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Prince Rupert of the Rhine

Prince Rupert of the Rhine

The oldest name on our list of ‘Famous People who Canadian Places are Named After’ is that of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, the namesake of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and of the vast district once controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company: Rupert’s Land.

The Winter Prince

Prince Rupert of the Rhine was born in the city of Prague on December 17, 1619. His mother, Elizabeth Stuart, was the daughter of King James I of England, Scotland, and Ireland, while his father, Frederick V of the Palatinate, was a German noble who ruled the Rhenish Palatinate- a territory in the Holy Roman Empire.

In the years preceding Rupert’s birth, there was considerable tension between Catholics and Protestants all throughout Europe. One particularly volatile region was Bohemia, a kingdom in a loose confederation of Germanic states called the Holy Roman Empire. At that time, Holy Roman Emperor Matthias I appointed Ferdinand II (a member of the powerful House of Habsburg) the heir apparent to the Bohemian throne. Although both Matthias and Ferdinand were staunch Catholics, most of Bohemia’s nobles were Protestant. Fearful that Ferdinand might force them to renounce their religion once he came into power, these nobles decided to put their own Protestant King on the Bohemian throne. They offered the crown to Frederick V of the Palatinate, who accepted at the behest of his wife, the heavily pregnant Elizabeth Stuart.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine was born a month after his father’s coronation. The great celebration that accompanied his birth was shadowed by the looming spectre of war; while the Bohemians toasted the birth of their new prince, an angry Ferdinand II was mustering an army with which to oust the Protestant usurper.

Before Rupert’s first birthday, the seasoned armies of Ferdinand II and Matthias I clashed with a ragtag mercenary army that Frederick had managed to muster in what is known as the Battle of White Mountain. The Bohemian army was soundly defeated, and Frederick and his family were forced to flee to The Hague, the capital of the Dutch Republic (a Protestant country). Rupert spent his earliest years living in Holland as an exiled prince with parents and many siblings, the former having been styled the “Winter King and Queen” by their detractors for their short reign in Bohemia. Meanwhile, Rupert’s birthplace, the Holy Roman Empire, descended into a devastating religious conflict called the Thirty Years’ War.

The Eighty Years’ War

At the insistence of his father, Prince Rupert received a rigorous Classical education in The Hague. Despite displaying a mischievous streak, he proved to be an exceptional student, excelling in both the arts and the sciences.

Promising as it was, Prince Rupert’s scholarly education was cut short with his introduction into military life at the age of 14. In 1633, the young German prince fought alongside Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange (the Dutch monarch), at the Siege of Rheinberg (a German city controlled at that time by the Spanish, with whom the Dutch had been at war for decades in a conflict that would come to be known as the Eighty Years’ War). Four years later, he participated in the Siege of Breda (another battle against the Spanish, fought in the Netherlands), during which he earned himself a reputation for courage, diligence, and high spirits in battle.

The Palatinate Campaign

Ever since the death of Rupert’s father in 1632, Rupert’s uncle, King Charles I of England (who had ruled since the death of his own father, James I, in 1625) had kept in close contact with his bereaved sister, Elizabeth Stuart (Rupert’s mother). In 1637, Charles I allowed Elizabeth’s eldest living son, Charles Louis, to raise money in England for a military expedition to take back his father’s old domain, the Rhenish Palatinate. Prince Rupert joined his elder brother’s campaign as commander of a cavalry regiment.

On October 17, 1638, Charles Louis’ army clashed with a force fielded by the Holy Roman Empire in a narrow valley not far from the Weser River. In order to protect his brothers’ slow-moving artillery and baggage train from a squadron of Imperial cavalry, Prince Rupert led his own cavalry regiment in a daring charge down the valley towards the advancing Imperialists. Although Rupert and his troopers successfully drove the enemy cavalry from the battlefield, the prince himself was later captured by Imperial forces.

The First English Civil War

Following this so-called ‘Battle of Vlotho’, which ended Charles Louis’ campaign to reclaim the Palatinate, Prince Rupert was imprisoned in an Imperial fortress at the town of Linz, Austria. Aside from their repeated attempts to gain his allegiance and convert him to Catholicism, his captors treated him well, taking him on hunting trips and gifting him a white hunting poodle, which he named “Boy”. After four years of imprisonment, Prince Rupert was released on the condition that he vow to never again take up arms against the Holy Roman Emperor.

The Quintessential Cavalier

Following his emancipation, Prince Rupert immediately made his way to England, where his uncle, King Charles I, was preparing for a war against a rebel army led by members of the English Parliament. This brutal conflict, called the First English Civil War, pitted Charles’ aristocratic Anglican Royalists- nicknamed “Cavaliers” for their resemblance to the flashy, ringlet-wearing Caballeros (knights) of Catholic Spain- against zealous, low-born Puritans- nicknamed “Roundheads” for their close-cropped hair. Charles I promptly appointed Rupert ‘General of Horse’- an esteemed position in the Royalist army. After recruiting and training a cavalry force of 3,000 horsemen, Prince Rupert rode off to war.

Prince Rupert’s first skirmish against Parliamentarian forces was the Battle of Powick Bridge, the first significant cavalry engagement of the First English Civil War. On September 23, 1642, while en route to the city of Worcester to liberate a Royalist garrison under siege, Rupert allowed his troops to dismount and stretch their legs. During this spell of vulnerability, Prince Rupert spotted a column of cavalry in the distance- the vanguard of the larger Parliamentarian army. The hot-headed commander immediately leaped into his saddle, drew his sword, and ordered his squadron to charge. Without waiting for his men to mount, Prince Rupert galloped headlong towards the Parliamentarian cavalry, his poodle, Boy, following at his horse’s heels. Rupert’s panicked troopers followed suit as quickly as they could.

Prince Rupert and his troops caught the Parliamentarians by surprise and utterly routed them. Although nearly all of Rupert’s officers were injured in the ensuing skirmish, the Battle of Powick Bridge was a solid victory for the Royalists.

Strategically, the Battle of Powick Bridge was of little importance. Far more impactful than the victory itself, however, was the propaganda material it furnished for both the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. Prince Rupert’s apparent fearlessness, coupled with the dashing figure he struck charging into battle ahead of his men, made him a hero amongst his troopers. In no time, the Rhenish prince came to represent the quintessential Cavalier, while his poodle, Boy, became the unofficial mascot of the Royalist army. Parliamentarian propagandists, on the other hand, attempted to exploit this image and brand Rupert as a villain by claiming that Boy was a ‘familiar spirit’- a demonic minion summoned through Rupert’s practicing black magic.

The Battle of Edgehill

Prince Rupert’s second major military engagement in the First English Civil War was the Battle of Edgehill, the first major battle fought between the main Royalist and Parliamentarian armies and a victory for the King. During this fight, Rupert commanded King Charles I’s cavalry, leading a number of charges and surprise attacks. He also quarrelled with fellow general Robert Bertie, the commander of the Royalist infantry, by challenging one of his tactical decisions. Such disagreements would gradually earn Prince Rupert many enemies among the Royalist aristocracy.

The Battle of Marston Moor

Prince Rupert won many more victories for the Royalists throughout the First English Civil War, making use of speed and surprise on the battlefield. The brilliant young commander finally met his match at the Battle of Marston Moor, however, when he and a number of generals led a Royalist army to relieve the besieged city of York. On a field outside the city, the Royalists were attacked by a larger force of Parliamentarians and Covenanters (Covenanters being Scottish Presbyterians who had warred with England four years prior, and whom the Parliamentarians had convinced to fight alongside them). Prince Rupert’s horsemen clashed with troopers commanded Parliamentarian general Oliver Cromwell- disciplined, lowborn, devoutly Puritan cavalrymen known as ‘Ironsides’. Cromwell’s Ironsides managed to hold their own against Rupert’s Cavaliers, giving the Covenanter cavalry an opportunity to flank them. Rupert’s cavalry was routed, and the prince himself was forced to hide in a bean field. His dog, Boy, was famously killed by a Parliamentarian musketeer while racing to defend his master.

Following the battle, Prince Rupert and his cavalry rode south to join King Charles I’s main army. Despite his defeat on the Moor, he was soon appointed General of the entire Royalist Army. He fought several more battles for the King, all the while combatting the dissent of his fellow commanders who were jealous of his position and resentful of his disregard for courtly etiquette. After suffering his second defeat at the Battle of Naseby- a battle which he had vainly implored King Charles I to avoid entering- Prince Rupert came to believe that the Royalists would not be able to win the war. Rupert implored the King to sue for peace with Parliament, but to no avail. After surrendering an important Royalist stronghold to the Parliamentarians, Rupert was dismissed from the King’s service.

In defiance of his dismissal, Prince Rupert of the Rhine fought his way across enemy territory to the town of Newark, where Charles I had taken up residence. He muscled his way through the royal guard into the King’s court and convinced his uncle to have him court-martialed. A reluctant Charles I ultimately concluded that Rupert had conducted himself honourably, whereupon the prince resigned from the Royalist army. When he failed to find employment in Europe, he made amends with King Charles I and resumed his service, fighting for the King until the end of the First English Civil War. In the summer of 1646, when the Parliamentarians finally seized power and captured King Charles I, Rupert was banished from England.

The Franco-Spanish War

The exiled Prince Rupert travelled to France, where he became a brigadier general in the army of young King Louis XIV. Under the command of a Gascon military commander, Rupert fought against the Spanish in what is known as the Franco-Spanish War- a consequence of France’s involvement in the Thirty Years’ War. After successfully retaking a French fortress that the Spanish had occupied, Rupert’s regiment was ambushed by a party of Spanish musketeers. Rupert was shot in the head, while his commander was mortally wounded. Despite his serious injury, Rupert survived the ordeal and was allowed to recover in the exiled English court, which had taken up residence in the palace of St. Germaine, located a short ride from Paris.

