Since at least the late 1800s, Western spiritualists have attempted to communicate with the spirits of the dead through so-called ‘talking boards’. These devices originally consisted of wooden boards on which were painted the letters of the alphabet, along with an essential accessory called a ‘planchette’- a heart-shaped piece of wood with three wheels or felt sliders attached to its underside. During Victorian-era séances, occult practitioners would dim the lights, sit around the talking board, and invite any spirits present to communicate with them. That accomplished, the practitioners would lightly place their fingers on top of the planchette, which would proceed to glide across the surface of the talking board, seemingly of its own accord. Ideally, the planchette would point to a succession of letters which spelled out a coherent message ostensibly attributable to some otherworldly entity.
In the 1890s, four American businessman patented a particular style of talking board which displayed the alphabet, the numbers 0 through 9, and the words ‘YES’, ‘NO’, and ‘GOOD BYE’. The businessman dubbed their innovation the ‘Ouija board’, and went on to found the Kenneth Novelty Company, through which they produced and sold these devices on a massive scale. Due to their marketing efforts, the Ouija board quickly metamorphosed from a relatively obscure spiritualist tool into an innocent and extremely popular parlour game. This perception endured until 1973, when the horror film The Exorcist hit American theatres, transforming the talking board once again into a sinister apparatus of the occult.
Although most post-1973 accounts of Ouija board use are either tales of scoffing skepticism or dire dissuasion, there are a few pre-Exorcist anecdotes involving positive outcomes resultant of Ouija board consultation. One of these appeared in the February 1955 issue of the magazine Fate.
Violet Bender of Ottawa, Ontario, the lady who submitted the story, claimed that sometime in the 1880s, her aunt . had come into the possession of a talking board. Although Mrs. Bender was not explicit in her description of the apparatus, it seems possible that this particular talking board’s planchette was equipped with a pencil.
Violet’s aunt used the apparatus to help her compose music. In 1902, her aunt died, and the board was bequeathed to her mother, the wife of an Anglican clergyman.
Violet’s eldest sister, Winnifred, who was eighteen years old at the time, quickly discovered that the board would write for her. “It provided her with many hours of amusement,” Violet wrote. “Her girl friends came to ask about their beaux. It replied equally well to mental questions- that is, to unspoken questions in a person’s mind. Whoever had the strongest will or the greatest power of concentration got the reply to his or her question.”
At that time, Violet and her family lived in the village of Cobden, Ontario, situated on an old and well-used portage route circumventing a set of rapids on the Ottawa River. Word quickly spread throughout Cobden, as it so often does in small communities, that Winnifred could locate lost or stolen articles using her Ouija board.
Early one morning, Violet and her family awoke to the frantic ringing of the rectory bell; someone, it seemed, desperately wanted to see the minister. Violet’s father threw open the rectory window and stuck out his head. “Who is there?” he called. “What do you want?”
“We want to ask that board of your daughter’s a question,” came the reply.
“Well,” the minister said with some reproach, “four o’clock in the morning is a queer time to come to ask a question.”
The visitor replied that his little girl was lost in the woods, and that a search party had been hunting for her all night, but to no avail.
Violet’s father told the man that he would do what he could. He roused Winnifred, informed her of the situation, and asked her to use her talking board to determine the girl’s location. Afraid of what the answer might be, Winnifred asked the question and put her hands on the planchette. The board gave the following reply:
“THE CHILD IS SAFE IN A HOUSE NEAR THE TRACK”
Winnifred’s father relayed the information to the desperate father, who tore off in the direction of the railroad.
Later that day, the father found his little girl safe and sound in a log cabin near the railway. She had wandered away from her family’s farm with some cows, and the family living in the cabin had taken her in.
Thirty years later, Violet Bender was happily married to a clergyman and living not far from Cobden. One evening, she got a call from another clergyman who asked whether she had the talking board and planchette that her family once owned. Violet informed the minister that her eldest sister, Winnifred, had the board, and that she was now married and living in Australia.
“The clergyman,” Violet wrote, “then explained that a child was lost in that district, and the people, remembering how over 30 years ago another lost child had been found, wanted to consult the planchette again.”
Rather than end on this note, the author of this piece feels obliged to remind you, dear reader, that this particular anecdote, with its semi-happy ending, is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to Ouija board stories. Today, popular culture is riddled with cautionary tales expounding the dangers of Ouija board séances, most of them warning that improper use of the device can leave the practitioner vulnerable to attacks by evil spirits or demons. These exhortations are based on the tenets of various Judeo-Christian religious denominations which condemn any attempt to contact the spirit world. Perhaps the most well-known religious denunciation of Ouija board use is that of the Roman Catholic Church, which expounds its position in paragraph 2,116 of the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future.”
The section outlining this doctrine cites two verses from sacred scripture. The first of these is Chapter 18, Verse 10 of the Book of Deuteronomy (the fifth book of the Hebrew Torah, detailing the divine laws revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai), which denounces child sacrifice, fortune telling, soothsaying, divining, spell-casting, consulting ghosts and spirits, or seeking “oracles from the dead”. The second passage cited is Chapter 29, Verse 8, of the Book of Jeremiah, which warns against false prophets and diviners who lie and deceive in God’s name.
Whether you consider the Ouija board a useful tool, a harmless toy, or a dangerous door to another world, perhaps the wisest policy is to treat it with caution.
“The Lost Child”, by Violet Bender of Ottawa, Ontario, in the February 1955 issue of the magazine Fate, courtesy of American Fortean researcher Gary S. Mangiacopra
The Ouija Board of Cobden, Ontario was last modified: February 18th, 2019 by Hammerson Peters
The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 13- The Paper Chase
The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 6, Episode 13 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.
The episode begins at Smith’s Cove, where the crew examines the mysterious concrete wall discovered at the end of the previous episode. After some light excavation with his trowel, Laird Niven uncovers two rubbery pipes protruding from the wall’s base, indicating that the structure was made by 19th or 20th Century searchers.
That afternoon, the crew congregates in the War Room. After discussing the strange new discovery, Marty Lagina suggests that perhaps the concrete walls is much older than the rubber pipes, and that previous searchers drilled through the structure and inserted the pipes into it after discovering it. Talk then turns to the slipway, located next to the concrete wall. Gary Drayton expresses his belief that the slipway constitutes original work, and will help lead them to the original Money Pit.
Later, Rick Lagina and Dave Blankenship pay a visit to the home of Dan Blankenship. There, they inform the elderly treasure hunter of the new discovery and ask him if he has any clue as to what it might be. Dan explains that the wall must have been constructed before 1950, as Robert Restall never built anything of the sort during his treasure hunt in the 1960s. He goes on to suggest that they have wood from the adjacent slipway carbon dated, as it is probable that whoever built the slipway either constructed or new about the concrete wall.
Next, the crew meets at the Money Pit, where Irving Equipment Ltd. is working H8. The contractors use the oscillator to lift the H8 caisson several feet before excavating the material that moved into the bottom with a hammergrab. The first hammergrab load, which comes from a depth of 168 feet, yields fragments of old wood, which Craig Tester suggests is part of the Chappell Vault.
After a cursory examination, the H8 spoils are laid on a wash table and manually inspected by Jack Begley and Charles Barkhouse. After finding several more slivers of wood, Jack Begley discovers a handful of what appear to be blackened parchment fragments. Later on, he discovers a delicate white scrap of material which resembles paper.
Later that day, Craig Tester and Jack Begley meet with Doug Crowell and Paul Troutman at the Oak Island Research Centre. There, they examine the new material discovered in the H8 spoils under a digital microscope. One of the black scraps appears to be leather. Another piece of material, supposed to be parchment, has markings in yellow and red paint or ink. Doug Crowell suggests that the colour might be from a stylized initial, or drop cap, of an illuminated manuscript. The crew members agree that they ought to have the coloured pigments or dyes analyzed by an expert.
Later, the Oak Island crew meets with Randall Sullivan at the Money Pit area. The Lagina brothers and Sullivan walk down to the War Room, where the writer presents the treasure hunters with the first copies of his new book The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World’s Longest Treasure Hunt. Sullivan expresses his belief that his book is the “most authoritative and entertaining history of Oak Island”. He claims that his research led him to believe that the popular legend of the Money Pit’s discovery is accurate, and that he is partial towards the theory that Francis Bacon is the man behind the Oak Island mystery. He then sites a passage from Francis Bacon’s natural history book Sylva Sylvarum which instructs the reader to “dig a pit upon the Sea-Shore”, starting above the high water mark, to a point below sea level.
When Rick and Marty ask Sullivan how he would go about the Oak Island treasure hunt, he states that he would look for an entrance underwater. He then suggests that the “primary flood system” feeding the Money Pit is not the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel, but rather the suspected South Shore Cove flood tunnel. The narrator then explains that, in the winter of 1980, Dan Blankenship discovered four large holes in the ice of the South Shore Cove, which led him to suspect the presence of a second flood tunnel originating on the South Shore Cove.
Later, the treasure hunters gather at the Money Pit area, where Irving Equipment Ltd.’s caisson-maneuvering operating has brought 24 feet of material into the H8 shaft. The team watches as the contractors remove the material with a hammergrab.
Meanwhile, Jack Begley, Charles Barkhouse, and Dan Henskee sift through the debris extracted from H8. Begley discovers a large piece of blackened paper or parchment. Dan Henskee then picks out a blackened fragment of what he suggests might be human bone.
The Painted Parchment
In this episode, Jack Begley discovers a scrap of parchment in the spoils of H8 bearing markings done with red and yellow paint or ink. Doug Crowell later suggests that the colours might be evidence of a stylized initial, or drop cap, of the type used in illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages.
In this episode, writer Randall Sullivan remarks that he is partial to the theory that Francis Bacon is behind the Oak Island mystery, citing a passage from his natural history book Sylva Sylvarum as evidence. The passage in question is from a chapter in which Bacon describes a supposed method of straining saltwater to produce freshwater. The passage reads:
“Dig a pit upon the seashore, somewhat above the highwater mark, and sink it as deep as the lowwater mark; and as the tide cometh in, it will fill with water, fresh and potable. This is commonly practice upon the coast of Barbary, where other fresh water is wanting. And Caesar knew this well when he was besieged in Alexandria: for by digging of pits in the seashore, he did frustrate the laborious works of the enemies, which had turned the seawater upon the wells of Alexandria; and so saved his army, being then in desperation. But Caesar mistook the cause, for he thought that all seasands had natural springs of fresh water. But it is plain that it is the seawater; because the pit filleth according to the measure of the tide; and the seawater passing or straining through the sands leaveth the saltness.”
Incidentally, Sylva Sylvarum also contains a chapter which Bacon describes how objects can be preserved by being dipped in mercury. A number of Oak Island theorists who subscribe to the notion that Francis Bacon is behind the Money Pit mystery cite this passage as evidence for their theory, as mercury was found in the pottery dump at Joudrey’s Cove, and, according to some, on the scrap of parchment found in the Money Pit in 1897 by the Oak Island Treasure Company.
The South Shore Flood Tunnel
In this episode, Randall Sullivan expresses his belief in the South Shore Cove flood tunnel- a supposed original working, the existence of which Oak Island treasure hunters have debated for over a century.
In 1897, after using five charges of dynamite to destroy a section of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel, the Oak Island treasure Company believed they had eliminated the greatest obstacle keeping them from fully excavating the Money Pit. However, after attempting to drain the Pit, the company men learned that the volumetric flow rate of the incoming floodwater was virtually unchanged.
In order to verify that they had indeed blocked the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel with their dynamiting, Frederick Blair and the Oak Island Treasure Company poured red dye into the Pit before pumping it full of seawater. The seawater backwashed the flood system, and soon red dye appeared on the shore of Smith’s Cove.
However, in an unexpected turn of events, the dye also showed up at several locations on Oak Island’s South Shore Cove. This discovery led the Oak Island Treasure Company to believe that another flood tunnel connected the waters of the South Shore Cove with the Money Pit. Assuming that this South Shore flood tunnel was constructed in a similar manner as the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel, the locations at which the red dye appeared along the South Shore Cove were likely the sites of box drains.
South Shore Cove Ice Holes
In February 1980, Dan Blankenship observed four circular holes in the ice approximately 700 feet off the South Shore Cove, each of them spaced about 150 feet apart. Blankenship and David Tobias both considered these holes to be another piece of evidence of the existence of the South Shore flood tunnel. Blankenship observed these holes a second time in the winter of 1987.
The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 13- The Paper Chase was last modified: February 16th, 2019 by Hammerson Peters
Every year, people all over North America report encounters with strange creatures that have no place in current taxonomic literature. From sea serpents to Sasquatches, most of these mysterious animals have long featured in regional folklore. A small minority, like the Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and the Manwolf of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, have no precedent at all.
In recent years, a new sort of monster sighting has emerged. These sightings are connected with a very special kind of mythology- one which far postdates the shadowy advent of native tradition and frontier lore. These monster myths derive from a unique variety of urban legend which has its origins in our burgeoning Age of the Internet- a fictional, viral horror story called the “creepypasta”.
What are CreepyPastas?
Creepypastas are scary stories and images that proliferate across the internet to such an extent that they graduate into digital folklore. Instead of transmitting by way of playgrounds, after-school hangouts, and backyard campfires- the breeding grounds of traditional urban legends- these tales spread via chain emails, online forums like Reddit and 4Chan, and websites designed specifically for their dissemination.
Perhaps the most well-known creepypasta is the tale of Slenderman- a tall, thin, faceless, suit-clad gentleman who preys on children. The Slenderman character was invented on June 10, 2009, by a Japan-based American expat for an internet Photoshop contest. Images depicting this imaginary character and his associated backstory began to circulate throughout various online forums, and in no time the Slenderman meme went viral. Creative internet users began to expand on the Slenderman legend and formulate entire stories around him, transforming him into a full-blown 21st Century boogeyman.
In a 2012 interview for BBC Radio 4, Slenderman’s creator, Eric Knudson, observed that “even though people [realize] that Slenderman was created [on an internet forum in] June 2009,” some still believe that he might be real. Two years later, this strange reality made international headlines when two teenage girls from Wisconsin stabbed their friend half to death in the hope that their crime would earn them a home in Slenderman’s supposed mansion in the woods.
Slenderman is not the only creepypasta monster to escape from the internet and reify itself in the material world, or at least in the minds of imaginative internet users. Another virtual invention that makes its appearance from time to time is creature known as “the Rake”.
The Rake myth had its genesis in late 2005, when an anonymous poster on the imageboard website 4Chan decided to invent a new monster. The poster described his brainchild thus:
“Humanoid, about six feet tall when standing, but usually crouches and walks on all fours. It has very pale skin. The face is blank. As in, no nose, no mouth. However, it has three solid green eyes, one in the middle of its forehead, and the other two on either side of its head, towards the back… When it attacks, a mouth opens up, as if a hinged skull that opens at the chin. Reveals many tiny, but dull teeth”.
This monster, which appears to have been inspired by the so-called “Crawlers” from the 2005 horror film The Descent, evolved throughout the 4Chan thread, gradually transforming into a gaunt, naked, pale-skinned, human-like creature that crawls on four long spindly limbs. This entity was dubbed ‘the Rake’.
It would be several years before the concept of the Rake gained traction in the creepypasta community. In December 2008, posts featuring this made-up monster appeared on the Russian social networking site LiveJournal. In April 2009, the creature returned to 4Chan, its birthplace. Two months later, the Rake made its way onto SomethingAwful.com, where it served as an inspiration for Eric Knudson’s Slenderman.
By 2010, the legend of the Rake was spreading like wildfire throughout the internet, infiltrating all manner of creepypasta websites and engendering fan art and creative fiction which added depth and colour to its mythos.
