December 27th, 1911. When Cyril’s sister Mona married an up-and-coming lawyer named Herbert Wood, two ministers conducted the service. Both were long-time friends of the Knight family. One was Rev. Malcolm MacGillvray and the other was Rev. Donald Gordon, principal of Queen’s University.
The wedding took place at Christmas time. Swarms of friends and family descended on Kingston to celebrate the event. During the ceremony, chimes pealed from the tower of Chalmers Church.
After Cyril’s death in 1960 at the age of 81, the Royal Society of Canada printed a memorial about him. It was jam-packed with notes about his accomplishments. He’d been the author or co-author of 44 papers, member of no less than 10 associations or societies, one of the founders of the Geological Society of Canada, and the recipient of a Coronation Medal, by command of Her Majesty the Queen, in recognition of his services to the geological profession. But, like his father Archie, Cyril preferred to keep a low profile. He was a down-to-earth person, who enjoyed a joke on himself.
He told a funny story about a visit to Haliburton, where he’d gone for a summer holiday. Noticing a labourer at the side of the road, digging a trench, Cyril stopped the car and asked “Any work going on at Fission Mines?”
To his delight, the workman replied, “Nope. Just a couple of geologists friggin’ around.”
This concludes the story about Cyril. Next up: his beautiful and talented sister Mona… Thanks for staying tuned!
Image: Photo of Cyril Workman Knight, circa 1923, [detail]. Photo courtesy of Mary Elizabeth Clark, Cobourg, Ontario, 8 August 2014, scanned by John Carew.
By late 1905, sixteen mines had sprung up near Cobalt, Ontario–but by that time, Cyril was off to new adventures. First, he finished postgraduate studies at Columbia University in New York City. Then he began a career in the field of mining. He served as Associate Provincial Geologist for the province of Ontario, and then as chief geologist and president for a couple of mining companies, before starting his own: the Cyril Knight Prospecting Company.
Along the way, he married an extraordinary woman named Grace Hewson. She was one of the first female law students in Canada, called to the bar in 1908. She and Cyril raised three sons and travelled the world together. They even flew to Egypt at a time when international flights were still a new and dangerous adventure.
Ironically, when two mining companies were racing to stake a claim in the far north, at Rankin Inlet, Cyril decided to use canoes instead of those new-fangled airplanes–and his company won!
In May 1904, Cyril went back to the site of the silver strike, again as Professor Miller’s assistant. One day, an excited acquaintance burst into their camp and begged them to come right away and witness a discovery.
Professor Miller played it cool. Cyril remembered, “Whatever excitement he may have felt he kept well under control.”
The next morning, they all went together and found two spectacular veins that would eventually yield more than 40 million ounces of silver. The excited acquaintance was soon shipping out “great slabs of native metal stripped off the walls…like boards from a barn.”
And that wasn’t all. One day, while canoeing in the area, Professor Miller found a rich deposit of cobalt along the shore of a lake.
Years later, Cyril said “I still have a vivid mental picture of his tall, erect figure as…he nailed a board to a post. On the board he had written the word Cobalt. And that was how the the town got its name.”
Cobalt, Ontario, became the centre of a huge silver rush. At its peak in 1911, more than 31 million ounces of silver were shipped from the area. The mining rights to Professor Miller’s cobalt alone were sold for more than a million dollars.
When Cyril and the others reached the site, they found silver everywhere. Plenty had been dug up along the newly-built railroad, and Professor Miller reported that “every depression in the rock on top of the hill contains much free silver.”
Pieces of silver “as big as stove lids or cannonballs” were lying on the ground, but the rocks were so dirty-looking that the railroad workers had been walking past them without a second glance.
Winter soon set in, but news of the silver strike was already spreading. Everyone knew what would happen in the spring. And Cyril was going to be right in the middle of the excitement.
In the backwoods of Ontario, a blacksmith named Fred LaRose was working on the new railroad when his pickaxe struck a rock. It broke off “a piece as big as my hand, with little sharp points all over it,” and a shiny vein running through its middle. He showed the rock to the owner of a nearby hotel.
“Some kind of damn metal,” they decided, and sent it away to be tested.
It was Cyril’s professor, W.G. Miller, who received the sample, and a lab report confirmed his suspicions. The rock contained silver. Lots of it. The race was on!
It was already October, and a Canadian winter would soon set in, making travel impossible. Professor Miller rushed to the site along with two assistants. One of them was Cyril Knight.
Soon after Freddie went to live at the asylum, and while his sister Muriel was living in the U.S. with the first of her many husbands, Cyril Knight was still living at home with his two younger sisters and their parents. The whole family was busy with music lessons, sports and studying, and their father’s schedule was crammed with teaching, writing, committee-work, travel and science experiments.
“I have oiled the thing on the roof,” Cyril wrote to him, “but you didn’t tell me how to make out the report.”
Cyril was a third-year geology student. He was also the captain of the Queen’s University hockey team, which had recently won the American intercollegiate championship. But in August 1903, just as the team was looking ahead to an exciting new season, something extraordinary happened to Cyril.