The Second and Third English Civil Wars

In 1648, the captive King Charles I convinced his old enemies, the Scottish Covenanters, to turn against their old allies, the Parliamentarians, and invade England with the intention of restoring the monarchy. Thus, the Second English Civil War broke out. At the beginning of this conflict, many sailors of the Parliament navy mutinied against their officers and decided to fight for the King. Prince Rupert, now sufficiently recovered, became an officer of this new Royalist navy and worked his way up the ranks until he became its admiral.

No sooner had Rupert taken command of the Royalist navy than he and his fleet were attacked by the larger Parliamentarian naval force. Unable or unwilling to face this navy in battle, Prince Rupert led his ships down the Iberian coast and into the Mediterranean Sea, capturing and looting English vessels as he went. After evading his pursuers, Rupert sailed back through the Strait of Gibraltar, down the west coast of Africa and across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, where he hoped to capture Spanish treasure with which to support a rescue effort for King Charles I. When the piracy expedition proved more disastrous than profitable, Rupert sailed back to the Old World, where he learned that the Parliamentarians had beheaded King Charles I for high treason. Weary and bitter, Rupert spent the next few years travelling throughout France and Germany, where he spent his time engaged in artistic pursuits (one of which was the supposed invention of a printmaking process called “mezzotint”), and in organizing a failed assassination attempt of Oliver Cromwell, who now ruled as dictator in England.

The Restoration

In 1660, the late King Charles I’s son, named Charles II, sailed to England with a Royalist army and reclaimed the throne from the crumbling English Commonwealth established by Oliver Cromwell (who had died of a kidney infection two years prior). Prince Rupert subsequently returned to England, and as a reward for the services he rendered to Charles I during the First English Civil War, was granted a large pension and high positions in Charles II’s court and military.

During Oliver Cromwell’s reign, England had warred with its old Protestant ally, the Dutch Republic, which had become its trading rival in India. Although hostilities between the Dutch and English had ceased by the time Charles II came to power in England, both nations were engaged in aggressive mercantilist policies against one another.

In 1665, Charles II, prompted by his brother, James, declared war on the Dutch Republic, and thus the Second Anglo-Dutch War began. Prince Rupert of the Rhine, once again a high-ranking naval commander, led his fleet in a number of naval battles against the Dutch, pitting himself against a brilliant Dutch admiral named Michiel de Ruyter. He performed similar duties during the subsequent Third Anglo-Dutch War, during which he made use of the “Rupertinoe”- an advanced naval cannon of his own design.

The Founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company

Prior to the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, two rugged French frontiersmen were presented to the English court. These woodsmen, named Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Medard des Groseilliers, had spent most of their lives in the wilderness of New France, the vast and wild French colony across the Atlantic. The Frenchmen told the English aristocrats that the natives of New France often spoke of a great “frozen sea” to the north, the shores of which abounded with fur-bearing animals. This was a tantalizing notion, as furs were rare commodities in high demand in Europe at the time. Radisson and Groseillier reasoned that the “frozen sea” was probably Hudson Bay, and asked the Englishmen to finance their exploration of the area (members of French royal court had already rejected a similar proposal). Prince Rupert of the Rhine expressed an interest in Radisson and Groseillier’s proposition and asked the Frenchman to appeal to him again at the conclusion of the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

The frontiersmen did as the prince requested, and in 1667, Prince Rupert supplied Radisson and Groseillier with two ships with which to carry out their expedition. Sure enough, the Frenchmen returned from the Canadian wilderness in 1669 with a load of premium furs valued at 1,400 pounds sterling. The following year, King Charles II allowed Rupert and his associates to form the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC)- a fur trading syndicate which he granted the exclusive right to trade for furs in Hudson Bay watershed. He named this territory “Rupert’s Land” in honour of the HBC’s royal connection, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, and appointed Rupert its first Governor.

Scientific Exploits

In 1674, 55-year-old Prince Rupert retired from military life and began to dedicate more of his time to scientific research- a pursuit in which he took a great interest. Back in 1660, he had helped found the Royal Society, the oldest national scientific institution in the world. Shortly after the Society’s founding, Prince Rupert demonstrated the strange properties of objects known today as “Prince Rupert’s drops” to King Charles II and the Society’s members. Formed by dripping molten glass into cold water, these tadpole-like glass tears can withstand the strongest hammer blow on their bulbous ends, but spontaneously explode into dust when any part of their tails are cracked.

Upon his retirement from the English military, Prince Rupert made a number of interesting scientific discoveries and inventions, including a recipe for permanent marble stain, a new device for lifting water, a brass alloy used as imitation gold (sometimes called “Prince Rupert’s metal”), and geometrical concept of “Prince Rupert’s cube” (the notion that a cube can be cut with a hole large enough to accommodate an identical cube). He also invented a number of weapons, including a handgun with rotating barrels, a proto machine gun, and a recipe for superior gunpowder.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine died in his English home on November 29, 1682, succumbing to a lung infection. Today, a city in Northwestern British Columbia; a neighbourhood in Edmonton, Alberta; and a river in Quebec bear his name.



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Famous People Who Canadian Places are Named After

Famous People Who Canadian Places are Named After

Like all countries that began as European colonies, Canada is filled with cities, regions, roads, and buildings named after once-influential people whose stories Canadians have largely forgotten. The names of these places appear so frequently in conversation that we seldom pause to consider the lives and accomplishments of the nobles, saints, and explorers in whose honour they were given. Here are a few of the folks whose names many Canadian places now bear.


Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619 – 1682)

A 17th Century German-English military commander, artist, scientist, and hero of the First English Civil War, Prince Rupert of the Rhine is the namesake of the following Canadian places:

  • Prince Rupert, British Columbia- a port town on the West Coast of Central B.C.
  • Prince Rupert, a residential neighbourhood in northwest Edmonton, Alberta.
  • Rupert River, one of the largest rivers in Quebec, which flows into…
  • Rupert Bay, a large bay situated on the southeastern shore of James Bay (the large body of water on the southern end of Hudson Bay).
  • Rupert’s Land, the vast territory once controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company, comprising the watershed of Hudson Bay.


Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac (1622 – 1698)

This 17th Century French soldier, courtier, and Governor of New France is the namesake of:

  • Chateau Frontenac, a grand railway hotel located in Quebec City.
  • Frontenac station, a station on the Green Line of the Montreal Metro.
  • Frontenac National Park, located in southeastern Quebec.
  • Fort Frontenac, a 17th Century French military fort built near the head of the St. Lawrence River.
  • Frontenac Provincial Park, located north of Kingston, Ontario, in Frontenac County, Ontario.


King George III of Great Britain (1738 – 1820)

This controversial Hanoverian British king, who ruled from 1760 until his death in 1820, is the namesake of:

  • Prince George, the so-called “Capital of Northern British Columbia”.
  • The Georgia Strait, the part of the Salish sea which separates Vancouver Island from the British Columbian mainland.
  • Kingston, Ontario, a large city situated on the eastern shores of Lake Ontario.


Queen Charlotte of Great Britain (1744 – 1818)

This wife of King George III of Great Britain is the namesake of:

  • The Queen Charlotte Islands, an archipelago in the Pacific Northwest and the traditional home of the Haida First Nation, now called by its original title, “Haida Gwaii”.
  • Charlottetown, the provincial capital of Prince Edward Island.
  • Charlotte Street, a road in Sydney, Nova Scotia.


Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (1767 – 1820)

The fourth son and fifth child of King George III and Queen Charlotte of Great Britain (and the father of Queen Victoria) and the first member of the royal family to live in Canada, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, is the namesake of:

  • The Province of Prince Edward Island.


Queen Victoria of Great Britain (1819 – 1901)

This beloved and long-reigning 19th Century British Queen is the namesake of:

  • Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia.
  • Regina, the provincial capital of Saskatchewan.
  • Victoria Island, the second-largest island in the Arctic Archipelago and the eighth largest island in the world.
  • The Fairmont Empress, one of the oldest hotels in Victoria, BC.
  • Victoria Hall, the historic town hall of Cobourg, Ontario.


Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1819 – 1861)

Consort to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert is the namesake of:

  • Prince Albert, the third largest city in Saskatchewan.
  • Prince Albert National Park, situated north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
  • Albert College, a historic boarding school in Bellevue, Ontario.


Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona (1820 – 1914)

This prominent 19th Century Scottish-Canadian business tycoon is the namesake of:

  • Strathcona Park, a neighbourhood in southwest Calgary, Alberta.
  • Old Strathcona, a historic district in south-central Edmonton, Alberta.
  • Strathcona, the oldest residential neighbourhood in Vancouver, British Columbia.
  • Strathcona Provincial Park, the oldest provincial park in British Columbia.
  • Strathcona Park, a large green in Ottawa, Ontario.


Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (1841 – 1910)

The sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Princess Louise is the namesake of:

  • The Province of Alberta
  • Lake Louise, a famous glacial lake in Banff National Park.
  • Princess Street, a road in Winnipeg, Manitoba.


St. Lawrence (225 – 258)

St. Lawrence was a 3rd Century deacon of Rome, Italy, who was either decapitated or burned to death on a gridiron on the orders of the Roman Emperor Valerian. According to one legend, after lying for some time on the searing gridiron, Saint Lawrence cheerfully asked his torturers to turn him over, as he had finished cooking on that side.

This Christian martyr- patron saint of cooks, librarians, and comedians- is the namesake of:

  • The Saint Lawrence River, a large and important river which flows through Ontario and Quebec before draining into the Atlantic Ocean.
  • The Saint Lawrence Seaway, a shipping route connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes.
  • The Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the Atlantic Ocean between Newfoundland and the Maritime Provinces.
  • The Laurentian Mountains, a mountain range in southern Quebec.