Then, in 2012, something incredible happened: internet users, ostensibly in earnest, began reporting frightening encounters with emaciated, pale, hairless, man-like creatures that crawled on all fours. Apparently oblivious to the fact that the objects of these encounters bore striking resemblance to the fictional Rake, internet users attempted to equate these entities with characters of Native American mythology. Some suggested that they were skinwalkers- medicine men of Navajo lore who possess the ability to transform into animals. Others proposed that these bony humanoids were manifestations of the Wendigo- an evil cannibalistic spirit of Cree and Algonquin legend. Others still began to invent new names for these creatures, such as “fleshgaits”, “goatmen”, and “crawlers”, the latter evoking the 2005 movie villains who likely helped to inspire the Rake in the first place.
It would be tempting to dismiss these sightings as attention-seeking hoaxes or innocent misidentifications owing to the power of suggestion were it not for their chilling profusion. The staggering quantity of reliable witnesses who claim to have seen these creatures, coupled with the fact that many witnesses appear to be ignorant of the urban legend which their sightings evoke, suggests two almost inconceivable possibilities: that the creator of the Rake meme, through some mysterious process, unconsciously contrived an entity that already existed, or that the human imagination somehow willed these beings into existence. These bizarre notions beget the uncomfortable question: “What came first: the monster or the myth?”
Crawlers in Canada
Don Herbert’s Sighting
A few weeks ago, a northern Canadian named Don Herbert shared his own crawler sighting with this author. Herbert is a miner who hails from the remote town of Hay River, Northwest Territories, located on the southern shores of Great Slave Lake. He works in biweekly rotations, spending two weeks at the mine followed by two weeks off at home.
One night in mid-August 2018, during his annual summer vacation about a week prior to his scheduled return to work, Herbert found himself alone in his truck, driving through the woods on the Northwest Territories Highway 2, more commonly known as the Hay River Highway. This stretch of road is one of the most remote thoroughfares in all of Canada, beginning on the shores of Great Slake Lake and skirting the western bank of the Hay River before joining the Mackenzie Highway 38 kilometres to the south.
Drowsy, road-weary, and anxious to get home, Don was a few miles from town when a pale figure appeared in his truck’s headlights, crouching on all fours in the ditch on the left-hand side of the road. From wolves to wolverines, Don had encountered plenty of animals during nighttime drives through the boreal wilderness, but this creature was unlike anything he had ever seen before. Its skin was grayish white and completely hairless. Its head, which he estimated to be only slightly smaller than his own, was bald and didn’t appear to have any ears. Aside from a pair of dark eyes, its only facial feature was a cruel-looking, beak-like mouth. Its legs were long and spindly, and appeared to taper sharply towards the feet, which were obscured by long grass.
The creature, which impressed Don as being highly intelligent, appeared to notice him in the driver’s seat. Bearing its beaklike teeth, it crouched slightly, dug in with its front legs, and launched itself at Don’s truck, leaving a small cloud of dust in its wake. Instead of slamming into the side of the vehicle as its course indicated it was likely to, the creature turned deftly on the side of the road and loped alongside the truck.
Alarmed, Don stepped on the gas and raced for home, leaving the frightening creature behind in the gloom of the forest.
In the months that followed his horrifying encounter, Don spent his free time attempting to identify and track down the strange animal that he saw, secretly fearing that it was a demon. The following is Don Herbert’s own account of his search for the mysterious crawler (lightly edited by this author for the purposes of concision and continuity), which he has generously allowed us to publish for the first time in this article.
Don Herbert’s Account
“During that remaining week, I did not return to the location of the encounter with the creature. More specifically, I could not return to the location. I was now absolutely terrified to do so. Even in daylight, not a chance.
“Around this time, things were starting to sink in and I started to notice some fundamental changes starting to happen with my behavior.
“I reside in town, and my house faces the Hay River. The house itself is set back a ways from the street, resulting in a fairly long driveway of maybe 30 feet or so. I can walk across the street in front of my home and access a nature trail that follows the river. On the other side of the river is wilderness, save for a gravel road that provides access to a First Nations reserve. Directly behind my home there is a green area as well.
“A couple of days after the incident, I was taking my garbage to the curb after dark. There is a streetlamp across the street so it wasn’t entirely pitch black. However, as I was carrying my garbage can to the curb, I felt a sense of nervousness starting to develop. It became worse the closer I got to the woods on the opposite side of the street at the end of the driveway.
“As I progressed to the street, I couldn’t help but to continue to scan the tree line on the opposite side of the road in both directions, watching for any signs of movement. After I placed my garbage can at the street, I could not bring myself to turn my back to the darkened woods out of a deep sense of fear.
“To return to the house, I back stepped the length of the driveway, keeping a close eye on the tree line until I reached the front end of my truck, which was parked in the driveway. Only then did I turn around to make the final distance onto my front deck, then into my house with my back to the woods. I knew then and there that the encounter with the creature had affected me more than I cared to admit.
“Up until that point, I was trying my hardest to put the incident out of my mind and continue on as normal. I did not want to even start thinking about it. Every time my thoughts wandered back to it, I would try thinking of something else entirely. I didn’t even want to begin to try and form an opinion. I was hoping I could just forget about the encounter altogether and just simply move on. Well, let’s just say that’s easier said than done.
“When I got back into my house after putting the trash out, I sat down on the couch. I realized at that moment in time that there was no way that I was going to be able to avoid confronting the subject. The simple fact of the matter was, those 4 – 5 seconds on the highway that night had changed my life forever, whether I tried to continue to deny it to myself or not.
“And so it began. I asked myself the one question I was trying my absolute best to avoid from the very moment I passed by the creature and the encounter ended: ‘What in the hell was that?’
“I returned to work for my two-week rotation shortly after that.
“I started to tell the story to as many people as I could in the hopes that someone may have had a similar story or shared a similar experience. I wondered if I’d had a hallucination. I surfed the web for images similar to creature I had seen. I read reports of sightings of strange creatures in the hope that someone out there may have experienced a similar encounter. I was sincerely hoping to find a natural explanation for what I had seen.
“When I started looking for information on the creature, there were only two options at this point that I really cared to entertain:
“The first, and most probable, in my mind, was that I had experienced a hallucination of some sort. What confused me most about this theory was that I had not only seen the creature, but I had heard it as well. The experience just seemed too real.
“The second option was that I had perhaps witnessed a species of animal never before seen or reported. This is where I was ‘officially’ introduced to the world of cryptozoology. Now don’t get me wrong, I was not totally ignorant of the cryptid world prior to this encounter. In fact I probably possess more knowledge about the subject than most average people.
“I currently prospect the Nahanni region, and earlier in life spent two seasons placer mining on the Liard River just a ways upriver from its confluence with the South Nahanni. You can’t research the area from a geological perspective in a search for minerals or frequent the region without becoming aware of the mysteries surrounding the area. I have always tried to keep an open mind about things, but the moment of my encounter was the first time I actually thought that some of the stories I’ve read and some of tales I’ve heard over the years could potentially have some measure of truth to them.”
Frustrated by his inability to identify the creature, the incredulity of his co-workers, and his newfound fear of the wilderness which infringed upon his lifelong love of outdoor recreation, Don resolved to find the creature and kill it.
“I returned from work on the evening of September 04, 2018, arriving home at just after 8:00 PM. As we were landing at the airport, the sun was just starting to dip below the horizon.
“Tim, a friend I work with, who was also on the flight, kindly offered me a lift home from the airport. Tim was the first person to whom I had relayed the story of my encounter. I had been very anxious to speak with him two weeks earlier, as I waited for the flight to the mine. In the past, Tim has both hunted and trapped to make a living. He has extensive knowledge of the subject. I thought that if anyone would have seen or heard of anything like this creature, it would be him.
“When Tim dropped me off at home, he was then heading to his own home and family. They reside on an acreage about 10 minutes south of town in the direction of where I saw the creature. Tim’s family also owns a secluded cottage along the Hay River near the Alberta / NWT border, and as such they spend a lot of time on the highway travelling back and forth, passing the location where I had seen the creature.
“Tim knew I was intending on trying to find the track that evening and wished me luck. When he dropped me off at home, I quite literally tossed my bags inside the door of my home, got in my truck, and proceeded to head out on the highway to where the encounter with the creature had taken place.
“At this point in time, the encounter was all I could think about. It was very quickly becoming an obsession, if indeed it hadn’t already. Before I could even begin to move forward I had to find the answer to one fundamental question: ‘Did it leave any tracks?’ Visions and spirits and hallucinations do not leave physical tracks.
“Three weeks had now elapsed since the encounter. I didn’t feel I had much chance of success in finding any tracks in the ditch where I first noticed the creature or on the shoulder of the highway where it approached me, as it had rained a few times in the two weeks I was at work. I was hoping beyond hope that I was not already too late.
“Even with the sun now below the horizon and darkness fast approaching, I had to go. I could not take the chance of one more minute of time elapsing before I had the opportunity to find that sign. I felt my very sanity now hinged on finding that one, single, particular track on the shoulder of the highway. This was not only a search for a strange creature but also an attempt to confirm that I wasn’t on the path of early dementia or beginning to lose grip on reality.
“On the drive out, I was trying to reconcile the fact that this could go two ways. The first was that, if I found the tracks, it would mean the creature is real. The second was that, if I didn’t find the tracks, it would mean that I’m losing my mind. Neither option was very appealing. It was not the most pleasant drive, to say the least.
“I slowed as I approached the area the encounter took place and there it was- the skid mark the creature had left, just where I thought it would be. I parked on the side of the road about 20 feet from the track. I got out with my iPhone on record to get some video I could look at later. I was not stepping one foot off the pavement, however. I scanned the area with my phone as long as I dared and got the hell back in the truck and started heading back to town.
“I had to get Tim!!! I had to get Tim!!! I had to get Tim!!!
“That was all I could think as I drove back to Tim’s place 10 minutes away, hoping that I could get him to take a look at the track before dark. I could not stop myself from imposing on Tim, who had just returned to his family after two weeks. I just had to get Tim!
“Tim was gracious enough to come out with me and examine the track. He offered his opinion that it looked similar to a goat track, but since the track was at least three weeks old, you would never be able to tell for sure. This would be unusual, as goats aren’t known in the region.
“As Tim was now with me, I managed to summon the courage to now actually step off the pavement and have a look in the ditch where I first spotted the creature. In the dim light, I could tell something had left signs of activity. But the signs were only faintly visible due to their age. I also followed the path it took up the ditch towards the gravel shoulder and found its approach tracks as well.
“We didn’t spend a great deal of time investigating the tracks due to the failing light and soon headed back home.
“It was dark as I dropped Tim back off at home. The tree line across from my driveway was dark as I returned home to the couch. I had some thoughts to process and a heart to get back in my chest.
“While having my coffee the next morning I decided to try out a new hobby and become an amateur cryptozoologist (LOL). I intended to approach the hunt for the creature in a scientific manner the best I could and let the experts come to their own conclusions based on any evidence I could gather.
“Finding the track made me confident that I was dealing with an animal. My former anger subsided into fascination. I decided to set out to prove that this thing exists.”
Don Herbert began his investigation at an abandoned gravel pit located about a mile from the site of his encounter. The area was perpetually crisscrossed with animal tracks, and Don hoped that the mysterious creature might leave some sign of its presence there. For nearly two weeks, he checked the site every morning for fresh prints. On the twelfth day, his diligence was rewarded; there, in the frost-encrusted soil, were two pairs of strange animal tracks which he interpreted as belonging to a mother and her offspring. Herbert reasoned that the presence of a young one might explain the creature’s hostile reaction on the highway; perhaps the creature had been attempting to chase him off, or direct his attention away from her progeny.
Herbert proceeded to search for the creatures’ den in the woods near the site of his encounter, on the side of the highway closest to the river, reasoning that the creature’s hairlessness was an indication that it hibernated during the winter. During his search, he came across several more of the strange prints. These tracks often appeared in the vicinity of wolf tracks, which Don took as an indication that the creature is a scavenger which subsists on the leavings of predators.
On September 17, 2018, Don Herbert discovered the outlet of an old drainage culvert which was covered with fresh vegetation, as if someone or something had attempted to conceal it. He suspected that this might be the creatures’ den, and set up game cameras to monitor the entrance. When the cameras failed to yield any interesting footage, Don crawled into the culvert and found it empty and unusually clean.
Identifying the Tracks
Don Herbert took several photos of the strange animal’s tracks during his investigation and showed four of the best of them to experienced animal trackers with whom he was personally acquainted. None of the woodsmen were able to identify the tracks. He then sent the photos to the Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada. The Alliance forwarded the photos to several biologists, none of whom were able or willing to interpret them.
The Mystery Creature’s Tracks
This author of this piece later sent Don’s photos to two expert animal trackers, one of them a distinguished Canadian hunter who preferred to remain anonymous. Both experts claimed that the tracks in three of the photos were too faint to accurately identify, but agreed that the track featured in Figure 3 is clearly that of a wolf.
After doing a little research of his own, this author, who is admittedly a complete novice when it comes to interpreting animal tracks, observed that the tracks in Figures 1 and 2 appear to bear some resemblance to the prints left by wolverines.
The Creepypasta Connection
When asked to produce a sketch of mysterious animal he saw, Don sent this author an illustration made by DeviantArt artist DemonGirl99, which he claimed was very similar to the creature he witnessed.
In private correspondence with this author, DemonGirl99 claimed that her illustration was based off another image produced by fellow DeviantArt creator Crypdidical. This original piece features the “Fisherman”- a Rake-like monster which Crypdidical invented. In an accompanying description, the artist explained his creation thus:
“Much like The Slender Man and the Tall Gentleman, the Fisherman is a mysterious humanoid entity which seems bent on creating terror and fear in [its] wake… It has only been seen around water, and often shows itself to small groups or individuals of its choosing.
“[Its] figure has never been glimpsed in full light. But from what can be understood from witnesses that come across it… it is extremely lanky. It often walks on four limbs, and never on two. It’s agile and coordinated, and seems to be able to guide [its] long [appendages] with ease and grace…”
The Search Continues
Don Herbert assured this author that he fully intends to continue the search for the mysterious creature, which he believes to be an undiscovered species of terrestrial origin, and has agreed to furnish this author with any updates on his progress.
Newfoundland – 2010
Intriguingly, Don Herbert is not the only Canuck to report an encounter with a crawler in the Canadian backwoods. In 2012, a Reddit user with the handle “TossO” described his own brush with a similar creature in an unidentified national park in Newfoundland in the summer of 2010.
While cruising through a barren valley one moonlit night, the poster saw a large, stocky, naked, humanoid creature crawling rapidly towards a stretch of road that lay before him. The creature was completely hairless, and its skin was “a deathly, nauseating white with a greasy shine”.
As he approached the creature, the poster observed that “it had a rubbery face, distorted by hate or a scream, [and] black eyes that reflected in the moonlight”. The poster was horrified by the creature’s facial expression, which gave him the impression that “it was intelligent, and . . . wanted to tear [him] apart with its teeth”.
Similar to Don Herbert’s creature, this monster appeared to be on a collision course with the poster’s vehicle. “I braced for it to run into my car door,” the Redditor wrote. “And then it was gone. The [rear-view] mirror showed me nothing.”
TossO ended his post by voicing his suspicion, evocative of one of Don Herbert’s theories, that the creature he witnessed was a demon.
Northern Ontario – 1990s
In 2017, Reddit user Bailbondshman claimed to have encountered an emaciated, human-like figure while on a camping trip with his father somewhere in Northern Ontario’s cabin country when he was nine or ten years old. While canoeing on a lake with his father during a mussel-hunting excursion, the Redittor caught a glimpse of something strange amidst the trees on the shore.
“I couldn’t make it [out] very well,” the Redditor write, “but it was white, almost like the texture of birch, and very lankly. I remember thinking that… it definitely wasn’t a person, but it wasn’t too far from the general shape of one. It was staggering around lethargically and slowly; if it was an animal, then something was definitely wrong with it. I waded over to my dad and told him to look up there, and by that point it was gone…”
Later on in the post, the Redditor related other interesting (if unrelated) anecdotes regarding this particular camping spot, including a strange humming noise that he and his father would sometimes hear in the nearby marshes, which was often preceded by sudden and utter silence, as well as a small peninsula on the lake that was covered with mushrooms and dead trees and pervaded by a terrible stench.
