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Iron Ore and the American Summer Colony

After a few successful years, the Cobourg and Peterborough Railway ceased cross-lake operations. The Rice Lake Bridge was beyond saving.

Most of the products shipped through Cobourg harbour had been destined for the United States.  That American connection rescued the Cobourg-Harwood portion of the railway. Industrialists from Pittsburgh needed iron ore for their smelters, and found a good source in a mine near Marmora (about 80km by road northeast from Cobourg today).

a coloured etching from the Canadian Illustrated News dated February 15, 1873 with at least 20 men performing various tasks in a deep open faced mine. At the top of the mine and the centre of the etching is a large derrick help in place by multiple guy wires. Behind the derrick is a row of railway cars

Contemporary illustration of the Blairton Mine in operation.


an outline map of the area including Cobourg, Peterborough and Blairton, showing in red the route the iron ore took from Blairton to Rochester

Map showing route of iron ore transported by rail and water from Blairton to Cobourg and on to the United States.


They built a new rail line from the Blairton Mine to the Trent River, and used barges to carry the ore over Rice Lake to Harwood. Using the old line from Harwood, the ore eventually reached Cobourg harbour.  It was then transshipped by schooner to Rochester and by train to Pittsburgh.  The first shipment took place in 1867, the year of Canada’s Confederation.  The operation was reasonably successful but did not last long, as less expensive sources for the ore became available.

a black and white photograph of diorama reproducing a rare photograph. in the foreground planks of lumber lean against one of four ore cars on rails. Beyond is a steam engine with a tender full of lumber and a flatbed. Scattered on and around these are a dozen workers posing for the picture.

A diorama reproducing a rare photograph of workmen and equipment at the Blairton mine.


What did last was the delight which the visitors from the south found in Cobourg’s climate and culture.  Access via the harbour was key.  The industrialists started bringing their families, they built hotels and eventually grand summer homes.

a black & white photo of a woman with full lips looking at the camera, with a purse under her left arm and a bowl shaped hat with large feather on her head

Actress Katharine Cornell (1927) loved her vacations as a child in Cobourg.

The American “Colony” flourished.  There were  society marriages, balls and horse shows.  Civil War generals, industrialists, stars of stage and screen… all were part of it. But with WWI came great change which brought the Colony to a gradual end.

A few of the grand homes still remain as witnesses to a grander time.