St. Albert of Louvain (1166 – 1192)

For years, the citizens of St. Albert, Alberta- a city located northwest of Edmonton, the provincial capital- believed that their town was named after St. Albert the Great (1193 – 1280), a medieval theologian and one of the 36 Doctors of the Catholic Church. Townspeople went so far as to erect a statue of Albert the Great in St. Albert’s downtown area.

In fact, St. Albert, Alberta, is named after Saint Albert of Louvain, a medieval Belgian bishop. Albert of Louvain was the namesake of Albert Lacombe, a beloved local missionary who tended to the spiritual needs of the Plains Cree and Blackfoot First Nations in Alberta and played an integral role in establishing peace in the Canadian Wild West. The city rectified the mistake of their predecessors in 2008.


Saint Catherine of Alexandria (287 – 305 A.D.)

This 4th Century Christian martyr lived in the city of Alexandria, in the Roman province of Egypt. According to legend, she converted to Christianity after seeing a vision of the Madonna and Child and asked the Roman Emperor Maxentius to debate her theological arguments. When the Emperor and his philosophers were unable to beat her in debate, Saint Catherine was whipped, starved, and condemned to death on a breaking wheel. The wheel shattered at her touch, however, and so she was beheaded instead.

Today, this Christian martyr is the namesake of:

  • St. Catherines, Ontario, the largest city in the Niagara Region.
  • Saint Catherine Street, a commercial thoroughfare in downtown Montreal, Quebec.


St. Anne (50 B.C. – 12 A.D.)

According to Christian tradition, Saint Anne was the mother of the Virgin Mary and the grandmother of Jesus. Today, she is the namesake of:

  • The Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, a famous basilica on the Saint Lawrence River just east of Quebec City.
  • Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, the Quebec town in which the aforementioned basilica is located.


St. John the Baptist (1st Century B.C./A.D.)

According to the Christian gospels, this 1st Century Judean prophet and cousin of Jesus was beheaded on the orders of Herod Antipas, whose second wife took issue with John’s admonitions against Herod’s first divorce. John the Baptist is the namesake of:

  • St. John’s, the provincial capital of Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • Saint John, New Brunswick, a port city in the Bay of Fundy.




Henry Hudson (1565 – 1611)

Henry Hudson was a 16th/17th Century English explorer who attempted to find the Northwest Passage- a legendary waterway connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific. In 1611, while sailing in Hudson Bay, his crew mutinied and set him and those loyal to him adrift in a tiny boat. Hudson and those who had been marooned with him were never seen again. Henry Hudson is the namesake of:

  • Hudson’s Bay, the body of water in which he disappeared.
  • Hudson Strait, the waterway connecting Hudson Bay with the Atlantic Ocean.


George Vancouver (1757 – 1798)

Captain George Vancouver was an 18th Century officer of the British Royal Navy. From 1791 to 1795, he explored the Pacific Northwest. The city of Vancouver, the largest city in British Columbia, is named in his honour.


Alexander Mackenzie (1764 – 1820)

Sir Alexander Mackenzie was a Scottish explorer who navigated the waterways of Northern Canada on behalf of the North-West Company, a fur-trading rival of the HBC. He is best remembered for his discovery that the Mackenzie River empties into the Arctic Ocean. He is the namesake of:

  • The aforementioned Mackenzie River, the length of which he and his crew were the first to navigate.
  • The Mackenzie Mountains- a mountain range in the Northwest Territories north of the Rockies.
  • Sir Alexander Mackenzie Senior Public School in Scarborough, a neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario.


Simon Fraser (1776 – 1862)

Simon Fraser was a Scottish explorer and fur trader who charted much of British Columbia in the 19th Century. He is the namesake of:

  • The Fraser River, British Columbia’s longest river, which empties into the Pacific Ocean at Vancouver, BC.
  • Simon Fraser University, one of Canada’s foremost public universities, located in Burnaby, British Columbia.
  • Fraser Lake, a village in north-central British Columbia.
  • The Simon Fraser Bridge, a truss bridge which crosses the Fraser River in Prince George, BC.


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Elves from the North Pole – More than a Fairytale?

Elves from the North Pole – More than a Fairytale?

In the Western world today, we associate Christmas with two main stories. The more important of these, upon which the holiday is based, is the Nativity of Christ, which appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Originating in the Holy Land in the 1st Century A.D., the story of Christ’s birth spread throughout the Roman Empire during the reign of Constantine the Great.

The second major story that we associate with Christmas is that of Santa Claus, the jolly, white-bearded, semi-magical embodiment of Christmas who appears every Christmas Eve to deliver presents to good girls and boys. Like gingerbread houses and the Christmas tree, the Santa Claus story as we know it probably has its roots in 16th Century Germany/Holland.

Arctic Elves – A Canadian Legend

One particular set of characters who have populated the Santa Claus story for at least a century and a half are Christmas elves, Santa’s little magical helpers. According to a relatively modern tradition, these tiny people live in the North Pole, where they make toys in Santa’s workshop. Although elves have been a mainstay of Germanic folklore for millennia, Christmas elves first appeared in writing in American novelist Louisa May Alcott’s unpublished book Christmas Elves (1855).

Many Canadians might be surprised to learn that, despite their relatively recent addition to the Santa Claus story, little magical people from the North Pole have featured in Western folklore for more than 1,000 years. And believe it or not, rather than hailing from northernmost Norway, Russia, or some other Old World abode, these creatures were said to live in Northern Canada.


The first written accounts of Artic elves are the Viking Sagas- texts written by medieval Norsemen on ancient Nordic and Germanic history. Among the most famous of these is the saga of Erik the Red.

Erik the Red was a red-bearded Norse farmer who lived in Iceland in the late 10th Century. In 982 A.D., he was banished from Iceland for committing manslaughter. Accompanied by a handful of loyal friends and relatives, he 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, he 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.

In 999 A.D., one of Erik the Red’s sons, called Leif Eriksson, travelled to Norway, his father’s birthplace, where he converted from Norse paganism to Christianity. Determined to bring the Christian religion to Greenland, he headed out into the North Atlantic. During his westward voyage, he was blown off course, and landed on strange shores where wild grapes grew in abundance. He called this New World “Vinland”, or “Wineland”, and later returned there to establish a colony of his own. Some historians believe that Leif Eriksson’s Vinlandic colony was what we know today as L’Anse aux Meadows, a cluster of Viking ruins discovered on the northern tip of Newfoundland.

For centuries, Icelanders told stories of Erik the Red and Leif Eriksson’s New World adventures around smoky longhouse fires. Medieval storytellers eventually put these tales to parchment, writing what are known as the Icelandic Sagas.

Many of the Sagas spoke of natives whom Norse explorers encountered in the New World, in both Vinland and Greenland. The Vikings called these people “Skraeling”. According to the 13th Century Saga of Erik the Red, the Skraeling “were short in height with threatening features and tangled hair on their heads. Their eyes were large and their cheeks broad.” Although their relationship with these aboriginals was initially a friendly one, the Vikings eventually engaged in a number of savage skirmishes with these diminutive New World natives.

Many historians believe that the Skraeling were the Thule people, the ancestors of the modern Inuit. Indeed, Inuit folklore contains references to bearded, sword-wielding giants called “Kavdlunait”, believed by some to be Viking explorers. Others claim that the Skraeling were the ancient Dorset people, whom the Inuit eventually displaced. Others still, however, maintain that the Sagas’ references to Skraeling constitute the first written records describing a lost tribe of Arctic dwarfs, remnants of which, some say, still inhabit the Northland to this very day.

Norwegian-American historian Kirsten A. Seaver, in her article ‘Pygmies’ of the Far North, published in the March 2008 edition of the Journal of World History, argued that the word “Skraeling” was an Old Norse translation of “Pygmy”- in this context, a race of dwarves from India which feature in Ancient Greek mythology, with which Classically-educated Vikings would have been familiar. Seaver suspected that Dark Age Norse explorers, knowing that the earth was round, believed they had stumbled upon eastern coast of India when they trudged onto the foamy shores of the New World. Much as 15th Century Spanish conquistadors called the natives of the Americas “indios”, or “Indians”, in the mistaken belief that they had reached the Orient, the Vikings, Seaver argued, named the tiny northern natives they encountered after the legendary dwarves said to inhabit the eastern continent.

Seaver’s case is bolstered by a footnote which Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator included in his 1569 map of the world. On an island near the North Pole, Mercator wrote:

“Pygmae hic habitant 4 ad summum pedes longi, quaemadmodum illi quos in Gronlandia Screlingers vocant.”

This Latin passage, when translated to English, reads:

“Here live the Pygmies, at most 4 feet tall, like unto those they call Skraelings in Greenland.”

Captain Luke Foxe’s Discovery

Another explorer to uncover potential evidence of a race of pygmies living in the Arctic was Captain Luke Foxe, a 17th Century English adventurer who followed in the footsteps of Martin Frobisher and Henry Hudson, sailing the frigid waters of Northern Canada in search of the Northwest Passage.

Foxe set out on his first and only Arctic expedition in the spring of 1631. Setting out from Kirkwall, Orkney, he and his crew sailed west across the Atlantic to Frobisher Bay, situated near the northern lip of Hudson’s Bay. The Englishmen sailed through the Hudson Strait and, after visiting the crew of Welsh Captain Thomas James, who was similarly searching for the Northwest Passage, headed west.

On July 27, 1631, Captain Foxe and his crew disembarked at Southampton Island, a large island located at the northern end of Hudson’s Bay. There, they discovered a peculiar above-ground cemetery consisting of a number of little coffins made from wood and stone. Inside these coffins were, as cryptozoologist Ivan Sanderson put it in his 1963 article Traditions of Submen in Arctic and Subarctic North America, “tiny human skeletons only four feet in length, surrounded by bows, arrows, and bone lances. They were all adults, and there is some implication that not all of them were skeletons, but might have been whole frozen bodies.”