The Redditor ended his post with what he considered the most disturbing story regarding the lake on which he and his father would often vacation:
“I remember one morning, I had woken up just before sunrise and was still in bed. In the window adjacent to my bed, I saw something that usually wasn’t there. It was half a . . . face poking around the edge of the window and staring into our cabin. Sickly pale orange with giant black holes where the eyes were supposed to be. This thing was definitely not human. I… hid under the covers, and eventually fell back to sleep. When I woke up again, everyone was also awake, and there was no sign of anything there”
The Ovens Natural Park, Nova Scotia – 2015
Crawlers are not the only creepypasta-esque creatures purported to wander the Canadian wilderness. In recent years, several Reddit users claimed to have witnessed tall, thin, naked, bipedal humanoids, bearing characteristics of both Slenderman and the Rake, in various Canadian locales. One of these is Redditor LilyBirdGk, who created a post in 2016 in which she described her boyfriend’s strange encounter with a mysterious entity the previous summer.
In August 2015, the poster and her boyfriend rented a cabin in The Ovens Natural Park, Nova Scotia- an area famous for its spectacular seaside cliffs and their many sea caves, or “ovens”. They spent their first day in the park hiking a cliffside trail and exploring the area’s eponymous formations.
That night, the couple and a few of their friends settled down in their rented cabin for a game of cards. The poster’s boyfriend lost gracelessly, his temper exacerbated by jokes directed at him by one of his friends, which were intended to poke fun at his stature. To cool off, he decided to go for a walk outside alone.
When her boyfriend failed to return after half an hour, the anxious poster called him on his cellphone. He did not answer her call, but quickly phoned her back and asked where she was. The poster, somewhat confused, replied that she was still in the cabin. After a pause, the boyfriend declared that he was coming back immediately, his voice betraying a hint of alarm. When he finally arrived at the cabin, he told his girlfriend a disturbing tale:
“He had walked out to the trails to get some fresh air and sat down on one of the benches to look out at the ocean. The moon was pretty bright that night so everything was illuminated pretty well. Then he heard someone walking by and he saw this really tall and pale figure stop and look at him, and then continue on. For some reason he assumed this was me coming to look for him, and [that’s] when I called him and told him I was in the cabin. He said that in retrospect it was inhumanly tall and pale (thanks babe) and [couldn’t] possibly be a person. He was not himself for the rest of the night and [didn’t] seem normal until lunch the next day.”
Quesnel, British Columbia – 2018
Throughout the latter half of 2018, Reddit user MZULFT10989 posted about his own encounters with a strange entity which visited his property in the city of Quesnel, in central British Columbia.
The Redditor’s first alleged encounters took place in the early summer, when he noticed an eerie humanoid creature “running inhumanly fast” through the field behind his house before vaulting over a 5.5-foot-tall fence and disappearing into the woods. This creature was emaciated, white-skinned, and “at least 7 feet tall”, with a gaping mouth and no eyes. Unlike the crawler that Don Herbert encountered, this creature was bipedal, and ran with a manlike gait.
In August 2018, the same Redditor published another post in which he claimed to have seen the mysterious creature again, this time at night, darting through a field on his property and jumping the fence into his neighbour’s yard. Two weeks later, the Redditor caught the same creature peering at him from around the side of his house. Frightened, he retreated indoors. Later, he examined the area at which the creature had stood and found scratch marks on the exterior of his house.
In October 2018, the Redditor reported a third encounter. While he was sitting outside on the back porch facing his field, the creature appeared and raced across his property as it had done several times before. This time, however, it stopped in the middle of the field and turned to stare at the Redditor. Before the petrified Canadian had time to react, the creature ran down the field and leapt into his neighbour’s yard.
On another occasion, the poster saw the creature peering at him through his living room window. He ran upstairs to retrieve his hunting bow, with which he intended to protect himself, but by the time he returned downstairs, the creature was gone.
The subject of the Redditor’s fourth and final post took place in November 2018, about two weeks after his previous encounter. This time, the man found the creature staring into his barn through an open window. The entity apparently learned that it was being watched, turned to face the Redditor, and emitted a piercing shriek before running into his neighbour’s yard and into the woods.
What do you think, Canucks? Are these creatures simply misidentifications or figments of active imaginations? Or is there something strange lurking in the Canadian wilderness? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below.
New 2018 Crawler Sighting in Canada’s Northwest Territories was last modified: February 11th, 2019 by Hammerson Peters
The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 12- Slipway When Wet
The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 6, Episode 12 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.
The Lagina brothers, Craig Tester, and Dan Blankenship gather at the Money Pit area, where Irving Equipment Ltd. is busy re-excavating Borehole H8. The hammergrab has encountered a hard granite-ridden ‘plug’ at the bottom of the shaft, which the team will need to break up and remove in order for further excavation to take place. The treasure hunters decide to initiate this process by starting up the oscillator, which drives the H8 caisson further into the earth.
Later, Rick Lagina, Laird Niven, and Terry Matheson uncover the supposed slipway at Smith’s Cove discovered the previous episode. While they work, Gary Drayton and Jack Begley run a metal detector over the mysterious object. Drayton quickly discovers a rusted wrought iron artifact bearing close resemblance to the supposed crossbow bolt or pilum tip discovered in Season 6, Episode 3.
That afternoon, the crew congregates in the War Room, where they call up runology expert Dr. Lilla Kopar and ask for her opinion of the inscription on Tory Martin’s stone. Kopar explains that she will need detailed pictures of the inscription in order to make an informed opinion, whereupon Alex Lagina offers to send her 3D model of the stone produced by the LIDAR scan carried out in Season 6, Episode 10.
The next day, Rick Lagina and Craig Tester join the crew of Irving Equipment Ltd. at the Money Pit area. The plug at the bottom of H8 has been removed, and so the treasure hunters decide to lift the caisson up in order to fill the void with the surrounding mud, which they hope will contain the artifacts that eluded them the previous season.
Before they carry out this operation, however, they first decide to conduct a sonar scan of H8 in order to investigate the 10-foot-tall, 160-foot deep cavern indicated by results of the seismic scan introduced in Season 6, Episode 3. Mike Roberts and Joey Rolfe of underwater survey company Divetech Ltd. arrive on the island and lower a camera-equipped ROV (remote operated underwater vehicle) into H8. The crew stands by on the surface, watching a screen displaying the results of the ongoing sonar scan.
At a depth of 170, the scanner picks up what appears to be the right-angled corner of a surrounding cavity. “Angular features in nature are always interesting to look at,” explains Rick Lagina in a later interview, “because angles usually are reflective of human intervention- some sort of human construct- so there’s the hope that it’s an association with some sort of room or cavity or void.”
The image on the monitor suddenly flickers and fades, whereupon Mike Roberts informs the crew that the sonar scanner has inexplicably malfunctioned. Anxious to continue the scan, the crew asks Mike to pull up the ROV, fix whatever can be fixed, and lower it back down again as soon as possible. In a later interview, Rick and Marty Lagina express their frustration with the setback and remark that it is just the latest in a long line of unexplainable equipment failure on Oak Island. The ROV is winched back to the surface, whereupon the crew learns that it has flooded with water, and is therefore no longer operable.
Later, the crew meets in the War Room to hear Dr. Lilla Kopar’s assessment of the Martin stone. Kopar informs the crew that the inscription on its surface is probably not runic, as runes were typically bounded by horizontal lines on the top and bottom; the inscription on the Martin stone has only one horizontal line. She further states that she “could not identify a single character that was runic. So my conclusion would be that these are not runes.”
Kopar then offers the crew a glimmer of hope by stating that “the rhythm of the carving” is evocative of some sort of script. She then suggests that the inscription evokes textualis rotundra, a type of Gothic script widely used throughout Western Europe from the 12th to the 15th Century. In a later interview, Rick Lagina remarks that the period in which textualis rotundra was used corresponds with Tobias Skowronek’s pre-15th Century dating of the lead cross. Copar concludes her analysis by echoing Terry Matheson’s initial suspicion that the stone likely served an architectural function.
Later, Rick Lagina, Gary Drayton, and Dan Henskee head to the woods near the Money Pit area to search for the second half of the Martin stone, which appears to have broken off sometime in the past. Drayton, using his metal detector, soon discovers a coin, which Rick Lagina suggests might be a bronze of copper token.
Shortly after the find, Rick Lagina gets a call from Laird Niven, who informs him of an interesting structure that he, Terry Matheson, and Billy Gerhardt recently unearthed at Smith’s Cove. Rick heads to the beach, where Laird shows him the new discovery- an underground wall of concrete located a short distance from the slipway. Rick remarks that “the Romans had concrete that could set underwater”, and suggests that the concrete block could “be incredibly old”. The treasure hunters marvel at the discovery, consider whether it might be connected with the nearby slipway, and discuss the possibility that it constitutes original work, as there is no record of previous searchers having created such a structure.
The Angular Cavity
In this episode, Mike Roberts and Joey Rolfe of Divetech Ltd. conducted a sonar survey of Borehole H8 using an ROV in order to investigate the 10-foot-tall, 160-foot deep cavern indicated by results of the seismic scan introduced in Season 6, Episode 3. At a depth of 170 feet, the scanner indicated the presence of a surrounding chamber, the nearest wall of which had the unnatural-looking angle of 90 degrees. Shortly thereafter, the ROV malfunctioned, evoking the scores of mysterious equipment failures that have occurred on Oak Island at the brink of potentially major breakthroughs.
In this episode, runology expert Dr. Lilla Kopar examined the markings on the Martin stone and concluded that they were probably not runes. She then suggested that the markings evoked the “rhythm” of textualis rotundra, a particular type of Gothic script used during the High Middle Ages, from the 12th to the 15th Century.
It is an interesting coincidence that one of the inscribed stones from Joudrey’s Cove bears markings that could be interpreted as letters from the Gothic alphabet, a Greek-derived alphabet used for writing the Gothic language (used by the Goths, a Dark Age East Germanic people who played an important role in the fall of the Western Roman Empire), which, it must be mentioned, has little connection with Gothic script aside from its name.
The Concrete Wall
At the end of this episode, Laird Niven and Billy Gerhardt discover a concrete wall buried at Smith’s Cove adjacent to the mysterious slipway discovered the previous episode. There are no records of previous searchers having built this structure, suggesting the possibility that it constitutes the work of the original depositors.
If true, the underground wall at Smith’s Cove is not the only original working to be composed of concrete. In the summer of 1897, the Oak Island Treasure Company drilled through what they believed to be a concrete vault (dubbed the “Chappell Vault”) in the Money Pit at a depth of 154-161 feet. In 1909, the Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company drilled through 6-10-inch-thick layers of cement from 146-149 feet in the Money Pit. And in Season 2, Episode 4, the crew brought up a core sample containing a hard concrete-like substance from a depth of 140-142 feet.
The concrete discovered on Oak Island does little to narrow down the list of suspects implicated in the creation of the Money Pit, as most potential candidates, from the Romans to the Aztecs, are known to have used some form of concrete in their architectural projects.
The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 12- Slipway When Wet was last modified: February 11th, 2019 by Hammerson Peters
This question will yield a number of different answers depending on whom you ask.
Canadian schoolkids fresh from Social Studies class may recall that Italian navigator John Cabot discovered the rocky shores of Labrador in 1496 on behalf of King Henry VII of England.
American schoolkids might be just as quick to point out that another Italian navigator, Christopher Columbus, discovered the sandy beaches of Cuba four years earlier on behalf of Queen Isabella I of Castile.
Fans of The Curse of Oak Island may pipe up that Portuguese explorer Joao Vaz Corte-Real may have discovered Newfoundland in 1473 on behalf of Alfonso V, King of Portugal.
And people of Native American pedigree may remind you that their ancestors emigrated from Siberia up to 14,000 years ago.
If you ask a member of Canada’s Scandinavian communities, however, such as the residents of Gimli, Manitoba, or New Denmark, New Brunswick, you may hear a tale that was passed down centuries ago by their medieval ancestors- the tale of Viking voyages to Canada which took place more than a thousand years ago.
Who Were the Vikings?
The Norse Vikings were a hardy sea-faring folk from Scandinavia who lived in small kingdoms during the Early Middle Ages. For most of the year, they lived as farmers and fishermen, scraping out as good a living as their harsh northern environment would allow. When summer came, wealthy farmers would leave their lands in the hands of their wives, recruit a company of loyal friends and kinsmen, and set sail in search of fortune and adventure.
From the late 700s until the mid-1000s, during what is known as the ‘Viking Age’, Norse raiders sailed up and down the coastlines and rivers of Europe, pillaging and plundering as they went. With lightning speed, they attacked villages, churches, and monasteries, retreating to their longships with any booty they could lay their hands on before their victims had a chance to organize any sort of resistance. For centuries, the sight of a Viking longship with a carved dragon’s head on its prow and a row of shields lashed to its side struck terror into the hearts of peasants and clergymen from Moscow to Madrid.
Over time, the Vikings transitioned from reaving and pillaging to consolidating and colonizing. Many became settlers at the places they had once ravaged. For example, the enormous Norse raider named Rollo, whom some may recognize as a character from the History Channel series Vikings, became the first Duke of Normandy in the year 911; his great-great-great grandson, William the Conqueror, would go on to wrest England from control of the ruling Anglo-Saxon king at the Battle of Hastings (1066). Around the same time, Norse warlord Harald Fairhair united a cluster of petty Viking kingdoms, which had warred with each other for centuries, into a single Kingdom of Norway.
Many Viking chieftains who were unable to retain their power in this age of unification chose to sail west in search of new lands. In around 860 A.D., some of these political refugees discovered and settled Iceland. Less than a century later, their descendants would establish the Icelandic Commonwealth, which was governed in part by the Althing, the oldest parliament in the world.
Erik the Red and the Settlement of Greenland
In 960 A.D., a Norse Viking named Thorvald Asvaldsson fled from Norway to northwestern Iceland with his family, having been banished for committing manslaughter. His son, a red-bearded farmer called Erik the Red, was similarly banished from Iceland twenty two years later for a comparable crime. Accompanied by a handful of loyal friends and relatives, Erik the Red left his longhouse and headed out to sea, bound for a mysterious land to the west which had been spotted by Icelandic sailors blown off course.
Erik the Red and his crew spent three years exploring this new land, and discovered that it had areas which were suitable for farming. In 985, the red-bearded explorer returned to Iceland and regaled his fellow Vikings with tales of what he attractively dubbed “Groenland”, or “Greenland”. Having convinced a number of Norsemen to help him settle this new territory, Erik the Red returned to Greenland that year and established a colony there, which was named Eriksfjord.
Erik the Red and his wife eventually had four children: a lucky son named Leif; a brave son named Thorvald; a selfless son named Thorstein; and a cunning daughter named Freydis. Their subsequent discovery of a mysterious land to the west became the stuff of legend. For generations, Scandinavians spoke of their New World adventures around smoky longhouse fires. Medieval storytellers eventually put these tales to parchment, writing what are known as the Icelandic Sagas.
The Viking Discovery of Canada
There are two sagas which detail the Viking discovery of the New World: The Saga of Erik the Red (written before 1265), and the older Greenland Saga, both of which were written several centuries after the events they purport to chronicle. The events outlined in the sagas are also referenced briefly in 11th Century German chronicler Adam of Bremen’s book Descriptio Insularum Aquilonis (1075), a history of the northern world, as well as in 12th Century Icelandic historian Ari Thorgilsson’s book Islendingabok, or “Book of the Icelanders”.
The following are summaries of chapters of the Icelandic sagas which pertain to the Norse discovery of the Americas.
The Greenlander Saga
Bjarni Herjolfsson’s Discovery
Around the time of Erik the Red’s settlement of Greenland, a Norseman named Bjarni Herjolfsson had a tradition of alternately wintering in Norway, the Norse homeland, and in Iceland, where his father, Herjolf, lived. One autumn, Bjarni sailed from Norway to Iceland to discover that his father had emigrated to Erik the Red’s Greenlandic colony. Determined to winter with his father as was his custom, he and his crew sailed west.
