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Abandoned Canadian silver mine could boom again as battery demand prompts gold rush in cobalt

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The flooded bottom of an abandoned silver mine is an unlikely source of hope. But down there in the flickering light, a once worthless metal known as cobalt has sat idle for decades. Now it’s one of the most sought after metals in the world and that has many in this town in northern Ontario dreaming of boom times once again.

A century ago, prospectors came to Cobalt, Ont., in search of silver. They found it, and the town boomed. Amid all the silver, miners also found cobalt. So much that they named the town after it. Back then though, it was a mere indicator, a sign that something of actual value was nearby.

Now, all that ignored and discarded cobalt is the town’s best hope.

“The potential here is huge,” says Frank Basa, chief executive officer of Canada Cobalt Works.

Cobalt the metal has had a spectacular run over the past few years. And now Cobalt the town is poised to cash in.

Frank Basa, chief executive of Canada Cobalt Works, poses outside the 100-year-old Castle Mine. He says cobalt was left behind here when miners hauled out tons of silver in the 1920s and 1930s. (Carly Thomas/CBC)

The metal has become a key component in the electric batteries that power our phones and our cars. Almost all of it is currently mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. Mining there has been plagued with concerns over human rights abuses, child labour and environmental issues.

Basa is convinced there’s enough cobalt in the ground under the small town in Northern Ontario to warrant hundreds of millions of dollars in investment.

(Neil Joyes/CBC)

“Everything in here runs cobalt,” he says, pointing to the ghostly pink hue that runs through every tunnel wall in the the abandoned Castle Mine. “What they did was they just took the high grade silver and left all the cobalt behind. Nobody wanted cobalt you see.”

Basa believes mining the mineral can return this region to its former glory.

An archival photo of an old mine during the silver rush in Cobalt. (©Cobalt Mining Museum)

Back in the 1920s and ’30s, this small town on the shores of Lake Timiskaming saw a silver mining rush. It became the economic hub of Ontario.

“They actually had an opera here,” says Basa. “They had a ballet, they had streetcars. The hockey team [the Cobalt Silver Kings] started here. The provincial police started here.”

Veterans of the silver rush remember those good times. They remember seeing lots of cobalt down in the silver mines, too.

Bill Montgomery made 58 cents an hour when he started working in the mines in the 1940s.

“Everybody was working. Everybody had a dollar in their pocket,” he says of the town back then. “Now we have nothing.”

There hasn’t been an operating mine here since the 1980s. Montgomery has heard a lifetime of promises from promoters and prospectors. After a career of tough work down in the mines, it would take a lot more than talk to get him excited. He just shrugs when asked if there’s enough cobalt here to warrant a mine. “It’s hard to say, really.”

It’s not the retired miners job to say, anyway. That task falls to people like Trent Mell. He’s CEO of First Cobalt, another company scouring these old mines and the hills outside town.

People in Cobalt pose behind a ton of pure silver drawn from a local mine. (© Cobalt Mining Museum)

Mell has a map of the region on the wall of his office. Little red dots indicate drill sites where they’ve poked through the Canadian Shield looking for cobalt. He says there’s no question it’s out there. They named the town Cobalt, after all. The question is whether they can prove there’s enough and that it’s concentrated in a way that makes it profitable to dig it up and get it to market.

He says the drill results are encouraging.

“A lot of smoke, as they say. Now we have to find fire.”

Mell knows the clock is ticking. The smartphone you have in your pocket likely has a few grams of cobalt in its battery. But pounds of the stuff are needed for an electric car. And with electric car sales soaring, demand for cobalt has spiked as well.

Trent Mell, chief executive of First Cobalt, holds a sample of the metal in a northern Ontario shed. (Carly Thomas/CBC)

“As an industry, and as a cobalt explorer, we’re playing catch-up,” Mell says. “You and I can decide tomorrow to go out and buy an electric vehicle. But as miners we can’t respond quickly enough.”

That potential shortage has driven up the price of cobalt. It was the best performing commodity in 2017. That means more money for exploration, and more companies competing to see if they can strike it rich.

So, First Cobalt is drilling 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They’ve searched through the old mines and have plotted a grid on Mell’s map where they hope to find something where the first generation of miners didn’t bother to look.

Drillers extract a core sample while searching for traces of cobalt. (Carly Thomas/CBC)

The drill rig is hauled into a muddy opening. The crew performs like clockwork, feeding the drill bit into a hole, drilling down and pulling up core samples for testing. These core samples are pored over on site, sent back to town where they’re cut up, and pieces are sent off to the lab. A new one is hauled out every 20 minutes or so.