The first part of Foxe’s report, which he included in his personal journal, went as follows:

“The newes from land was that this Island was a Sepulchre, for the Savages had laid their dead (I cannot say interred), for it is all stone, as they cannot dig therein, but lay the Corpses on the stones, and wall them about with the same, coffining them also by laying the sides of old sleddes about which have been artificially made. The boards are some 9 or 10 foot long, 4 inches thicke. In what manner the tree they have bin made out of what cloven or sawen, it was so smooth that we could not discerne, the burials had been so old.

“And, as in other places in those countries, they bury all their Vtensils, as bows, arrows, strings, darts, lances, and other implements carved in bone. The longest Corpses was not above 4 foot long, 2 with their heads laid to the West. It may be that they travell, as the Tartars and the Samoides; for, if they had remained here, there would have been some newer burials. There was one place walled 4 square, and seated within the earth; each side was 4 or 5 yards in length’ in the middle was 3 stones, laid one above another, man’s height. We tooke this to be some place of Ceremony at the buriall of the dead.”

In a footnote, Foxe added, “They seem to be people of small stature. God send me better for my adventures than these.”

The Dwarves of the Mackenzie Mountians

When white men began to establish themselves in Mackenzie Country (the watershed of the Mackenzie River, in the Northwest Territories) in the 18th and early 19th Centuries, they learned that the local Dene Indians had a strong tradition that the Mackenzie Mountains were home to a race of mystical dwarves. In a letter to a friend, a fur trader named Poole Field described these creatures as “little men of the Mountain that are supposed to be about four feet high at the most and have fine living places in the heart of the mountain, and are exceptionally strong and wise who come out occasionally and capture their women for wives, in some cases making the father of the girl they have taken a medicine man in return for the girl.”

In his book The Kaska Indians: An Ethnographic Reconstruction (1964), ethnologist John J. Honigmann recounted an old Kaska legend about the “Klunetene”- literally “Little Men”- “who lived on mice which they secured with small bows and arrows in the fall grass” and sometimes “befriended men. They also enjoyed a reputation for their making fun.”

These dwarves, despite their being constantly menaced by wild animals, were said to be a powerful people with shamanic abilities. “In warfare,” Honigmann wrote, “these small beings helped to bring up wind and cold that paralyzed the enemy. In size a dwarf reached about the height of a caribou jaw. One such being could pack only about half a pound. Despite the tendency of the dwarfs to steal women, people laughed when they spoke of the antics of the little people.”

Although the dwarves were said to have delighted in helping humans, the Attawapiskat Cree of Northern Ontario were purportedly afraid of these little men “who inhabited the rocky cliffs along rivers.”

Ed Ferrell’s Story

In 1996, northern writer Ed Ferrell published a book called Strange Stories of Alaska and the Yukon, a collection of old Northern newspaper articles about ghosts, lost gold mines, forgotten civilizations, and other weird tales of the Northland. Ferrell dedicated one chapter to his book to stories of strange tribes which prospectors and trappers are said to have discovered during the course of their boreal wanderings.

Ferrell found one of these articles, entitled “Pygmies of the North Pole”, in the September 13, 1930 issue of The Stroller’s Weekly, a newspaper based out of Juneau, Alaska. It tells of a party of scientists, one of them named John Weizl, who participated in an Arctic expedition in June, 1911, led by a Russian explorer named Captain Yvolnoff. Inuit guides led the scientists to an impossible location “about 730 miles northwest of the North Pole”, where they found tiny footprints in the snow. They followed the footprints to an underground burrow into which they sent one of their dogs. The dog quickly returned to the surface, “seeming not to like what he had discovered.”

After some time, a little man came out of the burrow, speaking a language the Inuit did not understand in a shrill, frightened tone. He was about three and a half feet tall and extremely thin, and was estimated to weigh around 35 to 40 pounds. His head, complete with enormous ears, was “almost triangular-shaped, coming to a peak, with a small tuft of hair at the top.”

When the scientists pacified the pygmy with soothing words, he called for his kinsmen to come out of the burrow. Slowly, twenty seven people emerged from the hole in the ground, all of them “clad in very fine skins”.

The expedition party spent a day with these little natives. They observed that these tiny people lived on small fish, which they caught with their bare hands. For some reason, they only ate the backs of the fish, and threw the rest away.

Anthony Roche’s Encounter

Believe it or not, sightings of Arctic dwarves still occur from time to time in the desolate wilds of the Northland. One man who may have come face-to-face with one of these little people is Anthony Roche, a native of the Northland who generously allowed me to include several of his own strange experiences in the arctic wilderness in my book Legends of the Nahanni Valley.

In August 2017, Roche paid a visit to his girlfriend’s grandmother, who lived in a cabin about ten kilometres west of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Cambridge Bay is a hamlet of about 1,500 people, located on the southern shore of Victoria Island. Despite being the second largest island in the Arctic Archipelago, Victoria Island is only home to about 1,900 people, making it one of the most sparsely populated places on earth.

During their visit, Roche and his girlfriend stayed in her parents’ cabin, which was vacant at the time. This cottage, situated about eighty yards away from the grandmother’s cabin, constituted the only other residence in that remote corner of the Artic at the time.

One day, while his girlfriend went for tea at his grandmother’s cabin, Roche went out to inspect her parents’ fish net. “I got three fish in the net,” Roche told this author, “filleted them and hung them to dry”. That accomplished, he and his girlfriend, who had returned from her grandmother’s cabin, both decided to take a nap in her parents’ cabin. Just as they were drifting off to sleep, the couple heard an unexpected sound.

“We both woke up to footsteps on the deck,” said Roche. They heard the creaking of the cabin’s outer door. Several seconds later, the inside door swung open. Roche, who was lying on the upper level of a bunk bed, glanced over at the open door expecting to see his girlfriend’s grandmother, as she was the only other person in the area at the time. There was no one there. Roche craned his neck to get a better view.

“And there,” said Roche, “was…”

[To find out, please check out my book Legends of the Nahanni Valley]


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Don’t Whistle at Night! – A Canadian Superstition

Don’t Whistle at Night!

A Canadian Superstition

One of the strangest mysteries I’ve come across in my two years of writing for is the phenomenon of universal folktales- legends inexplicably espoused by multiple cultural groups which have few discernable connections with one another.

The Welsh, the Chinese, and the Aztecs, for example, all told tales of dragons.

The Kwakwaka’wakw, the Blackfoot, and the Ojibwa- First Nations separated by thousands of kilometres of rugged wilderness and nearly ten thousand years of cultural evolution- shared a belief in both giant birds that caused thunderstorms and supernatural horned water serpents- fantastic animals which they claimed were archenemies.

Native peoples from all across North America, the tribes of the Himalayas, and the Aborigines of the Australian Outback all spoke of hairy, manlike giants which left behind huge footprints, had a penchant for stone-throwing, and emitted a putrid odour somewhat akin to the smell of rotten flesh.

The Dene, the Navajo, and the Maya all have legends of heroic twins who defended their ancestors in ancient times…

The ancient Mesopotamians, the Norse Vikings, and the citizens of the Incan Empire all had stories of a Great Flood…

And nearly every culture to ever exist has its own collection of ghost stories.

One legend shared by cultures from all over the world contends that it is unwise to whistle at night. In most versions of the legend, engaging in this practice invites evil spirits to haunt the whistler. Some groups known to have traditionally espoused this superstition include:

  • Mexicans, who believe that to whistle at night is to invite the Lechuza (a witch that can transform into an owl) to swoop down, snatch up the whistler, and carry him/her away.
  • Turks, who believe that whistling at night will summon the Devil.
  • Arabs, who maintain that if you whistle in the night, you run the risk of luring jinns (supernatural creatures of Islamic mythology), or even the dreaded sheytan (Satan).
  • The Han Chinese, who believe that whistling at night invites ghosts into the home.
  • The Japanese, who believe that whistling in the night attracts snakes, thieves, or demons called tengu.

  • Koreans, who believe that whistling at night summons ghosts and snakes.
  • The Siamese of central Thailand, who hold that whistling at night calls evil spirits and brings bad luck.
  • Native Hawaiians, who believe that whistling at night invokes the Hukai’po, or “Night Marchers”- the ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors. In another version of the legend, nocturnal whistling summons the Menehune (forest-dwelling dwarves).
  • Samoans and the Tonga people of the Pacific Islands, who believe that those who whistle at night may be visited by unwanted spirits.
  • The indigenous Noongar people of southwestern Australia, who maintain that those who whistle at night attract the attention of the warra wirrin, or “bad spirits”.
  • The Maori of New Zealand, who maintain that if you whistle after midnight, the kehua (ghosts and spirits) will whistle back.

Canada is not immune to this internationally-adopted superstition. Over the past two centuries, countless Old World immigrants brought their native folklore with them to the Great White North, and since the earliest days of Vancouver’s Chinatown, many a Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese-Canadian has suffered his/her grandmother’s admonitions against whistling after dark.

Asian-Canadians are not the only Canucks to inherit the whistling legend from their immigrant ancestors. In his 2016 book Creating Kashubia: History, Memory, and Identity in Canada’s First Polish Community, Canadian historian Joshua C. Blank wrote that his ethnically Kashubian grandmother from Barry’s Bay, Ontario, often repeated an old Polish saying regarding this ancient superstition: “Don’t whistle at night; the devil dances on the stove!”

Interestingly, Canada has a few endemic whistling legends totally independent of foreign influence. Although they are not as well documented as their Old World counterparts, a number of Canadian aboriginal groups have their own superstitions cautioning against whistling at night.

According to one Inuit legend, one who whistles at the Northern Lights risks calling down spirits from the aurora. A poem entitled Labrador in Winter, written by Canadian poet Kate Tuthill, colourfully illustrates this belief thus:

The Inuits say don’t whistle

When the Northern Lights are high,

Lest they swoop to earth and carry you

Up to the luminescent sky.