Bjarni and his men soon encountered storms which blew them off course. When the fog cleared, the Norsemen found themselves within sight of a strange wooded land. Ignoring the entreaties of his curious crewmen, Bjarni refrained from embarking and sailed north. He came within sight of two more strange lands, neither of which he explored, before finally finding his way to Greenland.
The tale of Bjarni’s discoveries became the talk of the colony, and soon Leif Erikson, Erik the Red’s eldest son, decided to lead an expedition west in search of them. Although the elderly Erik the Red initially agreed, with some reluctance, to accompany his son, an omen convinced him to remain behind.
The Voyage of Leif Erikson
Leif Erikson and his crew sailed west and soon came to a barren, icy land covered with flat stones. He called this place Helluland, or “Flat-stone-land”. Most historians believe that Helluland was likely the eastern shores of Baffin Island, the largest island in Canada.
Finding Helluland to be of little interest, Leif and his crew continued south. Eventually, they came to a rugged land of evergreen woods and white shores. The Vikings called this place Markland, or “Forestland”. Most historians believe that Markland is likely northern Labrador.
Leif and his crew continued south, sailing for two days with a wind that blew from the northeast, before coming to a temperate land carpeted with thick dewy grass. The Vikings felt that this would be a good place to spend the winter and set about building houses. That accomplished, Leif sent half his men out to explore this new land.
When one of Leif’s friends, a German named Tyrker, failed to return, Leif led a search party to find him. The Norsemen eventually found Tyrker unharmed but babbling excitedly in German. When they finally managed to calm him down, Tyrker informed them, in Norse, that he had discovered grapevines not unlike those from his German homeland. Leif ordered his men to harvest the grapes, which were so plentiful that the Scandinavians were forced to store them in a small boat and tow it behind their main ship. Leif Erikson dubbed this new land Vinland, or “Wineland”, on account of this pleasant discovery.
Today, there is some debate among historians over the location of Vinland. Many believe Vinland to be Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula, since archaeological evidence recovered there corresponds quite well with the sagas’ descriptions of the colony that the Norse allegedly founded. Others, observing that wild grapes do not grow north of New Brunswick, maintain that Vinland must be located further south. Champions of the former theory counter this argument by suggesting that either Leif and his Vikings mistook gooseberries, which Newfoundland has in abundance, with grapes, or that Leif Erikkson invented the grape story out of whole cloth, giving the land he discovered an attractive name, like his father did upon discovering Greenland, in an attempt to attract colonists.
The Voyage of Thorvald Erikson
After spending a pleasant winter in Vinland, Leif Erikson and his crew returned to Greenland, their ships filled with grapes and timber. The tales they told of their adventures piqued the curiosity of their fellows, and soon Leif’s brother, Thorvald, decided to see this New World for himself.
Setting sail with a crew of thirty men, Thorvald Erikson followed Leif’s route west to Helluland, south down the coast of Markland, to Vinland. The Vikings found the derelict remains of Leif’s camp and, Thorvald having leased these properties from his brother back in Greenland, spent the winter there.
In the spring, Thorvald and his men sailed west on an exploratory expedition. They found little sign of human presence and decided to return to Leif’s camp to spend another winter.
The following summer, Thorvald and his crew made an exploratory expedition to the northeast. One day, after returning to their ship from an inland trek, the Vikings found three brown lumps on the sand not far from their vessel. They cautiously approached the objects and found that they were upside-down skin boats, beneath each of which slept three strange-looking men. Viking lore being littered with tales of goblins, dwarves, elves, and hostile spirits, Thorvald and his crew were anxious to learn whether the strange inhabitants of this foreign land were flesh-and-blood beings or supernatural entities. They began to murder the natives, and managed to kill eight of them; the last escaped in his boat.
Exhausted from the ordeal, Thorvald and his men lay down to sleep. They awakened just in time to see a large party of natives approaching them, brandishing bows and arrows. The Vikings formed a shield wall to defend themselves and allowed the natives, whom they called “Skraelings”, to pelt them with projectiles. When the natives saw that their barrage had little effect on the Northmen, they retreated.
When Thorvald determined that none of his men had been wounded in the skirmish, he revealed that he had received a bone-shod arrow in his armpit, it having glanced off the side of the ship to circumvent his shield. Thorvald knew that he was mortally wounded and asked his men to bury him on a particular piece of land jutting into the sea, on which he had hoped to build a house. The Norsemen did as their captain requested and returned home to Greenland.
The Ghost of Thorstein Erikson
When Thorstein Erikson (Erik the Red’s third son) heard of Thorvald’s death, he determined to sail to Vinland to retrieve his brother’s body. With 25 men and his wife, Gudrid, Thorstein appropriated his brother’s ship and set sail for the New World.
After sailing all summer, Thorstein and his crew were unable to find Vinland. Eventually, they made landfall on a settlement on the western shores of Greenland, not far from where they had first embarked.
Winter was nearly upon them, and so Thorstein Erikson secured lodging for all his men. Without any money left for himself, he and Gudrid were forced to sleep on their ship. Fortunately, a local farmer named Thorstein the Black, who lived a lonely life and desired company, approached Thorstein Erikson and invited him and Gudrid to winter with him and his wife, Grimhild. The couple gratefully accepted his hospitality.
That winter, a sickness swept through the settlement and killed many of Thorstein Erikson’s men. Thorstein Erikson himself eventually fell ill, along with his host’s heavyset wife, Grimhild. Although both Thorstein and Grimhild had been healthy and robust, they, too, eventually succumbed to the malady.
Gudrid was deeply affected by her husband’s passing and kept a gloomy vigil over her Thorstein’s corpse, which her bereaved host had laid out on a bench inside his house. Thorstein the Black, taking pity on the grieving widow, picked her up in his arms and sat her down on his lap on a bench opposite Thorstein Erikson’s body. The Norseman did his best to comfort his guest and promised to accompany her to her Eriksfjord, where Thorstein was to be buried.
No sooner had Gudrid thanked Thorstein the Black for his consolation than her late husband sat up on the bench. “Where is Gudrid?” the corpse asked. Astonished and terrified, neither the widow nor widower dared answer. The dead man repeated the question twice.
“Should I answer his questions or not?” Gudrid whispered to her host. Thorstein the Black shook his head.
The corpse remained seated and so, after transferring Gudrid to another chair further from the dead man, Thorstein the Black asked, “What wilt thou, Namesake?”
“I wish much to tell Gudrid her fortune,” the corpse replied, “in order that she may be the better reconciled to my death, for I have now come to a good resting place.” The dead man proceeded to inform Gudrid that she would marry an Icelander, and that she and her new husband would have many “powerful, distinguished, and excellent, sweet and well-favoured” descendants. She would move to Norway, then to Iceland, and would outlive her husband. She would travel the world, visit Rome, and live out the rest of her days as a nun in an Icelandic convent. When the prophecy was finished, Thorstein Erikson’s corpse fell back onto the bench and lay still.
True to his word, Thorstein the Black took Gudrid to Eriksfjord. There, Thorstein Erikson’s body was interred in the graveyard of the local church.
Thorfinn Karlsefni’s Voyage
After Thorstein Erikson’s ill-fated voyage, Greenlandic Vikings began discussing a potential future voyage to Vinland. Around that time, a Norwegian ship arrived in Greenland’s western shore, captained by Thorfinn Karlsefni, a wealthy Icelander. Thorfinn was hosted by Leif Erikson, who introduced him to his sister-in-law, Gudrid. Thorfinn and Gudrid fell in love, and that winter they married, just as Thorstein Erikson had predicted.
When spring came, Thorfinn Karlsefni decided to lead an expedition to Vinland. Accompanied by sixty men, five women, and his wife, Gudrid, he sailed past Helluland and Markland to the Vinlandic houses that Leif Erikson had built. Having leased the houses from Leif, Thorfinn and his companions prepared for winter, butchering and processing the carcass of a beached whale that they found nearby.
That winter, Thorfinn Karlsefni and his Vikings wanted for nothing, finding plenty of timber, grapes, fish, and game. They also enjoyed fresh milk from a handful of cows that they had brought with them, which were protected against wild animals by a bull they had transported in the hold of their ship.
That summer, a band of Skraelings approached the pasture where the Norsemen kept their cattle. The bull began to bellow at the newcomers, and the natives, having never seen such an animal before, retreated in fear. The Skraelings then proceeded to Thorfinn’s farm. Forewarned of their coming, the Vikings barricade themselves inside the farmhouse.
It soon became evident that the natives had come to trade, not to make war. The Vikings eventually emerged from the farmhouse and began to inspect the fine animal pelts the Skraelings had brought with them for barter. The natives indicated that they would like to exchange their pelts for the Vikings’ swords and axes. Loathe to equip the Skraeling with steel weapons, however, Thorfinn instead had the women bring out milk and cheese. After sampling these exotic foods and finding them to their liking, the Skraelings happily exchanged their furs for dairy products and left contented.
Once the Skraelings were gone, Thorfinn had the Vikings build a palisade around his longhouse. While the work commenced, Gudrid gave birth to a boy, whom she and Thorfinn named Snorri. And thus Snorri Thorfinnson became the first white child to be born in the Americas.
That winter, the Vikings were visited again by a much larger force of Skraelings. Again, the natives appeared intent on trading, and threw bales of furs over the palisade. During the exchange, one of the natives reached for a Viking weapon. Startled, one of Thorfinn’s men slew him. A panic ensued, and the natives retreated.
Thorfinn knew that the Skraelings would return to revenge their fallen comrade. Recalling the effect that the bull had made on them, he decided to unleash the animal in order to scare them off. When the natives arrived as anticipated, Thorfinn irritated the bull and allowed it to charge at unsuspecting natives. His plan worked, and the Skraelings retreated. He and his Norsemen killed many of the natives in the ensuing route.
The natives never returned to the Viking village that winter, and when spring came, Thorfinn and his company sailed back to Greenland with lumber, grapes, whale oil, and furs.
When the Norsemen of Greenland saw the rich haul that Thorfinn Karlsefni had brought from the New World, many began to consider making another expedition to Vinland. Two such men were brothers Helgi and Finnbogi- Icelanders who had arrived in Greenland that summer.
Another Northerner with her sights set on Vinland was Freydis, the only daughter of Erik the Red. That winter, Freydis payed a visited to Helgi and Finnbogi and suggested that they sail to Vinland together and split any profits they managed to acquire there. The brothers agreed to her proposal.
It was arranged that Freydis and the brothers would each bring thirty fighting men with them to the New World, in addition to their women, so that neither party would have an advantage over the other. Freydis duplicitously broke this agreement by hiding five additional men on her own ship. Helgi and Finnbogi were unaware of her deceit until they reached Vinland.
After a brief dispute, it was agreed that Freydis and her party would use the longhouses that Leif Erikson built, and that the brothers and their men would build their own dwelling.
No sooner had Helgi and Finnbogi constructed their longhouse than winter came. In order to pass the time, they invited Freydis’ crew to play sports with them. Disputes between the players quickly sowed discord which resulted in both camps spending the rest of the winter alone, in their respective longhouses.
One morning, Freydis rose from her furs, slipped on her sark and smokkr (shirt and skirt), and slipped out the door without bothering to put on shoes or stockings. Wearing her husband’s cloak, she walked over to the brothers’ longhouse, found the door ajar, and stood in the threshold. Finnbogi, the only man awake at that time, noticed Freydis in the doorway and asked what she was doing there.
“I wish that thou wouldst get up and go out with me,” she replied, “for I will speak with thee.” Finnbogi did as Freydis requested and went outside to sit with her on a tree that the brothers had felled.
“How art thou satisfied here?” Freydis asked.
Finnbogi replied that he enjoyed Vinland and its abundance resources, but admitted that he did not like the discord that had sprung up between their two camps, and thought that there was no reason for it. Freydis agreed before stating that the purpose of her visit was to trade ships with the brothers, as theirs was bigger than hers, and she wished to return to Greenland. Finnbogi agreed to her proposal. With that, the two concluded their meeting.
Freydis returned to her longhouse and slipped into bed. Her frozen feet awoke her husband, Thorvard, who asked why she was so cold and wet.
With a bitter sob, Freydis falsely claimed that she had visited the brothers in order to ask them about exchanging ships, only to be beaten and used shamefully. “But thou, miserable man,” she snarled with reproach, “wilt surely neither avenge my disgrace nor thine own.” She then threatened to leave Thorvard once they arrived in Greenland if he failed to avenge her.
Thorvard, none the wiser, threw off his furs in a rage. He roused his kinsmen and led them to Helgi and Finnbogi’s longhouse, where the brothers and their men were asleep. Thorvard’s Norsemen bound each of their hapless countrymen and led them out of the house, where Freydis had each of them executed.
At the end of the massacre, only five women remained from the brothers’ camp, whom none of the men would consent to kill. “Give me an axe!” cried Freydis, seizing a weapon from one of her husband’s men. The furious Norsewoman proceeded to hack each of her female compatriots to death.
When the slaughter was complete, Freydis rounded on her husband’s crew and threatened to kill any of them who spoke of the bloodbath upon their return to Greenland. If asked what became of the brothers and their crew, they were to answer that they remained behind in Vinland.
When spring came, the Scandinavians loaded the brothers’ ship with everything they had acquired that year and put to sea. The homeward voyage was an uneventful one, and the Vikings arrived at Eriksfjord in early summer.
In spite of Freydis’ threat, word of the Vinland massacre began to circulate throughout the colony. Incensed, Leif Erikson captured three of Freydis’ men and tortured them until they confessed the whole bloody business. Although Leif suggested that his sister deserved the same treatment, he decided to leave her be, believing that the curse that would hang over her posterity, which her wicked deeds had surely incurred, would be punishment enough.
The Saga of Erik the Red
The Saga of Erik the Red paints a very different picture of the Viking discovery of the Americas than that outlined in the Greenland Saga, although there is also much overlap between the two. Instead of Bjarni Herjolfsson, the Saga of Eric the Red contends that Leif Erikson was the first Norseman to see the shores of the New World.
When he was a young man, the saga goes, Leif left Greenland, the place of his birth, and travelled to Norway, his father’s homeland. There, he found his way into the service of Olaf Tryggvason, King of Norway.
Olaf converted Leif to Christianity and tasked him with bringing the Christian religion to Greenland. Leif obeyed and sailed west. During the voyage, “he was tossed about a long time out at sea, and lighted upon lands of which before he had no expectation. There were fields of wild wheat, and the vine-tree in full growth. There were also maple trees.”
There, Leif rescued a party of shipwrecked Norseman and brought them back with him to Greenland and gave them food and lodging throughout the winter. “Thus,” the saga goes, “did he show his great munificence and his graciousness when he brought Christianity to the land, and saved the shipwrecked crew. He was called Leif the Lucky.”
Back in Greenland, Leif Erikson began to evangelize his fellow Norsemen. Many of the colonists, including Leif’s mother, converted to Christianity. Leif’s father, Erik the Red, was one of the few who refused to convert, staunchly adhering to the Norse paganism of his ancestors.
Erik the Red’s Expeditions
Although Erik the Red had little use for the new religion that his son brought to Greenland, he did take a keen interest in the bountiful land that Leif had discovered. He set out with twenty men to find it, but encountered a storm which blew his ship east nearly to Ireland.
Following that unsuccessful attempt, a much larger expedition was organized, consisting of many ships and 160 men. According to the saga:
“They were out at sea two half-days. Then they came to land, and rowed along it in boats, and explored it, and found there flat stones, many and so great that two men might well lie on them stretched on their backs with heel to heel. Polar foxes were there in abundance. This land they called ‘Helluland’.
“Then they sailed with northerly winds two half-days, and there was then land before them, and on it a great forest and many wild beasts. An island lay to the southeast, and they found bears and called the island ‘Bjarney’ (Bear Island). The mainland, where the forest was, they called ‘Markland’ (Forest Land).”
Finally, the Viking explorers came to a pleasant cape where the coast was veined with creeks. As sailing was perilous along that stretch of coast, they sent two scouts to head south on foot to see what could be found. The men returned saying that there were two good lands further south. One was choked with wild grapes, while the other was rich with wild wheat.
