players, and the casual name dropping of the author of the Hardy Boys books. Vaudeville productions, the creation of harem pants, a fire in a Chinese restaurant, a brief description of the Chinese Head Tax, and the Italian Mafia The Black Hand.

Add in typhoid outbreaks and the city being quarantined for smallpox, while the nurses caring for them were left unpaid, and lots of racism. Not to mention a miner smuggling his dog Bobbie Burns to war and that dog being who inspired Lassie.

Did I mention the Soviet spies? Or the sexual assaults by those in the mining companies?

A particularly notable section in the book takes a deep look at what happens when the boom-bust cycle is encouraged and the city doesn’t diversify. The city or town is left in a state of shock once the resource that town is built around peters out. Take a look at Cape Breton and all its towns and cities ending in “mine”.

This book details how Toronto developed into what it is today thanks to Cobalt and the deals made involving mines. It’s become a financial business powerhouse thanks to that initial business of the mines in Cobalt.

If you’re looking for a well-written, highly researched history on Cobalt, the metal and the town, which is a highly inclusive and intersectional read bursting at the scenes with Canadian pop culture, this is the book for you.


CHARLIE ANGUS has been the Member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay since 2004. He is the author of eight books about the North, Indigenous issues, and mining culture, including the award-winning Children of the Broken Treaty. He is also the lead singer of the Juno-nominated alt-country band Grievous Angels. Charlie and his wife, author Brit Griffin, raised their three daughters at an abandoned mine site in Cobalt, Ontario, that looks like a Crusader castle.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press (Feb. 1 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 336 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487009496
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487009496

Stephanie Sirois (they/them) is a writer, artist and journalist on unceded Wolastoqiyik territory. They spend their time reading, writing, making art and exhorting their family into playing board games with them.

Stephanie Sirois

Stephanie Sirois (they/them) is a writer, artist and journalist on unceded Wolastoqiyik territory. They spend their time reading, writing, making art and exhorting their family into playing board games with them.

One comment on “Cobalt: The Making of a Mining Superpower by Charlie Angus

  1. Charlie Angus’ knowledge, integrity, and commitment to an honest view of history are noteworthy. This is true of his life and his writing. Cobalt was on my migratory route for many years; we heard hints of the history, but now I look forward to reading this study.

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