Not all Canadian aboriginal legends regarding whistling at night involve evil spirits. According to one First Nations tradition that decries it, this practice attracts the “Stick Indians”- frightening wildmen of Interior and Coast Salish tradition, which are either hairy Sasquatch-like giants, gaunt cannibalistic Indians, or forest-dwelling dwarves, depending on the tribal affiliation of the storyteller. Most Salish tribes maintain that the Stick Indians communicate using whistles alternating from low to high. According to the Okanagan (a.k.a. Syilx), an Interior Salish people of South-Central British Columbia, whistling at night, especially in the backcountry or on outskirts of civilization, is likely to attract the unwanted attention of a Stick Indian.

The Dene tribes of Northern Canada have a similar wildman tradition, and according to many missionaries and fur traders who spent time among these people in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, they were terrified of nocturnal whistling. In the words of Hudson’s Bay Company trader B.R. Ross in his 1879 report entitled Notes on the Tinneh [Dene] or Chipewyan Indians of British and Russian America:

“A strange footprint, or any unusual sound in the forest, is quite sufficient to cause great excitement in the camp. At Fort Resolution I have on several occasions caused all the natives encamped around to flock for protection into the fort during the night simply by whistling, hidden in the bushes…”

Another First Nation with a taboo against night whistling is the Kootenay tribe of southeastern British Columbia. According to a Kootenay woman who was interviewed on December 11, 1997:

“Even today you will hear people that are my mother’s age from the reserve say ‘you don’t whistle at night.’ Okay, that’s taboo. They don’t tell you why lots of times. But it’s: ‘don’t whistle at night- the bad spirits will get you- something will get you.’ But if you take that back not so many generations- if you were out in the dark and your enemy’s around, if you’re whistling, they know you’re there. And there you go! It was designed as stories to tell children so that they could comprehend. Okay, don’t whistle because something bad will happen to me. But the parent’s didn’t go on to say: ‘otherwise the Blackfeet are going to get you in the middle of the night’ or something. ‘They’re going to know where you are and get you.’ It’s kind of a way of telling a fairy story but with a practical purpose of protecting your children.”

Fairy tale or not, the superstition surrounding nocturnal whistling plays an important role in several different folk traditions across Canada, adding a few more ethnocultural groups to that list of peoples from all over the world who warn: “don’t whistle at night!”



  • Feature image: “The Wind”- a carving by British Columbian Nisga’a artist Norman Tait.


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The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 5- Homecoming

The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 5- Homecoming

The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 6, Episode 5 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.






Plot Summary

In the Money Pit area, Craig Tester watches as the men of Choice Drilling bore another exploratory hole called HI4. He tells driller Mike Tedford that he doesn’t the expect core samples to yield anything of interest until “at least 90 feet”. Tester’s expectation suggests that Borehole HI4 must be adjacent to Robert Dunfield’s backfilled Money Pit crater- a 100-foot-wide hole which reached a depth of 140 feet.

Later, the Oak Island boys meet in the War Room, where Rick Lagina describes his and Peter Fornetti’s erstwhile trip to the home of the late Zena Halpern. Rick says that the quantity and scope of Zena’s research is “stunning”, and explains that someone will need to organize it in order to determine its relevance to the Oak Island mystery.

Rick then shows the crew a copy of the Cremona Document– the collection of manuscripts around which Zena’s Oak Island theory revolves. He explains that within the Document is a “deposition by a European knight… [which describes] a year-long voyage to the New World- what’s called ‘Onteora’”.

“I don’t know if this is 100% accurate,” Rick admits. “I don’t. I do believe with 100% certainty that it’s worth some commitment of ours to try to come to an understanding of whether” the Document is accurate. He goes on to propose that the team establish a research centre- “a place where we can gather the information regarding our work, our pursuit of answers for the Oak Island mystery, and commit ourselves to that endeavour.”

Later, Craig Tester and Charles Barkhouse oversee the drilling operation at the Money Pit area. Assisted by geologist Terry Matheson, the treasure hunters examine a core sample taken from Borehole HI4 between the depths of 109-118 feet. The sample yields a solid piece of diagonally-aligned wood, which the treasure hunters believe might be from the floor or ceiling of an old searcher tunnel. Charles Barkhouse remarks that the wood might be from the “debris field” resultant of the 1861 collapse of the Money Pit.

After examining more core samples from HI4, the treasure hunters discover fragments of wood at a depth of 128 feet. Craig Tester suggests that this wood might be the remains of the tunnel connected to “Shaft 6”. The narrator then explains that Shaft 6 was the second shaft sunk by the Oak Island Association in the mid-1800s, and that a short-lived tunnel once connected it with the Money Pit. If the wood is truly from the Shaft 6 tunnel, and if the Oak Island crew can determine the direction in which the tunnel ran, the narrator surmises that the crew might be able to locate the original Money Pit.

Apparently having found what they were looking for, the crew decides to abandon HI4 and begin drilling another hole.

The next day, a flatbed truck rolls down the Oak Island causeway bearing a portable building which wills serve as the new Oak Island research centre. At the Oak Island Vistors’ Centre, the Oak Island crew meets with Stephanie Wells and Alex Armsworthy of Kent Homes, a division of Irving Equipment Ltd. which has donated the portable building. After thanking the representatives for their contribution, the Lagina brothers and Charles Barkhouse inspect the building and agree that it is “a great start for what [they are] trying to achieve.”

The following day, Doug Crowell and Paul Troutman arrive with a shipment of research material for the research centre, most of which is from Zena Halpern.

Later, Jack Begley, Peter Fornetti, and Gary Drayton do some metal detecting on Oak Island’s Lot 21, where they discovered the brooch in the Season 6 premiere. Drayton quickly discovers an artifact which appears to be half of a decorative badge for a military cap. Shortly thereafter, he uncovers the other half. Upon closer inspection, the badge appears to bear a pattern of fleur-de-lis, marking it as an 18th Century French artifact.

Later that day, Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, Dave Blankenship and Charles Barkhouse head to the Money Pit area, where Choice Drilling is punching a new hole called IJ5.5. The narrator explains that IJ5.5 is in close proximity to Borehole GAL1, which yielded a number of mysterious metal objects and a gold-plated military officer’s button in the Season 4 finale, as well as a rose head nail in the Season 5 premiere. In an interview, Rick explains that he hopes IJ5.5 will intersect the Shaft 6 tunnel, which once intersected the Money Pit.

The following day, Rick Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, and Dan Henskee meet with Colin Gill of Irving Equipment Ltd. at Smith’s Cove, where construction of the cofferdam is underway. Gill explains that Irving Equipment has nearly completed a third of the structure.

Later on, Marty Lagina, Alex Lagina, and Laird Niven meet with Gary Drayton and Paul Troutman at the new Oak Island Research Center. There, Drayton shows the treasure hunters the French military cap badge that he found on Lot 21. Niven suggests that that the artifact might be a piece from a French grenadier’s hat. Alex then remarks that the find evokes the theory involving the Duc d’Anville expedition, which Doug Crowell introduced in Season 5, Episode 10.

Later, Rick and Marty Lagina call up writer Randall Sullivan in the War Room. Sullivan, whose book The Curse of Oak Island is scheduled for release in February 2019, asks the treasure hunters which of their 2017 Oak Island discoveries they believe to be the most significant. Marty Lagina says that the most compelling discoveries, in his opinion, are the human bones brought up from Borehole H8, as well as the lead cross found on Smith’s Cove. Sullivan then tells the Lagina brothers that, although he is personally partial to the Francis Bacon theory, he gets “the sense there was something going on… that was spread over time, and might involve… literally generations of people with Oak Island.”

After that, Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, Dave Blankenship, and Charles Barkhouse oversee the drilling of IJ5.5. The treasure hunters inspect a core sample taken from a depth of 111 feet and find that it contains fragments of wood, along with a whole vertical plank. Craig Tester opines that IJ5.5 has indeed intersected the side of Shaft 6 tunnel as hoped.

The treasure hunters call up Marty Lagina and inform him of the find. “We think we found one of the sides of Tunnel 6,” explains Craig Tester. “It’s now finding the middle, and is there any gold inside of it.”

“Yeah,” Marty replies, “because you don’t know which side to go on.”

Rick Lagina then explains that Craig would like to sink another hole to the west of IJ5.5, but that he himself would also like to drill a hole on the east side.

That evening, Rick Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, Doug Crowell, and Paul Troutman meet with Davin Halpern in the Oak Island Research Center. There, Davin presents Rick with an antique candlestick which Zena bequeathed him. Davin explains that his mother had picked this artifact up on one of her visits to a Jewish relative overseas. After thanking Davin for the gift, Rick tells him that he will continue Zena’s research. He then declares “There’s but one time this candle will be lit: when we have the answers, because of her work. And you will be here in this room when that lights up.”



Rick’s Philosophy

In this episode, Rick Lagina declares that, although he is unsure of the legitimacy of the Cremona Document (which Zena Halpern bequeathed him), he believes that it deserves some attention from him and the crew. This position, considered alongside other (often controversial) positions that Rick has taken in the past, seem to suggest that one of Rick’s great motivations is a perceived obligation to complete the unfinished work of his Oak Island predecessors. This hypothetical philosophy is suggested by Rick’s reverential treatment of Bobby Restall’s journal in Season 1, Episode 3, and his impassioned promise to Lee Lamb (Bobby Restall’s sister) to fill in its final pages and finish the work that Bobby and Robert Sr. started. Rick’s unwillingness to “put an X through” Borehole 10-X, Dan Blankenship’s magnum opus, similarly suggests a deep respect for the work of his fellow Oak Island treasure hunters, as does his insistence that work continue in the swamp, where Fred Nolan’s laboriously-prepared survey map apparently indicates the presence of a treasure vault.