The Vikings then sailed south down the coast and up a strait, at the mouth of which lay an island encircled by strong currents. According to the saga, “There were so many birds on [the island] that it was scarcely possible to put one’s feet down for the eggs”. The Norsemen continued up the firth, lowered their anchor, and prepared their camp.
After spending a hungry winter in the camp, near which there were mountains and large pastures, the expedition split up. One party attempted to return to Greenland but was blown off course; the Norsemen ended up in Ireland. The other group, led by Thorfinn Karlsefni, travelled south. After some time, they came to river which emptied into a lake, which, in turn, drained into the sea. The land near the river’s mouth, which was dotted with large islands, was abundant in wild wheat, while its heights were choked with wild grapes. The river itself teemed with fish, and the woods were abundant with all variety of wild animals. Thorfinn and his company camped in the area for about half a month, spending their time hunting and fishing and playing games.
Encounters with the Skraelings
“Early one morning,” the saga goes, “as they looked around, they beheld nine canoes made out of hides, and snout-like staves were being brandished from the boats, which made a noise like flails, and twisted round in the direction of the sun’s motion.”
Thorfinn and his companion, Snorri (his son’s namesake), speculated as to the meaning of this strange activity. “It may be that it is a token of peace,” Snorri suggested, before proposing that they approach the canoeists with a white shield- a Viking token of peace.
The Norsemen followed Snorri’s suggestion and cautiously approached the shore with their white shield held high. The canoeists, in turn, began to paddle towards the shore. “They were short men,” the saga goes, “ill-looking, with their hair in disorderly fashion on their heads. They were large-eyed and had broad cheeks. They stayed there a while in astonishment. Afterward, they rowed away to the south, off the headland”.
The Northmen spent the winter near the mouth of the river, during which they saw neither snow nor any more of the mysterious natives, whom they called Skraelings.
“Now when spring began,” the saga continues, “they beheld early one morning that a fleet of hide canoes was rowing from the south off the headland. There were so many that it was as if the sea were strewn with pieces of charcoal, and there was also the brandishing of staves as before from each boat. Then they held shields up, and a market was formed between them.”
The natives proceeded to trade grey furs for red cloth. They also wished to purchase swords and lances, but Thorfinn and Snorri forbade their countrymen from selling the natives steel weapons. While the trading ensued, a bull that belonged to Thorfinn Karlsefni rushed out of the woods and bellowed loudly. The Skraelings became frightened and rowed south in their canoes.
Three weeks later, a large party of canoe-going Skraelings approached the Viking camp from the stream, brandishing spears and howling war cries. The Norsemen took red shields, a signal that they were ready for battle, and rushed to meet them. The Skraelings showered the Vikings with arrows and slung rocks. They also brought with them strange weapons which the saga describes thus:
“Karlsefni and Snorri saw the Skraelingjar were bringing up poles with a very large ball attached to each, comparable in size to a sheep’s stomach, dark in color. These flew over Karlsefni’s company towards the land, and when they came down they struck the ground with a hideous noise. This produced great terror in Karlsefni and his company, so that their only impulse was to retreat up the country along the river, because it seemed as if crowds of Skraelingjar were driving at them from all sides. And they did not stop until they came to some crags. There, they offered them stern resistance.
“Freydis came out and saw how they were retreating. She called out, ‘Why do you run away from such worthless creatures, stout men that you are, when, as seems to me likely, you might slaughter them like so many cattle? Let me have a weapon. I think I could fight better than any of you.
“They gave no heed to what she said. Freydis tried to accompany them, but soon lagged behind because she was not well. She went after them into the wood and the Sraelingjar directed their pursuit after her. She came upon a dead man, Thorbrand, Snorri’s son, with a flat stone fixed in his head. His sword lay beside him, so she took it up and prepared to defend herself.
“The Skraelingjar came upon her. She let down her sark and struck her beast with the naked sword. At this they were frightened, rushed off to their boats, and fled. Karlsefni and the rest came up to her and praised her zeal. Two of Karlsefni’s men fell, and four of the Skraelingjar…”
Land of the One-Footers
Although the land was bountiful, the Vikings decided that the Skraeling were too numerous to allow for any permanent settlement and headed north. A hundred of them, Freydis and Bjarni included, decided to remain at the strait at which they had previously camped, while the remainder explored more of the region.
The saga then tells us that, while exploring a river north of Vinland, Thorfinn Karlsefni and his crew encountered a “One-Footer” (also known as a “monopod” or a “sciapod”), a mythological one-legged dwarf which hopped from place to place. The monster shot Thorvald Erikson in the lower abdomen with an arrow. The Viking pulled the projectile out of his gut and remarked that Vinland must be bountiful indeed, as he had grown such a belly that winter that the arrow had failed to harm him. The One-Footer then hopped away to the north.
After briefly visiting the land of the One-Footers, Thorfinn and his crew returned to the camp at the strait. That fall, Thorfinn and Gudrid had their first son, Snorri.
After spending three more years in the area, the Vikings sailed for home. On the way, they stopped in Markland, where they found a family of Skraelings. “One was a bearded man,” the saga goes, “two were women, two children. Karlsefni’s people caught the children, but the others escaped and sunk down into the earth. They took the children with them, and taught them their speech, and they were baptized.”
The saga continues:
“The children called their mother Vaetilldi and their father Uvaegi. They said that kings ruled over the land of the Skraelingjar, one of whom was called Avalldamon, and the other Valldidida. They said that there were no houses, and the people lived in caves or holes. They said, moreover, that there was a land on the other side over against their land, and the people there were dressed in white garments, uttered loud cries, carried long poles, and wore fringes. This was supposed to be [White Man’s Land]. Then came they to Greenland, and remained with Erik the Red during the winter.”
The Discoveries at L’Anse Aux Meadows
In 1960, a 60-year-old Norwegian trapper named Helge Ingstad, along with his wife Anne Stine, set out to prove once and for all that the Viking sagas were true, and that the Norse really had explored and briefly colonized the Americas in the Middle Ages. Aided by a copy of the Skalholt map, a 16th Century Icelandic document which alleged to show the relative locations of Helluland, Markland, and Vinland, they began traveling around the rugged coast of Newfoundland, examining different areas and interviewing the locals.
“And people,” said Helge in an interview in later life, “old fishermen, thought I was a little crazy asking about the settlement that was a thousand years old. But I kept on, and after many disappointments, late in the fall I came to the very northern part of Newfoundland, the very tip.”
There, near the town of L’Anse aux Meadows, Helge and Anne met a grizzled old fisherman named George Decker.
“I asked him the old question,” said Helge. “‘Have you seen any old… ruins here?’ And he was a very intelligent man. And he said, ‘Yes, I have. Follow me.’”
Decker led the couple to an assortment of grassy mounds, which locals had long assumed were the remains of some old Beothuk or Mi’kmaq camp. Helge and Anne Ingstad proceeded to excavate the mounds. What they found changed North American history forever.
Helge and Anne unearthed a number of interesting artifacts beneath the mounds at L’Anse aux Meadows, including a soapstone spindle whorl, iron nails, and charcoal which they carbon dated to around 1000 A.D. The most interesting find, however, was a Viking brooch which proved almost without a doubt that the area was once a Norse settlement.
Today, archaeologists believe that the ruins at L’Anse aux Meadows once consisted of eight buildings, three of them longhouses capable of housing around eighty people. Near the residential halls was a smithy where nails were made.
Some believe that the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows is none other than Leif Erikson’s Vinlandic colony. Others, noting that Newfoundland is devoid of wild grapes, believe Vinland to be further south, and suggest that the settlement at the tip of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula served as a stopping point, perhaps being the burial place of Thorvald Erikson or one of the camps referred to in the sagas.
Although we may never know the true location of Vinland, we do know without a doubt that long before John Cabot, Christopher Columbus, or even Joao Vaz Corte-Real stepped foot on American shores, Canada was a colony of the Vikings.
Greenlander Saga (13th Century)
Saga of Erik the Red (13th Century)
The Vikings in North America: The History and Legacy of the Norse Settlements in Greenland and Vinland (2015), Charles River Editors
Ancient Mysteries: Vikings in North America (1995), A&E
Viking Voyages to Canada was last modified: April 11th, 2019 by Hammerson Peters
The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 11- Wharfs and All
The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 6, Episode 11 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.
Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Terry Matheson uncover the new underground wooden wall at Smith’s Cove, discovered at the end of the previous episode. Rick observes that the wall appears to form the shape of the letter ‘L’. The narrator then informs us of a hitherto undisclosed discovery which Dan Blankenship made in the 1970s. When conducting his own excavation of Smith’s Cove, Dan partially uncovered a 50-foot-long L-shaped wall made of wood. This L-Shaped structure roughly paralleled the southern half of the U-shaped structure, and was located further from shore than the latter. In an interview, Rick Lagina voices his suspicion this this structure was perhaps the remains of an “abortive attempt” at a cofferdam which proved “too much work for the result”.
That night, the Oak Island crew congregates in the War Room to discuss the results of the LIDAR scan of Tory Martin’s stone, which was carried out the previous episode. Rob Hyslop and Ryan Levangie, the men who conducted the scan, explain that the results of their operation indicate that one of the stone’s sides is perfectly flat, indicating that it may have been worked by man.
Hyslop and Levangie also display the results of their attempt to define the markings on the stone. Doug Crowell suggests that the two men’s interpretation of the markings resembles Futhark, a runic alphabet used by Dark Age Germanic tribes. Charles Barkhouse then informs the crew that the Yarmouth County Museum, located on the southern shores of Nova Scotia across a narrow strait from Overton, houses the Yarmouth Runic Stone, a flat stone bearing an inscription which some have interpreted as Norse runes. The narrator then launches into a brief description of the theory which contends that the Money Pit was constructed by Vikings.
The next day, Gary Drayton, Laird Niven, and Terry Matheson resume the investigation of the newly discovered underground wall at Smith’s Cove. Niven and Matheson laboriously expose the structure by hand using shovels, while Drayton scans a recently-excavated area nearby with his metal detector. Drayton quickly discovers a piece of curved lead which he suggests might be a fragment of a bracelet. The narrator then reminds us of the lead cross discovered on Smith’s Cove the previous season and suggests that there might be some sort of connection between it and this newly discovered artifact.
Later that day, the crew meets in the War Room to discuss future operations in the Money Pit area. Craig Tester suggests that they sink multiple shafts in the direction in which the supposed Shaft 6 tunnel appears to lead. Most of the treasure hunters appear to concur with Tester’s proposal. Marty Lagina then states the he would like to “have a re-go at H8”, in which some of the previous season’s most intriguing discoveries were made. The crew agrees that this ought to be their first priority.
Later, members of the Oak Island team meet at the Money Pit area with Vanessa Lucido, Danny Smith, and John Lee of ROC Equipment. Marty Lagina explains that he would like ROC to remove the contents of Borehole H8 with a hammergrab. That accomplished, he would like the crew to raise the caisson to a depth of 170 feet in the hope that the supposed Chappell Vault, which the H8 caisson may have pushed to the side, will fill the void.
While the ROC crew set up their oscillator at the Money Pit area, Alex Lagina and Paul Troutman drive to the Yarmouth County Museum in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, in the hope of shedding some light on the runic-like inscription on Martin’s stone. The pair arrive at the museum and locate the Yarmouth Runic Stone, whereupon the narrator relates the story of the stone’s discovery in 1812 by a local doctor and the various hypotheses surrounding its inscription.
As they admire the stone, Alex and Paul are approached by the museum’s director, Nadine Gates, and her assistant, Lisette Gaudet. Upon being prompted by Troutman, Gates explains that some believe the inscription on the Yarmouth Stone to be Norse, and translate it as saying “Leif to Erik”. The implication of this translation is that the stone constitutes a monument commissioned by Viking explorer Leif Erikson in honour of his father, Erik the Red.
After Marty and Alex Lagina give Mike Jardine of Irving Equipment Ltd. the green light to set up a crane over H8 in preparation for the upcoming hammergrab operation, Alex, Rick Lagina, and Laird Niven head to Smith’s Cove, where most of the L-shaped structure has been exposed. While chatting with Alex, Niven remarks that the absence of iron in any of the Smith’s Cove structures is very strange, and states “archaeologically, I don’t think anyone in Nova Scotia has seen this”.
Niven then tells Rick Lagina that, although he initially believed the U-shaped structure to be a relic of previous searchers, the discovery of the L-shaped structure has made him less certain of this belief.
While the treasure hunters talk, heavy equipment operator Billy Gerhardt uncovers a long wooden log with his backhoe. Further excavation reveals this log to be part of a larger platform which Rick Lagina suggests is a “slipway”, or boat ramp. “This could be the Hedden wharf,” he concludes, whereupon the narrator explains that, in 1936, Oak Island treasure hunter Gilbert Hedden built a wharf at Smith’s Cove, with which he intended to transport excavation equipment to the island. During this operation, he and his crew discovered the pallett-like structure elaborated upon in the previous episode, which Hedden believed to be a skid.
After the narrator’s exposition, Rick Lagina wonders aloud whether this new structure comprises the remains of Hedden’s wharf or is part of the older skid that Hedden discovered in 1936. Alex Lagina then remarks that this structure appears to be in line with the L-shaped structure and suggests that the two might be connected in some way. Rick agrees that they ought to investigate this potential connection.
Later, at the Money Pit area, the treasure hunters stand by as the crew of Irving Equipment Ltd. begins removing mud and clay from H8 via hammergrab, expressing their hope that the upcoming excavation will yield the artifacts that somehow eluded them the previous year.
In this episode, Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Terry Matheson exposed the wooden wall at Smith’s Cove discovered at the end of the previous episode. This wall forms the shape of the letter ‘L’. It is congruent with the southern half of the U-shaped structure, but is located further from the island. Following its disclosure, the narrator revealed that Dan Blankenship discovered this structure in the 1970s. In addition, according to Lee Lamb in private correspondence with this author, Mildred Restall, in the 1960s, “discovered a partial wooden wall outside (that is- beyond) the cofferdam”.
Although the purpose of this structure is not known, Rick Lagina suggested that the L-shaped structure constitutes an “abortive attempt” at a cofferdam which proved “too much work for the result”.
The Yarmouth Runic Stone
In this episode, Tory Martin’s stone, in light of the rune-like markings revealed on its surface, was compared with the Yarmouth runic stone, an artifact currently housed in the Yarmouth County Museum.
The Yarmouth rune stone, also known as the Fletcher stone, is a 400-pound flat slab of quartzite bearing an inscription which some have interpreted as Norse runes. The stone was discovered by Dr. Richard Fletcher, a retired British Army surgeon, in the early 1800s, and revealed to the public in 1812. Some believed the inscription to be proof that the Vikings had visited the southern shores of Nova Scotia during their New World voyages.
In 1884, a man named Henry Phillips Jr. wrote a paper in which he argued that the inscription on the Yarmouth stone were Norse runes which translate to “Hako’s son addressed the men”. Phillips then attempted to identify Hako as Thorfinn Karlsefni, a Norse explorer who features in the Icelandic sagas which describe Norse voyages to the New World. “Hako’s son”, in this case, would be Karlsefni’s son, Snorri Thorfinnson, the first Caucasian child to be born in the New World.
In 1934, a student of runology named Olaf Strandwold proposed that the inscription on the Yarmouth stone reads “Leif to Eric raises (this monument)” in Norse. This interpretation implies that the stone was carved by Viking explorer Leif Erikson, the Viking who discovered Vinland, as a tribute to his father, Erik the Red.
Over the years, others have identified the stone’s inscription as Phoenician, Old Japanese, and Mycenaean Greek. Dr. Barry Fell, who championed the theory that the Oak Island Money Pit was the work of 8th Century Coptic Christian refugees from North Africa, theorized that the inscription on the Yarmouth stone was an early Basque message reading, “Basque people have subdued this land.”
In spite of these various interpretations, many experts have conclude that the markings on the stone are nonsensical, and that the Yarmouth stone is likely a hoax.