First Cobalt’s vice-president, Frank Santaguida, pulls one dark piece of rock out of the tray. He reads the chunks of minerals like a coded language, looking for a sign. This one comes up empty, but each sample fills out the picture. Each piece tells him something about the search.

And while miners are a skeptical lot, prospectors live on hope. 

“It may be in the next drill hole,” he says.

A core sample is pulled out of the hills for testing near Cobalt. (Carly Thomas/CBC)

Everyone in this region knows there’s cobalt here, but its mere presence isn’t enough. Opening a mine would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. So, there has to be just the right amount, in just the right concentration that would allow someone to come in and carve out a profit.

If the retired miners are skeptical by nature, the prospectors are the optimists, the enthusiastic believers that Cobalt can rise again. But for now, even as they dig through these hills, even as they see thick veins of cobalt running through old mines, they can only say “maybe” when asked if it will be enough.

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Real Estate

The cost of renovating your bathroom in Toronto in 2021

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Home renovations can be a big task, especially bathroom renovations where you have to work with either an awkwardly shaped space, or one with lots of pipework and very little natural light.

Nonetheless, getting a bathroom renovation by Easy Renovation to change your existing bathroom layout, improve the ambience or add more natural skylights can be worth all the trouble. But determining how much a bathroom renovation would cost is important while setting a budget.

The pandemic has changed a lot of things with social distancing rules, working from home, and for some, being made redundant. Therefore, having a complete grasp of the financial implication of a bathroom innovation is very important.

Owning your dream bathroom can be made a reality and the good thing is, regardless of your financial situation, there are always available options. If you also decide to put up your property for sale in the future, a bathroom upgrade would be a great investment—as it would add significant value to the property. Your bathroom renovation project, like every home renovation, can either be very affordable or extravagant, but one thing is certain, you’re bound to have a more refreshed, stylish and modernistic space.  

Looking through detailed sketches of luxurious and expensive bathrooms can be quite tempting, especially when you’re on a budget. However, your bathroom can be equally transformed into something that looks just as modern, stylish and refreshing but without the heavy price tag.

Conducting a partial bathroom renovation means you only have to change a little part of your existing bathroom rather than tearing it down and starting from scratch. If you intend to carry out this type of bathroom renovation in Toronto, depending on the size of your bathroom, you can spend between $1,000 – $5,000. With a partial bathroom renovation, you can save money by tackling smaller problems that exist in your present bathroom—or you can just upgrade a few of its features.

Partial bathroom renovations are quite affordable and would leave your bathroom feeling new and stylish without being time-consuming or a financial burden—which is important considering the economic impact of the pandemic. Repainting the bathroom walls, replacing the tiles on the floor and in the shower area are examples of partial bathroom renovations which is the cheapest to accomplish.

A more expensive and popular bathroom renovation is the standard 3- or 4-piece renovation. This renovation type involves a lot more services that are not covered by a partial renovation budget. To execute a standard bathroom renovation in Toronto you need a budget of about $10,000 – $15,000.

Unlike with a partial renovation, you would have to make a lot more changes to various elements of your bathroom without the hassle of changing the overall design. You can easily restore your current bathroom into a modernistic and classy space that fits your existing style. Making changes to more aspects of your bathroom is quite easy since there is more room in your budget to accommodate it.

A standard 3- or 4-piece renovation includes everything in a partial renovation plus extras such as revamped baseboards, installing a new bathroom mirror, buying new lights, installing a new vanity, changing the toilet, and buying new shower fixtures.

If you’re one of those looking to make a complete overhaul of your existing bathroom, then the option of a complete bathroom remodel is for you.

Unlike a bathroom renovation, remodelling means a complete change of your current bathroom design and layout for one that is newer and completely unrecognizable. The possibilities when remodelling a bathroom are endless especially when you have a large budget of over $15,000. That way, you can get the opportunity to create the perfect bathroom for yourself.

In addition to all that’s available with a standard bathroom renovation, bathroom remodelling allows you to make bathtub to shower conversion, relocation of plumbing, relocation of the toilet, reframing the bathroom and even relocating the shower.

In conclusion, a bathroom renovation can be a very important upgrade to your home and depending on the features that you decide to include, in addition to the size of your bathroom, this would influence the total cost of the project.

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7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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