This hypothetical philosophy stands in contrast with that seemingly espoused by Marty Lagina, the practical-minded, data-driven engineer whose partiality towards theories seems dependent upon the merits of the arguments on which they are based. Marty has often described his elder brother as “honourable”. Perhaps Rick, as one of the current stewards of Oak Island, feels honour-bound to tie up the loose ends that his predecessors left behind.

The French Military Cap Badge

In this episode, Gary Drayton discovers what appears to be an 18th Century French grenadier’s hat badge on Lot 21. Alex Lagina suggests that this find is consistent with the Duc d’Anville theory introduced by Doug Crowell back in Season 5, Episode 10.

The Shaft 6 Tunnel and the Money Pit Debris Field

In this episode, Borehole HI4 yielded a solid piece of timber from a core sample taken from the depths of 109-118 feet. Charles Barkhouse suggested that the wood might be from the “debris field” resultant of the 1861 collapse of the Money Pit. Later on, Borehole IJ7.5 hit wood at a depth of 111 feet, which Craig Tester suggested was the side of Shaft 6.

Both the “debris field” and Shaft 6 have their roots in the early 1860s, when the Oak Island Association held dominion over Oak Island.

Back in 1861, the Oak Island Association attempted to bypass the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel by digging a shaft (called “Oak Island Association Shaft #2”; or “Shaft 6”) adjacent to the Money Pit and tunneling towards the point at which the treasure was believed to lie. This move was questionable considering the experiences of the Onslow and Truro Companies, which had both tried the same thing and been flooded out. Unlike their ill-fated predecessors, however, the Association decided to sink this new shaft 18 feet west of the Money Pit; the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel, if it truly existed, almost certainly approached the Money Pit from the east.

This new shaft was sunk to a depth of 118 feet without incident. From there, Association workers tunnelled laterally towards the Money Pit. Much to their pleasure, the tunnel reached the Pit without being flooded out; the circumvention was a success!

With the elusive treasure nowhere to be seen at that 118-foot depth, the labourers dug through the Money Pit to the eastern side. This decision would cost them dearly; as soon as they had breached the eastern wall of the Money Pit, water began to seep in from the east. In no time, the shaft was completely flooded with seawater. To make matters worse, crew men noticed that water was also starting to seep into the Money Pit, which had, until then, remained relatively dry.

After a massive bailing operation, the Association men went to clear the tunnel they had previously dug- which, as a result of the flooding, had become choked with mud and clay- and resume their excavation of the Money Pit where they had left off. No sooner had labourers entered the tunnel to clear the mud, however, than, according to foreman Jotham McCully, “they heard a tremendous crash in the Money Pit and barely escaped being caught by the rush of mud which followed them into the West pit and filled it up 7 feet in less than three minutes.” Apparently, the tunnel that intersected the Money Pit had weakened the shaft’s structural integrity. The Money Pit collapsed, and along with it all the cribbing the Oak Island Association had constructed.

Following this collapse, the chest which the Money Pit apparently contained (as evidenced by drilling operations conducted by the Truro Company) are believed to have sunk into a chaos of water, clay, mud, and timber- the Money Pit debris field. Some researchers believe that much of the Money Pit debris, including a potential treasure chest, slipped into the Shaft 6 tunnel. The men of Oak Island Tours Inc. hope that, if they are able to locate and determine the direction of the Shaft 6 tunnel, they may be able to find the treasure chest that possibly slid into it.


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The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 4- A Legacy Revealed

The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 4- A Legacy Revealed

The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 6, Episode 4 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.




Plot Summary

The Fellowship of the Dig meets in the War Room, where Gary Drayton displays the supposed crossbow bolt which he and Mike West discovered on Lot 26 the previous episode. Laird Niven opines that the artifact is hand-crafted and “really finely made”. Craig Tester remarks that the artifact’s good condition is not necessarily indicative of modernity, as “the quality of iron back then just doesn’t rust very fast.” Gary Drayton echoes Tester’s statement, saying, “the older the iron, the better condition it’s in.” Rick Lagina concludes the meeting by stating that the artifact ought to be analyzed, and that Gary Drayton ought to get himself a shirt with a deeper “top pocket”.

The next day, Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Charles Barkhouse stand by as the men of Choice Drilling continue the exploration drilling operation in the Money Pit area (which commenced the previous episode). Drillhole DE6 encounters an impenetrable object at a depth of around 204 feet. The driller in charge of the operation suspects that this obstacle is bedrock and recommends that they withdraw from this particular hole. Having failed to locate the anticipated H8 Cavern, which is supposed to lie at a depth of around 160 feet, the treasure hunters express some disappointment and prepare to move on to the next target.

The next day, Marty Lagina, Alex Lagina, and Craig Tester drive to Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There, they present Dr. Christa Brosseau with the crossbow bolt from Lot 26.  The associate professor of Chemistry, assisted by Dr. Xiang Yang, proceeds to shave some metal from the surface of the artifact and examine these shavings with a scanning electron microscope (SEM). The scientists determine that the artifact is composed of iron, and contains traces of manganese. The narrator then explains that “manganese became used in the production of steel and iron beginning in the 9th Century B.C.”, and suggests that its presence is consistent with the possibility that the artifact is ancient.

Next, Craig Tester heads to Smith’s Cove, where the men of Irving Equipment Ltd. are busy constructing the cofferdam. The operation appears to progressing as expected.

Later, the Oak Island crew meets in the War Room, where Rick Lagina mournfully announces the passing of 88-year-old researcher Zena Halpern. The narrator reminds us that Halpern introduced the crew to three mysterious documents in Season 4, Episode 1, which appeared to bolster the theory that members of the Knights Templar were responsible for the Oak Island mystery. Rick then reads a touching eulogy for Halpern, which was written by her friend and colleague, Richard Moats.

Three days later, Rick Lagina and Peter Fornetti drive a U-Haul van to Zena Halpern’s former home in Long Island, New York. In an interview, Rick reveals that Zena bequeathed him all of her research, and that he is heading to New York to retrieve it.

At the door to Zena’s home, Rick and Peter are greeted by Zena’s son, Davin Halpern, and by Davin’s son, Jason. The Halperns welcome the treasure hunters into the home and show them Zena’s research, which includes mountains of books, sticky notes, and folders.

While Peter begins to box up Zena’s files, Rick picks out a particular book from a shelf. Inside, he finds copies of the three documents which Zena introduced to the Oak Island crew in the Season 4 premiere. Shortly thereafter, he finds a paper booklet on a shelf, which he calls the “Cremona Document”.

“This,” Rick says to Davin, “is at the core of your mother’s research.” The narrator then explains that the Cremona Document was discovered in the 1970s in a church in Cremona, Italy, and that it constitutes “a collection of maps, ciphers, and journal entries which are believed to have been authored, in part, by the 12th Century Templar knight Ralph de Sudeley.” These documents, the narrator claims, describe de Sudeley’s discovery of priceless religions artifacts at Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and of a trans-Atlantic voyage he and fellow Templars made to North America. The narrator concludes by stating that, although many mainstream historians doubt the authenticity Cremona Document, Rick Lagina suspects that “much of the information contained within it is most likely true”.

The next day, members of the Oak Island crew meet at the Money Pit area, where Choice Sonic Drilling has started to bore a second hole, called “H7.5”. In an interview, Rick Lagina explains that H7.5 is in close proximity to Borehole H8, which yielded fragments of leather, parchment, and human bone the previous season.

A ten-foot-long core sample is taken from H7.5 at a depth of 170 feet. While examining this sample, Craig Tester picks out a strand of some sort of hair-like substance which he tentatively identifies as a coconut fibre. Charles Barkhouse explains that this find is congruent with historic records, which indicate that coconut fibre was found in the Money Pit by both the co-discoverers and the Onslow Company. Geophysicist Terry Matheson then picks out a fragment of wood from the 170-foot section of the core sample which appears to have been cut with an axe.

That night, the Oak Island crew meets in the War Room. There, Doug Crowell explains that he sent the Lot 26 crossbow bolt to Gabriel Vandervort, a California-based antiquity expert, for analysis, and that the specialist is ready to share his findings.

The crew members proceed to call up Vandervort on Skype. The antiquities expert claims that he initially believed the Lot 26 artifact to be medieval. He further explains that the artifact’s “pyramidal tip” is a common feature in medieval crossbow bolts, but that its “long neck” is not.

“I went through… dozens of references,” Vandervort continues, “but… couldn’t nail it down to the medieval period, so I started going back in time. And what it appears to be is Roman.” He further explains that this particular variety of weapon was used from the 1st Century B.C. to the 5th Century A.D., and that it constitutes the tip of a pilum, or javelin, rather than a crossbow bolt. The narrator then gives us a brief lesson on the history of the pilum and its role in the armies of Ancient Rome.



The Cremona Document

In this episode, Rick Lagina, accompanied by Peter Fornetti, drove to the home of the late Zena Halpern in Long Island, New York. There, he took possession of the research files which Zena had bequeathed them.

While browsing the files, Rick came across a booklet called the “Cremona Document”, which he claimed was “at the core” of Zena’s research. The narrator proceeded to explain that this document was discovered in the 1970s in a church in Cremona, Italy, and constitutes documents authored, in part, by 12th Century Templar knight Ralph de Sudeley. Specifically, these documents describe treasures discovered beneath Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and a medieval trans-Atlantic voyage to North America.

The Cremona Document was first introduced to the general public in Zena Halpern’s 2017 book The Templar Mission to Oak Island and Beyond: The Search for Ancient Secrets: The Shocking Revelations of a 12th Century Manuscript.

The first half of Zena’s book chronicles the adventures of a mysterious character named Dr. William D. Jackson- an American researcher with purported connections to a covert, off-the-books U.S. intelligence agency. William Jackson’s tale reads like a Dan Brown novel, replete with secret societies, cryptic warnings, lost journals, and coded messages written in invisible ink.