The Viking Theory
In this episode, we are introduced to the vague theory that Norse Vikings are behind the Oak Island mystery.
For centuries, Scandinavians have told tales of medieval Viking voyages to the Americas that took place around the turn of the last millennia. In the 13th Century, Icelander chroniclers put these tales to parchment, writing the Saga of Erik the Red and the Greenlander Saga. Although the tales outlined in these sagas are very different from each other, they generally agree that, around 1000 A.D., an Icelandic Viking named Leif Erikson sailed west from Greenland. Whether following up on the tale of another Norse mariner who had been blown off course, or being blown off course himself in an attempt to bring Christianity to Greenland, Leif came upon three mysterious western lands. The northernmost of these a barren country of flat rocks and arctic foxes, which he called Helluland (“Flatstoneland”). Further south, he came to a land of evergreen forests, white shores, and wild animals, which he called Markland (“Forestland”). South of Markland, Leif Erikson and his crew discovered a place filled with lush grass and wild grapes, which they called Vinland (“Wineland”).
In the years that ensued, Leif Erikson’s friends and kinsmen would make three more voyages to Vinland in an attempt to explore and possibly establish a colony. They were ultimately driven back to Greenland by diminutive fur-clad natives whom they called Skraelings.
Today, archaeologists generally agree that the Viking sagas have some truth to them, and that Norse explorers indeed visited the shores of the New World around 1000 A.D. Most agree that Helluland is likely the eastern shores of Baffin Island, and Markland likely northern Labrador. The location of Vinland, however, is hotly contested. Many believe that Vinland is likely the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland- a theory that was bolstered in 1960 by the discovery of Viking ruins near the town of L’Anse aux Meadows. Others content that Vinland must be located further south, as wild grapes do not grow naturally north of New Brunswick.
Although there is conclusive evidence that medieval Vikings did visit the shores of Eastern Canada, there are no indications in the sagas or otherwise that the Norsemen built anything like the Money Pit during their New World voyages, nor that they had cause to bury bury anything other than their fallen comrades on Vinlandic soil.
Near the end of the episode, the Fellowship of the Dig discovered what appeared to be the remains of a wooden slipway, or boat ramp, beneath Smith’s Cove. This structure appears to be composed of long wooden logs which had been lashed together like a raft. Whatever means by which the logs were originally adhered to each other remains a mystery, as the structure does not bear evidence of any fastenings. Both ends of the logs rest on perpendicularly-aligned timbers.
The prevailing opinion among the treasure hunters was that this structure constitutes the remains of the wharf that Gilbert Hedden constructed in the summer of 1936 for the purpose of transporting equipment to the island. The narrator also suggested that this structure might be the remains of the older skid discovered by Gilbert Hedden in 1936, which was elaborated upon in the previous episode. The fact that this structure bears vague resemblance to the skid described and drawn by Hedden neither verifies nor discredits this latter theory.
Although the construction of Hedden’s Wharf was not alluded to in The Oak Island Mystery by R.V. Harris (a book containing one of the most comprehensive accounts of the Hedden treasure hunt), the writings of Lee Lamb and Bobby Restall indicate that Hedden’s Wharf was known to and used by the Restall family in the 1960s.
In her 2012 book Oak Island Family: The Restall Hunt for Buried Treasure, Lee Lamb (the daughter and sister, respectively, of Oak Island treasure hunters Robert and Bobby Restall) claimed that “local boatmen had kept the wharf in good repair since Gilbert Hedden had ended his search for treasure on the island in .” Later on in the book, Lamb relates that, during a number of violent storms which buffeted the island in the 1960s, “Hedden’s Wharf was reduced to its stone bed, not a stick of wood remaining”.
Perhaps the most intriguing piece of information regarding the Hedden Wharf comes from the journals of Bobby Restall, excerpts from which Lee Lamb published in her 2006 book Oak Island Obsession: The Restall Story. The passage in question reads:
“After studying some aerial photos of the island, we noticed that the cofferdam, as it’s thought to be, was out of shape. By checking with some of Hedden’s old workers, we found that the Hedden Wharf was built by removing the north one-third of the old 1850 cofferdam remains.”
Considering all we know about the various structures as Smith’s Cove, this passage is very confusing. First, we must determine what Bobby Restall is referring to when he uses the word “cofferdam”. It seems likely that Bobby’s cofferdam is either: a) the U-shaped structure; or b) the newly-revealed L-shaped structure, which appears to have once been congruent with the U-shaped structure, but which lacks more than half of its northern section.
If the “cofferdam” Bobby was referring to was the U-shaped structure, then it appears that he mistook his directions when he wrote that “the north one-third of the… cofferam” was dismantled and used to create Hedden’s wharf. The northern section of the U-shaped structure appears to be completely intact. However, sketches indicate that roughly 1/3 of structure’s the southernarm may be missing. Perhaps Bobby meant to write “south” instead of “north”.
It is also possible that the “cofferdam” Bobby was referring to was the L-shaped structure, which appears to be missing much of its northern section. If this is the case, then it seems that Bobby got is directions right and his ratios wrong; the L-shaped structure today appears to be missing more than half of its northern section (i.e. far more than a third).
It must be mentioned that the two successive paragraphs of Bobby’s essay in which the passage in question is ensconced render the passage even more confusing. While they were doubtless clear and straightforward at the time of their composition, these paragraphs are rendered cryptic by all the new information we have, and could serve to support either of the previously mentioned possibilities depending on their interpretation.
The paragraphs read:
“In Smith’s Cove we found bits of coconut fibre and evidence of earlier searchers’ work that is unrecorded. It took the form of old plank walls buried under the sands of the beach, also five vertical board boxes built to protect drill holes of past years.
“After studying some aerial photos of the island, we noticed that the cofferdam, as it’s thought to be, was out of shape. By checking with some of Hedden’s old workers, we found that the Hedden Wharf was built by removing the north one-third of the old 1850 cofferdam remains.”
It is unclear whether the “cofferdam” mentioned in the second paragraph is a reference to the “old plank walls” mentioned in the first paragraph, the walls being evocative the L-shaped structure, or to another structure (ex. the U-shaped structure) which was presumed to be well-known to the reader and required no preamble.
Whatever the case, the disparity between the materials of which the U-shaped, L-shaped, and raft-like structures are comprised, coupled with Bobby’s statement that the Hedden wharf was built from the northern third of the cofferdam, seem to indicate that the supposed slipway discovered this episode does not constitute the remains of Hedden’s wharf after all. However, when one considers Lee Lamb’s statement that the original Hedden wharf was reduced to its stone foundation by violent Atlantic storms, it seems possible that the slipway might be the remains of the wharf rebuilt by the Restalls.
There is yet another possibility regarding the identity of the “slipway”. In an email, Lee Lamb sent this author an image which she said depicted Robert Restall constructing cribbing intended for a Smith’s Cove shaft he had sank. The structure Restall appears to be working on in the photo is composed of logs lashed together, the ends of which rest on the upper lip of the shaft in question. Despite being composed of smaller logs, this structure bears remarkable resemblance to the “slipway” discovered this episode; perhaps the slipway is the remains of one of these structures.
The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 11- Wharfs and All was last modified: February 14th, 2019 by Hammerson Peters
The following is an excerpt from my 2018 book Legends of the Nahanni Valley– a non-fiction which explores the history and folklore surrounding Nahanni National Park, one of the most mysterious regions in all of Canada. I’ll include a link to this book at the end of the article.
The Legend of Canada’s Tropical Valley
Part 1: An Oasis in the Arctic
“There are more . . . stories about the Nahanni River than any other place in Canada. The most famous of them is the story of the tropical valley, where 10,000 hot springs bubble out of the ground, ferns grow 30 feet high, and the temperature never goes below 50 degrees in midwinter.”
– Colonel Harry Snyder; Toronto Daily Star; October 9, 1937.
ONE OF THE MOST ENDURING legends of the Nahanni Valley– one which transcends its sinister reputation as a land of murder, madness, Indian curses, and lost gold- has it that somewhere in that wild domain, perhaps surrounding one of the many tributaries of the South Nahanni River, lies a tropical valley free of snow and ice. This legend is but a piece of a much larger puzzle spanning the entire North Country- a puzzle which has its origins in a historic event that changed the face of the Canadian North forever.
On July 14, 1897, a steamship called the Excelsior slipped into the San Francisco harbour. To the stevedores working on the docks that day, this rusty little ship with two blackened smokestacks appeared to be nothing out of the ordinary. A few heads might have turned, however, when its passengers walked down the gangplank. The people who poured off the steamer were a gaunt, ragtag bunch clad in ragged work clothes and broad-brimmed hats. The men bore rough, unkempt beards, the women wore wild, tangled hair, and all had the sun-burned, wind-whipped faces of frontiersmen well accustomed to long days in the bush.
What really captured the attention of the men on the docks that day, however, was the mysterious cargo the passengers hauled from the ship. Some wrestled with extraordinarily heavy suitcases. Others lugged bulging buckskin sacks. Others still hauled heavy tin canisters with both hands, their cracked lips drawn back over tobacco-stained teeth in grimaces of exertion. The strange site piqued the curiosity and imaginations of nearby locals. Soon, a growing throng of city residents began to gather around the newcomers.
Some of the Excelsior’s passengers immediately made their way to the Selby Smelting Works on Montgomery Street. There, on the establishment’s counters, they revealed their identities and the contents of their cargo to the curious onlookers; they were prospectors from the north, and they had brought with them several metric tons of raw northern gold.
The news spread like wildfire throughout the streets of San Francisco: a spectacular gold strike had been made in an obscure region of northwestern Canada known as the Klondike. Immediately, gold fever swept throughout the Pacific Northwest like an epidemic, infecting men and women from all walks of life with a restless furor which some newspaper men dubbed “Klondicitis”. Rallying to the cry of “Klondike or bust,” so-called Stampeders deserted their day jobs en masse and headed for the Yukon in search of fortune and adventure.
The Stampeders of 1898- men and women of all nationalities and occupations- approached Dawson City, the heart of the Klondike, by a number of different routes. Some purchased steamboat tickets in San Francisco or Seattle and travelled north up the Pacific Coast to the Lynn Canal, an Alaskan inlet. From there, they packed their gear over the Coast Mountains by way of the Chilkoot Trail or White Pass, hand-crafted their own canoes on the other side of the divide, and paddled up a series of lakes and rivers to the Klondike. Wealthier Stampeders travelled by steamer the whole way, heading to the old Russian fur trading settlement of St. Michael, Alaska, on the coast of the Bering Sea, before travelling up the Yukon River to Dawson. Some patriotic Americans, in an effort to circumvent Canadian customs, opted to take the “all-American route” to the Yukon- a suicidal trek over the crevasse-ridden Valdez and Malaspina Glaciers. Some poor prospectors attempted to reach the Klondike on horseback via the Ashcroft Trail, slogging through the sunny grasslands of the Cariboo Plateau, the misty jungles of the Great Bear Rainforest, and the dismal, mosquito-infested swamps of northern British Columbia. Others, prompted by encouraging articles in the Edmonton Journal, toiled over the “all-Canadian route”, a long, arduous, overland journey starting in Edmonton, Alberta. A handful of those who took this latter route disappeared into the Nahanni Valley, hoping that the South Nahanni River might serve as a shortcut to the Klondike.
Throughout the course of the Klondike Gold Rush, more than 100,000 Stampeders from all over the world set out for the northern diggings. About 30-40 thousand of them actually reached their destination, and of those, only about 20,000 bothered to look for gold.
These 20,000 enterprising prospectors, throughout the last few years of the 19th Century and the first few of the 20th, panned the creeks just south of Dawson City. Those who found promising colours- trace amounts of gold dust, flakes, or nuggets- in their pans staked claims on the sites of their discoveries.
In the winter, those who staked claims exchanged the gold pan of the prospector for the pickaxe of the miner and set about sinking shafts to bedrock. In order to carve through the nigh-impermeable permafrost, they lit huge fires on top of their shafts and fed them constantly so that they burned throughout the night. In the mornings, with picks and shovels, they dug their way through the smoky ashes and the softened earth beneath. The gold-flecked rubble which they removed from their shafts was set aside in a massive ‘dump’ pile.
In the spring, when the ice began to melt, the Klondikers shoveled their gold-bearing pay dirt into sluice boxes- long, ribbed troughs oriented at a decline. That accomplished, they poured water into the top of the sluices and let gravity do its work; as gold is considerably heavier than sediment, it floated downwards during this process to collect in the sluice box’s ribs, where it could be easily extracted, while the lighter gravel and sand simply washed away.
Of the 20,000 Stampeders who toiled for gold in this manner, only 4,000 found anything of significance. Of those 4,000, only a few hundred struck it rich. Dejected, many of the thousands of prospectors who failed to find their fortunes in the creek beds of the Klondike set out for home. Others, held in thrall of what British-Canadian poet Robert Service termed “The Spell of the Yukon”, began to look elsewhere for the elusive yellow metal that had lured them into the North Country. Some made the long westward journey to the newly-established Nome mining district in Alaska, where another gold rush was underway. Others, travelling by dogsled or canoe, explored more remote reaches of the subarctic, only to return from these far-flung gold-seeking expeditions with tales that defied belief.
AN OASIS IN THE ARCTIC
Throughout the early 1900’s, some of the prospectors who wandered throughout the boreal wilderness in the wake of the last great gold rush returned to civilization telling all manner of strange tales. Northern saloons, HBC trading rooms, Mountie outposts, and Mission rectories resounded with their stories of phantom lights, lost mines, woolly mammoths, and hairy wildmen. One of the tales told by these travelling prospectors spoke of a tropical valley hidden away somewhere in the northern wilds. This lost valley, the stories went, was a steamy paradise filled with luxuriant vegetation and an abundance of wild game, its peculiar climate owing to hot springs, volcanoes, or some other variety of subterranean thermal activity.
Russell and Lee’s Account
The tale of the tropical valley circulated rapidly throughout the North Country by word of mouth. By the 1920’s, it was finding its way into print. One of the first papers to run the story was the Valdez Miner, a weekly periodical based out of Valdez, Alaska. On Remembrance Day, 1922, it published an article entitled “An Oasis in the Arctic,” describing a strange find made by prospectors Hank Russell and Jack Lee.
According to the article, one morning, while climbing a snow-covered “high arctic mountain pass,” Russell and Lee spied a green valley far below, partially obscured by the mist. Determined to investigate this geological anomaly, they descended into the area.
Dressed as they were in heavy, fur-lined parkas, Russell and Lee found the valley uncomfortably warm. In some spots, the heat was so intense that it penetrated the thick moose hide soles of their moccasins. The two prospectors reasoned that the unusual temperature- along with the presence of powerful geysers and steamy fumaroles, the latter over which they allegedly cooked their food- was an indication that the valley was actually the crater of an enormous, ancient volcano.
Naturally, the valley attracted huge populations of wildlife. Herds of fat caribou grazed in fields of succulent, shoulder-high grass, eying the newcomers with lazy indifference. Thousands of birds, chiefly warblers and robins, flitted about in the canopies of the valley’s thick-trunked trees. Huge flocks of geese and ducks congregated on a small lake in the middle of the valley, and enormous grizzlies and black bears prowled about the valley’s edge, where many varieties of colourful flowers grew in abundance.
In addition to these faunal fixtures of the North, Russell and Lee observed signs of a more mysterious valley denizen; around the lake were strange, perfectly round tracks eighteen inches in diameter, which bore three toe-like depressions in the front. “Had they been living in a prehistoric age,” the article went, “the prospectors would have sworn the tracks to be those of a mastodon or mammoth.”
Captain Scotte’s Account
Although Russell and Lee’s account of the tropical valley was not particularly specific as to location, other stories placed the hidden paradise in a precise geographic region. One such story appeared in the July 25, 1924 issue of the Alaska Weekly, a newspaper based out of Seattle, Washington. Under the headline “Winter in Paradise,” this story detailed the testimony of an American military man named Captain Samuel C. Scotte.
