The general store©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
Out of all the Hastings gold rush communities, Cordova Mines was probably the most well known. Cordova Mines operated on and off for about 60 years, producing both silver and gold. Gold production was by far the main commodity and more than 22,000 ounces were produced over a 50-year period.
The history of Cordova Mines began in the mid 1860s when a young town clerk and part time prospector, named Marcus Powell, discovered a cave where gold appeared to be gleaming from the walls. Once word got out the area, not surprisingly, boomed overnight. The boom quickly turned to bust when the gold was found to be difficult to mine. However the world wasn't ready to give up on Cordova Mines quite yet. Powell who had already been associated with the gold find in Eldorado later settled in another mining town, Malone, where he ran the post office for a number of years.
Despite the mine's lack of success, a number of people remained in the area and by 1880 David Vansickle had opened a general store and post office, known as Wariston. Other businesses slowly began to arrive. These included a cheese factory operated by J.I. Cook and a carriage and agricultural implements business run by James Allen. By 1886 the small hamlet included two churches, Methodist and Episcopal, as well as a school. Allen took over as postmaster in 1886. The population in those early days was listed at about 50.
Improved technology had slowly led to major improvements in mining production and by the time the 1890s arrived the mines were in full operation. The Belmont mine was easily the most lucrative, accounting for most of the output.
The Belmont Mine was discovered in 1891 by H. Strickland and then sold to A. W. Carcallen of Marmora. In 1897, the mine was sold again to a British company, the Cordova Exploration Company, who knew just what to do with it. They quickly added a 10-stamp mill, air compressor and began operations.
Cordova Explorations was pleased with the output and quality of the ore and by 1900 they were ready to expand further. They constructed a larger plant and an 80 stamp mill, 175 X 90 feet and 55 feet high. The mill was described as being neatly finished, painted and well lighted. It was opened in 1901. Whether due to a shortage of funds, lack of output, or both, is unknown, but the mine closed abruptly in 1903 and remained idle for the next eight years.
During the intervening years, the small townsite continued to grow. Producers of another mine, the Ledyard, located about a kilometre south of Cordova, used the townsite from about 1898 to 1911 until the mine closed. In 1910, the village's name was changed from Wariston to Cordova. Records show the population had jumped to about 200 and the village included a butcher, baker, two general stores and sawmill.
In 1911 a new company, Cordova Gold Mines Limited, decided to try their hand. Financed by investors from Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., with two million dollars capital in their hands, the mine was headed by P. P.Kirkeggard, a mining engineer, who had been manager at the Deloro Mines. To encourage investment, the company produced an information pamphlet, extolling the virtues of the community, its many amenities, and convenient access to the Canadian Pacific Railway station in Havelock. One enthusiastic engineer even hinted the mine had the potential to produce for 50 years.
Like most mining communities, Cordova was 'officially' dry and the refreshment parlour served only non-alcoholic beverages. However legend has it that just north of the village there was a mobile saloon situated on a road that was also right on the county line between Hastings and Peterborough. Word travelled fast in those days and whenever the authorities approached, the saloon would quickly be wheeled over from the Peterborough to the Hastings side of the road.
Unfortunately for the investors and operators of Cordova Mines Limited, the engineering reports were overly optimistic. Cordova Gold Mines operated continuously from 1911 until 1917. During that time the total value of the gold mined amounted to a paltry $334,422. The company ceased operations after the plant was destroyed by fire in 1917.
The mines at Cordova remained idle from 1917 to 1938, when another company, COMINCO (Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada), decided to give it one last run. COMINCO, now Teck Cominco Ltd., operated the mine from 1938 to 1940, producing about 150 tons a day, which yielded a total value of $474,548. Following the company's departure, the mines were closed forever and all the mining buildings were dismantled. The dam and raceway were later used by the Deer Lake Fish Hatchery for many years, until it too shut down. The closing of Cordova Mines signalled the end of the golden age of mining in Hastings County.
Today Cordova remains a small backwater village. Although many of the original buildings are gone, the village continues to support a small population. One of the general stores and a liquor store remain open. This attractive little community enjoys a boost from seasonal residents during the summer.