Jackson’s story begins on a summer day in 1968, when he and three friends went fishing off Bannerman Island in the Hudson River, about 50 miles north of New York City. Bannerman Island is dominated by Bannerman’s Castle, a Scottish-style fortress commissioned by Scottish-American arms merchant Francis Bannerman VI in the early 1900s. During the fishing trip, Jackson decided to steal a stone ornament from Bannerman’s Castle for his wife’s garden.

A year later, Jackson’s son, Mark, while playing in said garden, broke the top off the stone ornament, revealing a hidden container inside. Within this container was a mysterious brass object engraved with strange symbols. This discovery prompted Jackson to follow a string of clues which ultimately led to the city of Cremona, Italy. Fortuitously, Jackson arrived in Cremona just in time to purchase a collection of manuscripts scheduled for transfer to the Vatican Library in Rome. Together, these manuscripts make up the Cremona Document.

According to Zena Halpern, the Cremona Document is essentially a collection of journals written by various members of the Knights Templar. All of these manuscripts are written in the Latin language with the Theban alphabet, the latter being a writing system used by Renaissance alchemists (but which Zena suggests might actually be several thousand years old).

The first group of documents purport to be the lost writings of the founders of the Knights Templar. These manuscripts describe a 12th Century exploration of Jewish catacombs beneath Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This exploration becomes an excavation once one of the knights nearly succumbs to a booby trap, revealing a vast hidden chamber beneath the floor. Inside this chamber, the knights discover a lost Gnostic gospel, the bones of John the Baptist, and the legendary lost gold of King Solomon. Also in the chamber are scrolls describing a 1st Century voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to the “Land of Onteora”, as well as a number of navigational devices.

The bulk of the Cremona Document is comprised of a manuscript entitled “A Year We Remember”, which Zena sometimes refers to as the “Onteora Document”. This manuscript purports to be the lost journal of Ralph de Sudeley, an English knight who joined the Knights Templar in the late 12th Century. In this journal, de Sudeley describes making a voyage across the Atlantic with the help of King Valdemar I of Denmark in 1178. Upon reaching the New World, de Sudeley discovers a matriarchal tribe of goddess-worshipping Welshmen who initiate him into their cult. After completing the initiation rite, a priestess presents the knight with a thousand-year-old clay cylinder containing 1st Century Christian documents, which had been stored in a cave in what is now Hunter Mountain, New York. One of these documents prompts de Sudeley to return to the Old World, where he discovers the Ark of the Covenant and other treasures hidden beneath the ancient city of Petra, in present-day Jordan.

In her book, Halpern explains that the Knights Templar kept the Cremona Document in the library of a Cistercian abbey called Castrum Sepulchri, located on the coast of northern Italy in the Principality of Seborga. When the Knights Templar were suppressed in 1307, Templar knights hid the Document in the city of Cremona, located about 200 miles to the northeast. Eventually, the Document found its way into the archives of the monastery of San Sigismondo, located just outside Cremona’s historic centre. It remained in San Sigismondo for five centuries.

In 1971, the monastery’s Custodian of Records, named Gustaveste Benvenuto, arranged to donate San Sigismondo’s documents to the Vatican. Just before the donation was completed, however, Dr. William Jackson offered to buy the Cremona Document off Benvenuto. With the permission of the Vatican, the custodian agreed. According to a letter from one of Jackson’s associates to Zena Halpern, Jackson managed to purchase the Document for 15,000 Italian lire (about $12 CAD).

In her book, Halper contends that the genuineness of the Cremona Document is supported by the fact that, according to a letter written to her by one of William Jackson’s associates, a Vatican librarian “verified its authenticity and that of the signature of Ralp de Sedeley [sic]” which appends the Onteora Document. Unfortunately, the veracity of this assertion is called into question when one considers that wax seals were the chief form of personal authentication in the Middle Ages, and that written signatures were uncommon in the Christian world until the 16th Century. Furthermore, the Cremona Document, or at least the English translation of it which appears in Zena’s book, is riddled with historic and linguistic anachronisms- including modern English idioms, phonetic renderings of modern words, and descriptions of armaments incongruent with the period in which the narrative is set- which seriously diminish its credibility. In the opinion of this author, at least, the Cremona Document appears to be a hoax.

Zena Halpern’s Theory

Zena Halpern’s Oak Island theory, as outlined in her book The Templar Mission to Oak Island and Beyond, hinges heavily upon information that Zena received from the mysterious William Jackson and his even more enigmatic associates. The theory which this information seems to suggest (and which at least one historian has dismissed as pure fantasy) goes something like this:

Thousands of years before Christ, the Phoenicians of present-day Lebanon began making voyages across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. Knowledge of this distant land on the other side of the world spread to the Israelites- citizens of the Kingdom of Israel, which was Phoenicia’s neighbour and closest ally.

At the time of the first Phoenician trans-Atlantic voyages, Israel was ruled by King Solomon, a wise monarch who acquired a vast treasure of gold and silver. Solomon kept his treasure, along with the Ark of the Covenant and other Jewish religious artifacts, in an enormous temple he built atop Mount Moriah (known today as Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. This building became known as the Temple of Solomon.

In the centuries that ensued, Israel was conquered by a succession of empires, including Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Macedon, and Rome. Despite this, the Jews managed keep some of their most sacred treasures, including scrolls containing knowledge of the New World, hidden in a number of secret locations.

Before the Babylonian conquest in 587 B.C., which saw the destruction of the Temple of Solomon, a group of Israelites managed to transport the Ark of the Covenant and other treasures down Mount Moriah and overland to the city of Petra, in present-day Jordan. They buried these treasures nearby, in a subterranean aqueduct beneath a mountain called Jebel al-Madhbah. The gold of King Solomon and scrolls containing knowledge of the New World, however, remained on Mount Moriah, hidden in secret chambers carved from the living rock.

At the time of Christ’s crucifixion, which took place during the Roman occupation of Israel, a number of Christ’s disciples also worshipped an ancient Canaanite goddess called Asherah. In 70 A.D., when the Romans besieged Jerusalem in the aftermath of a Jewish revolt, members of this Christian sect hid their gospel, along with the bones of John the Baptist, in the secret chamber that held King Solomon’s treasure. That accomplished, they fled Israel with other important Christian documents and the scrolls describing the treasure beneath Jebel al-Madhbah and followed the ancient Phoenician route to the New World.

A thousand years later, following the First Crusade, nine Frankish knights formed a monastic military order called the Knights Templar. These knights established their headquarters atop Temple Mount and began exploring Jewish catacombs deep beneath the mountain. During their explorations, they stumbled upon the secret chamber containing King Solomon’s treasure and relics of the aforementioned Christian sect. The Templars adopted the goddess-worshipping doctrine espoused by this cult and appropriated the gold of King Solomon.

In 1178, an English Templar knight named Ralph de Sudeley decided to search for the New World described in the scrolls beneath Temple Mount. With the help of King Valdemar I of Denmark, he followed old Viking routes to the New World and followed the coast south to what is now the State of New York. There, he discovered tribes of Jews, Welsh Celts, and Norsemen who had been living there for centuries, worshipping the goddess Asherah and living in a matriarchal society. These Old World peoples served as guardians of the scrolls brought from the Holy Land during the 1st Century A.D. (i.e. important Christian documents and the scrolls describing the treasure beneath Jebel al-Madhbah), which they kept in a cave on Hunter Mountain, New York.

After being initiated into the cult, Ralph de Sudeley was gifted the aforementioned scrolls by a Celtic priestess. Using the information contained therein, he returned to the Holy Land and discovered the Ark of the Covenant beneath Jebel al-Madhbah. Centuries later, in 1307, members of the freshly-outlawed Knights Templar took the Ark to Scotland, where they assisted the Scots in defeating the English army of King Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn. In 1397, one of the Templars’ successors- Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney– sailed to the New World with the Ark of the Covenant and buried the sacred artifact on Oak Island.

The Pilum, the Roman Theory, and Swordgate

In this episode, a California-based antiquity expert named Gabriel Vandervort declared that the supposed crossbow bolt discovered on Lot 26 the previous episode is actually the tip of a Roman pilum.

The pilum is a javelin used by Roman legionaries from the days of the Roman Republic (509-25 B.C.) to the twilight of the Roman Empire (27 B.C. to 476 A.D.). It typically consisted of a pyramid-tipped iron shank measuring 2-3 feet in length, which was adhered to a wooden shaft.

Vandervort’s assertion seems to echo the theory that some ancient Roman army is behind the Oak Island mystery- a theory which was introduced by alternative historian J. Hutton Pulitzer in Season 3, Episode 10 of The Curse of Oak Island.

Pulitzer’s theory was conceived in the winter of 2015, when a long-time friend of the Blankenship family brought a corroded, intricately-designed bronze short sword to the attention of the Lagina brothers. The man claimed that his father-in-law and grandfather-in-law discovered the sword in Mahone Bay in the 1940s while scalloping off Oak Island. Out of fear that they might be penalized by the Nova Scotian government for treasure hunting without a licence, the family purportedly neglected to reveal their find for more than half a century. Oak Island Tours Inc. decided to reveal the existence of this sword to the general public in Season 3, Episode 10.

Pulitzer claimed, on his personal blog and podcast, that the sword is a genuine ceremonial votive gladius, or Roman short sword, forged in the 3rd Century A.D. on the orders of the Roman Emperor Commodus. He claimed that this sword was one among many presented by the Emperor to secutor gladiators, and that the intricate sculpture on the pommel depicts Commodus himself, dressed in a lion’s skin so as to resemble contemporary depictions of the mythological Greek hero Hercules. Pulitzer suggested that the sword was retrieved from Mahone Bay at the site of an ancient Roman shipwreck, the existence of which would verify his other theory (presented back in Season 2, Episode 2) that trans-Atlantic trading routes between the Old World and the New existed as far back as Classical Antiquity.