According to the article, Scotte alleged to have spent two winters in a tropical vale tucked away somewhere in the Cassiar Mountain Range of northern British Columbia. Accessible by both the Stikine River and Telegraph Creek- two waterways which cut across northern BC- this valley was purportedly 20 miles (32 km) long and 3-4 miles (5-6 km) wide. “The valley is swampy,” said Scotte, “with many small lakes and timbered flats. The soil is a rich, black loam” well-suited to growing vegetables.
Captain Scotte believed that the valley owed its balmy climate to hot springs situated in the nearby foothills. These springs were warm in the winter, yet curiously ice cold in the summer. Following the captain’s description of the hot springs, the author offered his own theory regarding the valley’s tropical condition, suggesting that its unusual temperatures might have something to do with the fact “that it is 3,000 feet lower than the general contour of the surrounding country.”
The article ended with a vague reference to various strange animals which Scotte observed in the valley, including a mysterious “white deer.”
The following year, on June 26, 1925, the Alaska Weekly published another, far more dramatic article on a tropical valley, entitled “The Valley of Eden.” This narrative is, in many ways, eerily consistent with that of Russell and Lee. The source for this piece was Frank Perry, a mining engineer from Vancouver who, “for seventeen years, with only two pack dogs to carry his equipment… explored the unknown subarctic regions until, by chance… he came upon a vast paradise in the midst of the snow-covered mountains.”
The article opens with a description of how Perry, while mushing over a remote mountain pass located somewhere between the Fort Nelson and Liard Rivers, on the eastern slopes of the Cassiar Mountains, stumbled upon a strange valley filled with heavy mist. Rivers of hot water “fed by hundreds of hot springs” ran directly through it, their steamy vapours colliding with the frigid subarctic air to condense into a thick layer of fog.
The tropical temperatures generated by the hot springs, in addition to keeping the valley free of snow and ice all year round, supported marvellously robust vegetation. This spectacular plant life included sixty-foot vines, nettles and ferns “higher than a man’s head,” trees three feet in diameter, and impenetrable patches of wild rosebushes with “stems as thick as a man’s forearm.” The lush flora, in turn, attracted “hundreds of mountain sheep, goats, caribou, and moose, with bears and other fur-bearing animals.” Perry maintained that, “due to the exceptionally good grazing in the valley… the moose and caribou looked like the pictures of the old Norman horse- almost square from fat.”
Perry learned that neighbouring Indians, in spite of its surfeit of game, gave the place a wide berth. This was on account of “imprints of huge three-toed prehistoric animals found in the sandstones and shales” – imprints strikingly evocative of the mysterious tracks reported by Russell and Lee. The natives believed that the monsters which made those tracks still roamed the area.
The piece ended with a brief description of the valley’s abundant mineral formations, which included healthy veins of gold, silver, and copper; huge seams of coal; and large concentrates of iron ore.
Colonel Williams’ Account
Three months after Perry’s account was published in the Alaska Weekly, an Alaskan newspaper ran with a story that seemed to corroborate the engineer’s claims. According to the article “Where the Waters Run Warm,” published in the September 24, 1925 issue of the Wrangell Sentinel, a Montreal-based Royal Canadian Air Force colonel named J. Scott Williams stumbled upon a tropical valley while conducting British Columbia’s first aerial prospecting expedition. This valley contained “numerous hot springs, grass, and verdure of amazing growth due, it is thought, to the warmth generated by the springs.” Other floral marvels included giant tulips and a fantastic profusion of currents and raspberries.
Colonel Williams claimed that he and his crew had prospected in the valley for three months, feasting on moose meat, mountain mutton, and vegetables which he and another prospector, whom he identified as “Smith,” had planted. During their three-month stay, Williams and his crew observed a number of interesting animals, including an albino moose somewhat reminiscent of Captain Scotte’s white deer and a “white bear similar to the Beacon Hill Park animal in Victoria.” The “Beacon Hill Park animal” Williams was referring to was a Kermode or ‘spirit’ bear- a rare, often cream-coloured subspecies of the American black bear- which resided at that time in Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park zoo.
Perhaps most interestingly, Colonel Williams placed his tropical valley in the Liard River country “beyond the Liard Trading Post,” in the same general vicinity as Frank Perry’s northern paradise. It seemed as if a tropical valley might indeed lie somewhere among the eastern slopes of the Cassiars…
Want to Learn More?
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more about the tropical valley and other forgotten mysteries of the Canadian North, please check out my book Legends of the Nahanni Valley.
The Legend of Canada’s Tropical Valley- Part 1: An Oasis in the Arctic was last modified: February 1st, 2019 by Hammerson Peters
Although I’ve personally never heard anyone use the term in real-life conversation, every once in a while, I’ll hear the name “Uncle Tom” while watching American news. This name is employed as a derogatory epithet, usually by left-leaning political pundits, against African-Americans whom they perceive to be traitors to their race.
The ‘Uncle Tom’ slur derives from the titular character of distorted theatrical and cinematic renditions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a famous 19th Century American novel intended to illustrate the evils of slavery. Uncle Tom, the novel’s eponymous main character, is almost certainly based on Josiah Henson, a celebrated Canadian hero who, ironically, was one of the greatest champions of the 19th Century black Canadian community.
Josiah Henson was born into a life of slavery on a tobacco plantation near the town of Port Tobacco Village, in southern Maryland. His earliest memory is of an incident which followed his father’s decision to beat a white man for assaulting his wife. As punishment, Josiah’s father was shackled to a whipping post and given one hundred lashes. When the scourging was over, his owner nailed Josiah’s father’s right ear to the post and severed it with a knife.
Despite the cruelty and fear which were part and parcel of life as a plantation slave, Josiah Henson’s early years were not devoid of happiness. His mother raised him to be a devout Christian, teaching him about God and Christ and frequently reciting the Lord’s Prayer. His faith was of immense importance to him, and would direct his actions throughout his life.
When his master died, Josiah’s brothers and sisters were sold to various slave owners. As Josiah was the youngest of six siblings, his mother begged her new owner, Isaac Riley, to allow him to stay with her. When little Josiah fell ill in his mother’s absence, Riley purchased him from the owner to which he had been sold on the condition that he labour in the fields.
Josiah and his mother were relocated fifty miles north to Riley’s farm, situated north of Washington, D.C. Josiah grew into an athletic and intelligent young man. He also proved to be an industrious and resourceful worker, and Isaac Riley took note of his strong character. Over the years, he climbed the ranks of the slave hierarchy, eventually becoming the farm’s overseer. When he was 22 years old, he married a woman from a neighbouring family. The couple would eventually have twelve children together.
In 1825, Isaac Riley was sued by his brother-in-law and was forced to lend out some of his slaves. With tears in his eyes, he begged Josiah Henson, the only of his slaves that he could trust, to march eighteen of his fellow inmates across what is now West Virginia to his brother’s plantation in Kentucky. Henson did as his master requested, ignoring the tempting opportunity to slip into Ohio, a free state, out a sense of duty. When they finally reached Kentucky, Henson and his charges became the temporary property of Isaac’s brother, Amos.
In later life, Henson expressed some regret for denying his brother slaves the opportunity to escape, writing:
“I have often had painful doubts as to the propriety of my carrying so many other individuals into slavery again, and my consoling reflecting has been, that I acted as I thought at the time was best.”
Escape to Freedom
While working for Amos Riley, Henson met a Methodist Episcopal preacher who began to teach him his profession. In 1825, the preacher suggested a clever method by which Henson might earn his freedom in a manner satisfying his sense of honour. Seeing that Henson was an intelligent man and a gifted orator, he suggested that he ask Amos Riley for permission to visit his old master. On the road to Maryland, he could deliver sermons, for which grateful audiences would give him donations. He could then use these donations to buy his freedom from Isaac Riley.
Josiah Henson took the preacher’s advice and, with Amos’ permission, made his way back to Maryland, preaching as he went. His sermons earned him $350. When he returned to Isaac’s farm, he offered his master all his savings, as well as an additional $100 which he would pay with his labour, in exchange for his freedom. Riley took Henson’s money and agreed to his proposal, but not before duplicitously adding an addition ‘0’ to the contract, requiring Henson to give him $1000-worth of his labour rather than the $100 originally agreed upon. Dejected, Henson returned to Amos Riley’s Kentucky farm.
In 1830, Josiah Henson accompanied Amos Riley on a trip, at the end of which Henson suspected Riley might sell him to another owner, thus separating him from his wife and children. One night, while Riley was asleep, Henson grabbed an axe and prepared to murder his master so that he might escape this fate and flee to Canada with his family. As he raised the axe, he remembered his Christian values and decided to let Riley live. Riley subsequently became gravely ill, and only managed to survive due to Henson’s ministrations. The sale of Henson to another slave owner, if indeed that was the purpose of Riley’s business venture, never took place.
Upon returning to Amos Riley’s farm, Henson- along with his wife, Nancy, and their four children- escaped and made for Upper Canada, where slavery was all but outlawed, via the Underground Railroad. Henson carried his two youngest children on his back in a crude knapsack made from a single sheet of cloth.
A humorous incident occurred on their trip to Canada, which Henson related in a later reminiscence:
“We had not gone far, and I suppose it was about three o’clock in the afternoon, when we discerned some persons approaching us at no great distance. We were instantly on the alert, as we could hardly expect them to be friends. The advance of a few paces showed me they were Indians, with packs on their shoulders; and they were so near that if they were hostile it would be useless to try to escape. So I walked along boldly, till we came close upon them. They were bent down with their burdens, and had not raised their eyes till now; and when they did so, and saw me coming towards them, they looked at me in a frightened sort of way for a moment, and then, setting up a peculiar howl, turned round, and ran as fast as they could. There were three or four of them, and what they were afraid of I could not imagine, unless they supposed I was the devil, whom they had perhaps heard of as black. But even then, one would have thought my wife and children might have reassured them. However, there was no doubt they were well frightened, and we heard their wild and prolonged howl, as they ran, for a mile or more…
“As we advanced, we could discover Indians peeping at us from behind the trees, and dodging out of sight if they thought we were looking at them. Presently we came upon their wigwams, and saw a fine-looking, stately Indian, with his arms folded, waiting for us to approach. He was, apparently, the chief; and, saluting us civilly, he soon discovered we were human beings, and spoke to his young men, who were scattered about, and made them come in and give up their foolish fears.
“And now curiosity seemed to prevail. Each one wanted to touch the children, who were as shy as partridges with their long life in the woods; and as they shrunk away, and uttered a little cry of alarm, the Indian would jump back too, as if he thought they would bit him.”
When the natives sufficiently acquainted themselves with the strange-looking newcomers, they treated them to a bountiful meal and gave them the use of one of their wigwams for the night.
Life in Canada
When they finally arrived in Canada, Josiah Henson and his family found employment on a succession of farms near Fort Erie (a town situated at the head of the Niagara River), the westerly city of Waterloo (adjacent to Kitchener, Ontario), and the southerly community of Colchester (on the northwestern shores of Lake Erie). When they had saved sufficient money, the Henson family established Dawn, a black community situated between Lakes Huron and Erie. There, Henson founded a vocational school for black labourers, believing that African-American refugees to Canada ought to hone their occupational skills before attempting to integrate into Canadian society.
Henson’s institution flourished, and in no time, Dawn boasted a population of 500. Under Henson’s guidance, the townspeople established a sawmill, which they used to mill local black walnut wood for export to Britain and the United States. Henson himself resumed work as a Methodist preacher, a vocation he had begun on Amos Riley’s farm, and began to speak publicly in favour of American abolition.
The Upper Canada Rebellion
In early December, 1837, a thousand American-born Upper Canadians, angry at the colonial British government for denying them political rights, assembled at a Toronto tavern. About 600 of them, under the leadership of Scottish-born politician William Lyon Mackenzie, armed themselves with hunting muskets and pitchforks and marched down Yonge Street, where they engaged in a minor skirmish with a much smaller government force.
Word of the revolt spread quickly throughout Upper Canada, and soon a thousand local settlers volunteered to help take back the tavern. Among these volunteers were hundreds of black militiamen who, knowing that Mackenzie’s rebellion was backed by American expansionists, would do anything to ensure that Upper Canada kept from falling into the hands of the United States. One of these black militiamen was Josiah Henson, who led a unit comprised of his fellow Dawn settlers.
Mackenzie’s rebels scattered in the face of the thousand-man militia that marched to oppose them and the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, as it was called, ended as quickly as it began. Far from abandoning his crusade, however, William Lyon Mackenzie began preparing for another assault on Upper Canada’s colonial government. Aided by the United States, Mackenzie commissioned a crew of rebels with ferrying troops and supplies from Detroit to the proximate district of Sandwich (present-day Windsor, Ontario), on the other side of the Detroit River.
Exactly a month after Mackenzie’s failed uprising, Josiah Henson led fifty black militiamen in capturing the Ann, the ship the rebels had been using to transport their American supplies to Sandwich. This victory was a major blow to Mackenzie’s cause, constituting a substantial nail in the coffin of his rebellion.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
In 1841, Josiah Henson and his family moved to Dresden, Ontario. The following year, he established the British-American Institute, a school for all ages intended to provide a general education to fugitive slaves.
In 1849, Josiah Henson published his memoirs, entitled The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself. At that time, Henson himself had not yet learned to read and write. He was able to get his story into print by dictating it to Samuel A. Eliot, a former mayor of Boston, Massachusetts, well known for his opposition to slavery.
Henson’s story, in part, inspired U.S. novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), an American classic which helped turn American popular opinion in favour of abolition. Uncle Tom’s Cabin would become the second best-selling book in American in the 19th Century, eclipsed only by the Bible. Many believed that Stowe’s book was an integral impetus for the abolitionist movement which led to the American Civil War. The novel’s titular character, the selfless, devoutly Christian Uncle Tom, is based on Josiah Henson.
The success of Stowe’s book prompted Henson to republish his memoirs under the title Truth Stranger Than Fiction: Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life (1858). Henson wrote a second, more detailed autobiography, entitled Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life: An Autobiographyof the Rev. Josiah Henson, in 1876.
On May 5, 1883, 93-year-old Josiah Henson passed away in his home in Dresden, Ontario. A century after his death, the portrait of this celebrated Canadian hero was featured on a Canadian 32 cent stamp, making Josiah Henson the first black Canadian to acquire this distinction. Today, the home of Henson’s former master, Isaac Riley, (known locally as ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site, located near Dresden, Ontario, is dedicated to his memory.
Famous Black Canadians: 8/10: Josiah Henson was last modified: January 31st, 2019 by Hammerson Peters
Robert Nathaniel Dett was born on October 11, 1882, in the village of Drummondville, Ontario, not far from Niagara Falls. His parents were both African American refugees who had fled from the U.S.A. to Canada via the Underground Railroad.
Dett displayed an aptitude for music from a young age and began taking piano lessons at the age of five. When he was sixteen years old, he found employment as an organist at the British Methodist Episcopal Church at Niagara Falls, Ontario- an occupation that he would retain for four years. The church hymns that he played, along with the African American folk songs and spirituals that he learned from his grandmother at home, imbued him with a deep respect for and partiality towards African American sacred music.
In 1907, Nathaniel Dett earned a Bachelor of Music degree, with a double major in piano performance and composition, from the Oberlin (Ohio) Conservatory of Music. He subsequently acquired a succession of piano teaching positions in Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee; at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri; and at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. In 1913, he was promoted to Director of Music at Hampton University, becoming the first African American to hold that position.
Nathaniel Dett’s piano teaching career was punctuated by spells in which Dett would further his own musical education. From 1920 to 1921, he studied with Bostonian composer Arthur Foote at Harvard University, and in 1929, he studied under French composer Nadia Boulanger at the Chateau de Fontainebleau in Paris, France. Before finally obtaining his Masters of Music degree at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, in 1932, he studied with fellow African American musician Emma Azalia Hackley. Hackley displayed immense pride in her heritage and encouraged Dett to allow his roots to influence his own composition.
Despite his long career as a piano teacher, Nathaniel Dett is best known for his musical compositions, most of which were piano and choral pieces. Like Antonin Dvorak of Czechoslovakia and Richard Wagner of Germany, Dett drew upon the folk songs of his ancestors, immortalizing the African American spirituals of his people with ink and paper. Dett succinctly summarized the philosophy behind his crusade to transcribe the oral melodies of black Americans in the title of a 1918 essay that he wrote for Hampton University: The Emancipation of Negro Music. He elaborated upon this philosophy in The Emancipation, writing:
“We have this wonderful store of folk music- the melodies of an enslaved people… But this store will be of no value unless we utilize it, unless we treat it in such manner that it can be presented in choral form, in lyric and operatic works, in concertos and suites and salon music- unless our musical architects take the rough timber of Negro themes and fashion from it music which will prove that we, too, have national feelings and characteristics, as have the European peoples whose forms we have zealously followed for so long.”
Throughout the course of his life, Dett published around 100 compositions. These included 46 choral works, 23 vocal solos, 12 piano solos, 5 piano suits, 2 collections of spirituals, and 1 oratorio. The most famous of these include:
Chariot Jubilee: Motet for Tenor Solo and Chorus of Mixed Voices
The Ordering of Moses: An Oratorio From Scripture and Folklore
Listen to the Lambs
Somebody’s Knocking at Your Door
I’m So Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always
Don’t Be Weary, Traveler
Religious Folk-Songs of the Negro as Sung at Hampton Institute
The Dett Collection of Negro Spirituals
Although Nathaniel Dett was a vigorous champion of the composition and transcription of African America sacred music, he was just as energetically opposed to its influence by ragtime and swing, considering such influences sacrilegious and denigrating to the religious services which they were meant to compliment.
During World War II, Nathaniel Dett joined the United Service Organization (USO)- a non-profit that provided entertainment to U.S. military forces and their families- in the capacity of a choral advisor. On October 2, 1943, while on tour with the USO, he died of a heart attack. His body was brought to his hometown, Niagara Falls, Ontario, and buried beside his wife, Helen Smith (a fellow African-American composer and the first black graduate of what would become the Julliard School), and his two daughters. Today, the Niagara Falls church in which he once played the organ (Nathaniel Dett British Methodist Episcopal Church, a Canadian National Historic Site since 2001) and a Canadian choral group called the Nathaniel Dett Chorale are named in his honour.
Famous Black Canadians: 7/10: Nathaniel Dett was last modified: January 30th, 2019 by Hammerson Peters
If you’re a fan of old Westerns, chances are that you’re familiar with the snake oil salesman- the slick confidence man who rides into town with a cart filled with worthless patent medicines, falsely accredits his potions with curative properties, sells his wares to a handful of gullible customers, and hits the trail before his deception can be found out. This character derives from actual 19th Century American quack doctors who passed bottles of mineral oil off as genuine snake oil- a traditional Chinese medicine.
A few weeks ago, my friend, Kevin Guhl, while working on a fascinating research project that will knock the socks off the Fortean community, came across the tale of Kelly Chamandy, Canada’s most famous bear oil salesman. Chamandy was a 20th Century woodsman from northern Ontario who garnered international renown for selling bottles of black bear grease to balding men and women, alleging that his ursine pomade helped to reverse hair loss. Quite unjustly, I was quick to categorize him as a sort of Canadian snake oil salesman- an unscrupulous businessman who preyed on people’s hopes and fears in the pursuit of profit. A closer look at this most colourful of characters, however, reveals another picture entirely.
Kelly Chamandy was born in 1902 in the city of North Bay, Ontario, on the northern shores of Lake Nipissing. His father, A.K. Chamandy, was a Syrian peddler who named his son after his friend and neighbour, an Irishman who had treated him and his wife kindly upon their immigration to Canada.
When he was still a young boy, Kelly’s family moved 370 kilometres north to the town of Cochrane, Ontario, where his father opened his first store. There, at the age of six, while riding in a packsack on the back of a Cree Indian, he saw his first black bear- an animal around which his life would come to revolve.
The Fur Trade
When he came of age, Kelly headed to the woods of Northern Ontario and became a fur trader. His subsequent adventures formed the basis of many a tale, both tall and true, to which he would often treat visitors to his store.
One of these stories involved an incident that took place during a bear hunt, which Kelly undertook with a fellow fur trader and several Inuit friends in James Bay (the southern appendage of Hudson Bay). This was no mere black bear hunt, Kelly was quick to assure his audience. “Hunting blacks is a pushover,” he would say. “It is the polars and grizzlies which are a man’s job.”
On this hunting trip, while boating along the coast of North Twin Island (a large isle in the middle of James Bay), Kelly and his companions saw a huge polar bear with her cub walking along the shore. Brandishing spears, the Inuit disembarked with three of their dogs and prepared to hunt the mother bear the traditional way.
“A polar bear always lunges to the left,” Kelly told Don Deleplante, a writer for Maclean’s magazine who interviewed him in the early 1950s. “The Eskimos timed their thrusts for this movement which they knew would occur… The bear seemed to be on one man, then another, but always the dogs leaped in in time. The courage of the little men before the white monster was fantastic.”
One of the hunters finally managed to kill the bear by planting the butt of his spear into the ground and swinging the business end towards the bear as it barreled towards him. “The bear impaled itself on a blade two and a half feet long and smashed the haft with the force of the charge. The sons ran after the cub and killed it. The three laughed like madmen.”
Another tale with which Kelly would often regale tourists was the story of a wrestling match that he claimed to have won against a bear during a springtime business trip to a Cree village. While attempting to cross a steam, he leapt from a high rock to a ledge on the bank. Upon landing, he found himself sharing the ledge with an enormous grizzly which had been looming over the water with its paw extended, attempting to catch fish. The ledge was too high to jump from, and the bear was blocking the only exit. When Kelly cautiously approached the animal, it lunged at him.
For about thirty seconds, Kelly Chamandy- a burly, bearlike man himself, with broad shoulders and thick, muscular arms- grappled with the monster. Finally, he pressed his back against the rock wall behind him and delivered a two-footed kick to the bear’s belly, sending the bruin behemoth crashing into the stream below.
“Say,” Chamandy would say at the end of his incredible tale, “don’t believe that story about the bear fishing by standing watch over a stream and knocking the fish from the water by a sweep of its paw. A bear dives right in to get fish.”
Kelly Chamandy eventually established an independent fur trading post in the town of Moosonee, about twelve miles up the Moose River from James Bay. There, in the late 1930s, he met a tall, grey-eyed woman named Frances Violet Pullen. Ten years his junior, Frances was the daughter of a local railway foreman. Kelly courted and married Frances, and a year later, the couple had their first child- a son named Monty.
Misfortune and Disaster
About a month after Monty’s birth, Kelly Chamandy reported on the dramatic rescue of a 15-man French-Canadian survey team, the members of which nearly starved to death in the frozen muskeg country of Northern Quebec, having failed to find the food cache that had been prepared for them on account of heavy snowfall. Chamandy interviewed 32-year-old Leo Bernier, the most emaciated of the crew, while he lay on a bed in a Moosonee inn. Bernier’s account, which Kelly translated from French to English, was published in the January 3, 1938 issue of the Ottawa Evening Citizen.
A year and a half later, Kelly Chamandy had his own brush with disaster. In early July, 1939, Kelly, his wife Frances, and their 17-month-old son Monty- along with four Cree employees named Tom Linklater, Willie Isserhoff, John Wesley, and Alec Simion- set out on a fur-buying trip. They piled into the Kittiwake, a 40-foot-long fishing boat which Kelly had purchased shortly after his wedding, and headed down the Moose River into James Bay, bound for the Cree village of Attawapiskat. While they were on the water, a ferocious gale blew in from the north and inflicted serious damage upon Chamandy’s vessel. The crew was forced to abandon the craft and row for shore in a canoe. Although the seven passengers safely made landfall at a place called Partridge Creek, the Kittiwake was wrecked beyond repair, bringing $35,000-worth of Kelly Chamandy’s trade goods with it to the bottom of James Bay.
Six months later, Chamandy was hit with another misfortune: his family’s cabin at Moosonee mysteriously burned to the ground. By that time, war had broken out in Europe, and in order to both support his family (which would soon gain another member, baby Ulna) and serve his country, Kelly Chamandy enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
When he finally came home for good at the end of the war, Kelly Chamandy was bald as an egg. Taking the advice of his Cree friends, he began massaging rendered bear fat into his scalp and, lo and behold, his hair began to grow back! The state of his pate, his Syrian peddler heritage, and his wilderness experience gave him a brilliant idea which led to his entrance into an ancient, unconventional, and all-but-forgotten industry: the bear grease market.
Kelly Chamandy’s Bear Grease
From the mid-1600s until the end of the 19th Century, many wealthy Europeans anointed their scalps and greased their whiskers with the rendered fat of Russian brown bears, hoping that the tallow contained the same mysterious property which gave bears their thick winter coats. Antiquated though it was, this practice was by no means obsolete by the time Kelly Chamandy decided to enter the market in the 1940s. He promptly opened a store in the hamlet of Ramore, Ontario, located about 200 miles south of Moosonee, and began to make his own bear grease, rendering the fat of black bears he killed in the late summer or early fall, right before hibernation, in a washtub over his cabin’s wood stove. No sooner had he set up shop than his bottles began to fly off the shelf. In no time, Kelly Chamandy was selling his exotic commodity to clients from all over North America, the going price being $1.50 for an eight-ounce jar.
“I don’t claim that bear grease grows hair, nor cures aches and pains,” Kelly Chamandy once said of his pungent product. “But my customers claim it does. Who am I to call them liars?”
One Manitoba newspaper quoted him as saying: “I got bald as a billiard ball myself in the air force during the war, when I could not get the grease. Now my own hair is starting to come back. Maybe it’s the change of diet, but then again, maybe it’s the bear grease.”
Although Kelly may not have outright ascribed his bear grease with follicle-friendly features, he was not beyond dropping some not-so-subtle hints to the same effect. “Have you ever seen a bald-headed Indian?” he would often ask tourists, before explaining that natives from the prairies to the Great Lakes would often work bear oil into their long hair to make it shine.
Baldness was not the only ailment for which Kelly Chamandy’s bear oil was used to affect a cure. Customers also used the grease to combat rheumatism, arthritis, and muscle aches, and applied it as a lubricant, waterproofing agent, and conditioner to everything from fishing lines to boot leather.
Kelly Chamandy soon expanded his product line, becoming Canada’s only licenced purveyor of bear, beaver, muskrat, and raccoon meat. He sold his bear and beaver meat at 35 cents a pound, and retailed his untanned pelts for up to $25. He also sold bear gallbladders and left forepaws to Chinese merchants, bear bile and bear paw soup being rare and expensive ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine, as well as live black bear cubs, whom gas station, restaurant, and hotel owners purchased in the hope of attracting patrons to their establishments. Soon, Kelly’s profits allowed him to open a gas station, a trading post, a general store, and a museum, his main articles for sale and display being Inuit soapstone and ivory carvings which he purchased from his old fur trade friends.
The Giant Owl
In the spring of 1951, Kelly Chamandy offered a $100 reward to anyone who could bring him the carcass of an enormous black bird that had been harassing Northern Ontario livestock; apparently, he thought that the monster would make a nice addition to his museum. Ted Lind and Howard McDonald were two farmers who claimed to have seen the bird about 50 miles east of Timmins, Ontario (i.e. in the vicinity of Ramore). They described the bird as having huge talons, a hooked beak, jet black feathers, and the likeness of an owl, and claimed that it was four feet tall with a 9-foot wingspan. Lind suspected that the avian colossus had snatched up fish and meat that he had strung up beyond the reach of wolves; all that survived of his catch were the tattered remains of the half-inch rope from which he had suspended it. Chamandy himself maintained that the bird had yellow eyes “the size of silver dollars”, and was “large enough to carry off a small cow”.
Within a few days, Kelly Chamandy upped the bounty to $150 on the condition that the bird be captured alive. According to an article in the Pittsburgh Press, the entrepreneur feared that his initial offer would prompt locals to “commit wholesale slaughter of birds, shooting first and examining them afterwards”. To the best of this author’s knowledge, the fate of the monstrous bird remains a mystery.
The international attention garnered by his big bird bounty may have been the inspiration for a series of ingenious marketing ploys that Kelly Chamandy conducted in the 1950s, in which he sent bottles of his bear oil to famous public figures. In around 1951, for example, he sent a large bottle of bear grease to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, whose receding hairline had attracted his attention. “I got no answer from the President,” Chamandy once said of the scheme, “but the grease wasn’t returned.”
Later on, in 1952, Kelly sent a jar to U.S. Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower as an inauguration present (Eisenhower was elected U.S. President in the fall of 1952). He never received a reply.
Two years later, in the summer of 1954, Kelly sent a bottle of bear grease to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, whose hair appeared to be thinning. This time, he promptly received a Royal letter from the Honourable Michael Parker, the Duke’s Private Secretary, thanking him for his concern and assuring him that “there is no cause for worry”.
In the 1960s, the middle-aged entrepreneur relocated with his wife to the city of Kitchener, Ontario, in order to be closer to his two children, both of whom had moved there. There, he began selling some of his old Inuit art to high-end gift shops. “The prices I can get for this stuff today…” he remarked to a journalist, shaking his head in amazement. “I remember when my store was half full of it and I couldn’t give it away.”
On February 24, 1966, after successfully bidding for a truckload of abandoned bicycles at a police auction, 64-year-old Kelly Chamandy suddenly died of a heart attack, leaving behind his wife, Frances; his children, Monty and Ulna; and a legacy of happy customers with heads full of hair and hearts full of gratitude for the services rendered by Canada’s last bear oil salesman.
“Reward Offered for Huge Bird of Prey”, in the April 17, 1951 issue of the Boston Daily Globe; courtesy of Kevin Guhl
“Famed Ontario Trader Kelly Chamandy Dead”, in the March 3, 1966 issue of The Brandon Sun; courtesy of Kevin Guhl
“Kelly Chamandy”, in the February 24, 1966 issue of The Gazette (Montreal); courtesy of Kevin Guhl
“Come-back Seen for Bear Grease”, in the July 18, 1951 issue of The Gazette (Montreal); courtesy of Kevin Guhl
“Lost Surveyors Rescued from Peril in North: Weak and Foodless Quebec Crew Cries With Joy When Flier Finds Them in Frozen Muskeg Country. Fifteen Men Lived 39 Days on Flesh of 14 Rabbits. Prayed for Help Since Food Ran Out”, in the January 3, 1938 issue of The Ottawa Evening Citizen; courtesy of Kevin Guhl
“Make Escape as Storm Wrecks Boats”, in the July 11, 1939 issue of The Ottawa Evening Citizen; courtesy of Kevin Guhl
“Mysterious Bird Four Feet High in Timmins Area”, in the April 15, 1961 issue of The Journal (Ottawa); courtesy of Kevin Guhl
“Trader Dead”, in the February 28, 1966 issue of the Ottawa Journal; courtesy of Kevin Guhl
“Sends Bear Grease to Philip as Hair Restorer”, in the March 28, 1955 issue of the Ottawa Journal; courtesy of Kevin Guhl
“Bear Business Bad”, in the June 24, 1954 issue of The Ottawa Journal; courtesy of Kevin Guhl
“$100 Reward Offered for Giant Bird of Prey” in the April 17, 1951 issue of The Pittsburgh Press; courtesy of Kevin Guhl
“Worth $150 Mystery Bird Said Buzzard”, in the April 19, 1951 issue of The Windsor Star; courtesy of Kevin Guhl
“Mystery Bird Four Feet Tall, Like Huge Owl”, in the April 17, 1951 issue of the Windsor Daily Star; courtesy of Kevin Guhl
“You Can’t Beat Kelly’s Bear Grease”, by Don Delaplante in the April 1, 1953 issue of Maclean’s magazine
“Kelly Chamandy: Bald Northerner Trader Sold Bear Grease Hair Restorer”, by Don Delaplante
We Need Your Help!
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article and would like to help support this website, please check out our online bookshop:
Kelly Chamandy- Canada’s Last Bear Oil Salesman was last modified: January 29th, 2019 by Hammerson Peters