Pulitzer further claimed that this purportedly-Roman sword was but one of fifty pieces of evidence supporting his sub-theory that ancient Roman merchants made regular trade voyages to the New World. Pulitzer and his team revealed that they planned to present these fifty pieces of evidence in a peer-reviewed report, along with a complimentary book entitled Commodus’s Secret, sometime in 2016. To date, neither of these works has been published.

In Season 3, Episode 11, the Oak Island crew submitted the sword for analysis at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. Dr. Myles McCallum, an associate professor in SMU’s Department of Modern Languages and Classics, informed the team that the sword appeared to have been cast in a bivalve mould (and not a single lost-wax mould, as most functional swords of Ancient Rome were). McCullum stated his belief that the sword is likely an 18th, 19th, or early 20th Century copy of a Roman sword, and informed the Oak Island team that they would need to chemically analyse the artifact in order to determine its age.

Later in the episode, the sword was analyzed by Dr. Christa Brosseau, who informed the crew that the artifact is composed of brass, and not bronze as previously believed. She also revealed that the sword has a fairly high zinc content, indicating that it is a fairly modern creation, and suggested that it was forged sometime after 1880. The Oak Island crewmembers agreed that these findings “put to bed” the Roman theory.

This dead horse was further flogged by historian Jason Colavito and archaeologist Andy White, who discovered a number of other ‘Roman swords’ bearing striking resemblance to the sword featured on The Curse of Oak Island, most of which were modern souvenirs sold in flea markets around Rome and Pompeii. Colavito and White styled the scandal they believed their findings to have engendered “Swordgate”.

Considering the story of the ‘Roman sword’, one cannot help but wonder whether the pilum from Lot 26 will suffer fate similar to that of its gladial predecessor.


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The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 3- Depth Perception

The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 3- Depth Perception

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 6, Episode 3 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.






Plot Summary

Jack Begley and Peter Fornetti watch as the crew of Irving Equipment Ltd. assemble a crane on a newly-constructed concrete pad at Smith’s Cove. The narrator explains that this crane will be used to build a cofferdam which will enable the Oak Island crew to excavate the beach. Marty Lagina then explain, in an interview, that a major problem with all previous Smith’s Cove cofferdams was water seepage beneath the structures. To rectify this problem, the new cofferdam will be constructed of sheet piling driven 23 feet into the earth.

Later, Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, Dave Blankenship, and Charles Barkhouse make the long westerly road trip to Calgary, Alberta, where they visit the headquarters of Eagle Canada. The narrator reveals that the purpose of this journey is to receive the results of the seismic survey conducted in the Money Pit area back in Season 6, Episodes 1 and 2. On the way, Craig Tester remarks that the “Mega Bin” area should yield excellent data. When prompted by Marty, he explains that the “Mega Bin” constitutes “the Triton Shaft, where Dan [Blankenship] felt he hit the tunnel, and they brought up wood.”

The narrator elaborates on Tester’s statement by explaining that the Mega Bin is located about 600 feet north of the Money Pit area, and that Eagle Canada conducted a separate seismic survey in this area in conjunction with their Money Pit survey. The narrator further informs us that, in the early 1970s, Dan Blankenship had 40 exploratory boreholes drilled in the area in the hope that some of them might reveal evidence of underground tunnels.

When the Oak Island boys arrive at the headquarters of Eagle Canada, they are ushered into a boardroom where geophysicist Jeremy Church presents the results of the seismic survey. First, Church shows the treasure hunters a map of the Mega Bin, on which various colours and contour lines have been overlaid. He directs the treasure hunters’ attention to a shapeless red-coloured enclave in a sea of blue, which he explains represents an underground void measuring 50 metres in length and 7-12 feet in height– the largest underground anomaly in the surveyed areas. When prompted by Marty Lagina, he affirms that this anomaly, the ceiling of which lies at a depth of 50 feet, is “consistent with a chamber, with a roof and a floor”.

“It’s astounding… what you’ve drawn right there…” says Marty after Church’s exposition, “because Dan told Rick and I years ago that he’d drilled that well- the so-called ‘Latrine Hole’- and he believed, at the time, that it was the relief area for an underground chamber, where people were working.”

Next, Jeremy Church shows the treasure hunters a graph depicting the results of the seismic survey in the Money Pit area. He points out a small anomaly in the middle of the graph and claims that this feature, which lies at a depth of 160-170 feet, appears to be a cavern in the hard limestone. Borehole H8- which yielded scraps of leather, parchment, and human bone back in Season 5- apparently intersected the edge of this cavern. The Oak Island crew members display considerable excitement at this information and agree that an investigation of the cavern is in order.

Next, Church directs the treasure hunters’ attention to a succession of anomalies in the Money Pit area which lie at a depth of 100-110 feet. Craig Tester instantly observes that this feature appears to be consistent with the legendary Smith’s Cove flood tunnel.

Following the presentation, the Oak Island crew members thank the men of Eagle Canada for their work, and conclude that the survey results necessitate additional drilling.

Meanwhile, Jack Begley, Gary Drayton, and geophysicist Mike West head to the beach of Oak Island’s Lot 26 to do some metal detecting. In an interview, Drayton explains that he and West will work in tandem, he wielding his more mobile Minelab CTX 3030, and West carting his deep-penetrating EM61 Metal Detector.

After Begley reminds his fellow treasure hunters that Lot 26 was once owned by Captain James Anderson, Drayton and West commence their beachcombing operation. West quickly discovers a long rusted nail with a square shaft, which Drayton claims is a “textbook 1700s” artifact. Shortly thereafter, West discovers a large rusty hook.

That night, the Oak Island team gathers in the War Room, where Marty Lagina relates the results of Eagle Canada’s seismic survey. Talk soon turns to the chamber in the Mega Bin and its apparent congruence with the theory that the men who built the Money Pit tunneled away from the shaft at depth and buried their treasure in a chamber at the end of the tunnel. The treasure hunters agree they ought to investigate both the Mega Bin anomaly and the 160-170-foot anomaly in the Money Area via exploration drilling.

Later, the Oak Island team meets at the Oak Island Visitors’ Centre with representatives of Choice Sonic Drilling Ltd. The narrator explains that Choice Sonic employs a unique method of drilling in which drill bits are substituted with high frequency soundwaves that are powerful enough to “pulverize obstacles”. This company, the narrator informs us, has been tasked with drilling the aforementioned places of interest on Oak Island.

While the contractors transport their rig across the causeway, Craig Tester and geologist Terry Matheson determine the particular location at which they’d like the Choice Sonic guys to bore their first hole- a spot they name DE6. Assuming the data from the seismic survey is correct, this drill hole ought to intersect both the 100-foot-deep tunnel-like anomaly and the mysterious cavern in the limestone.

In no time, the rig is erected over top of DE6 and the drilling operation is underway. At a depth of 93 feet, the drill drops into what is clearly a shallow void. A core sample taken from the roof of this void is found to contain fragments of old wood. Craig Tester speculates that this might be the remains of a wood-shored tunnel, although perhaps not the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel, as was previously surmised. The treasure hunters agree that they ought to have the wood carbon dated in order to determine whether it belonged to a searcher tunnel or to original workings.

Meanwhile, Jack Begley, Gary Drayton, and Mike West resume their metal detecting operation on the beach of Lot 26. The treasure hunters quickly unearth an artifact which had been lying mere inches below the surface. An astounded Drayton tentatively identifies this item as a crossbow bolt designed to pierce chainmail armour. “This is old!” exclaims Drayton. “We’re talking, like, Templar old… That could be anywhere from 1000 to 1500.” The narrator then gives us a brief lesson on the history of the crossbow.

The elated treasure hunters phone up Rick Lagina and inform him of the find. Rick, accompanied by Craig Tester, immediately heads to Lot 26, examines the artifact, and independently echoes Drayton’s theory that the object appears to be a crossbow bolt.



The Mega Bin, the Triton Shaft, and the Void

In this episode, it is revealed that Eagle Canada conducted a seismic survey not only in the Money Pit area, but also in an area north of the Money Pit, which Craig Tester calls the “Mega Bin”.

The story of the Mega Bin begins in 1973. That year, Dan Blankenship drilled a series of holes at strategic locations north of the Money Pit area, where drilled rocks and other surface markers appeared to indicate the presence of something significant. Core samples from several of these holes yielded wood below the 100-foot level.

One of these drill holes, located 660 feet northeast of the Money Pit, yielded a two-inch piece of low-carbon steel wire at a depth of 110 feet. Immediately below this artifact, the drill bit into what Dan Blankenship was sure was a solid metal plate. Dan and the men of Triton Alliance (the treasure hunting syndicate of which Dan was a leading partner) decided to investigate the area further and constructed a 12’ x 6.5’ shaft, known as the Triton Shaft, in the area. Unfortunately, the shaft had to be abandoned at a depth of 98 feet on account of groundwater seepage, whereupon it collapsed. In a video released by the History Channel in December 2014, Dave Blankenship revealed that another factor which contributed to the abandonment of the Triton Shaft was his, Dan Blankenship, and Dan Henskee’s simultaneous contraction of pneumonia.

In this episode, we learn that Eagle Canada’s seismic survey revealed the presence of an underground anomaly in the Mega Bin area. This anomaly appears to be a void at a depth of 50 feet, which measures 164 feet (50 metres) in length and 7-12 feet in height. Although the width of this void is unspecified, the anomaly appears to have a maximum width of around 49 feet (provided that the diagram of the structure displayed in the show is to scale).

The H8 Cavern     

In this episode, we learn that Eagle Canada’s seismic survey indicates the presence of a 10-foot-tall, 160-foot-deep cavern in the Money Pit area. This pocket is located below searcher depth within solid limestone bedrock, suggesting that it may well constitute original workings. Interestingly, the fragments of parchment, leather, and human bone brought up from the 162-foot depth in Borehole H8 were found at the edge of this cavern.

The ‘Flood Tunnel’ Anomaly

In this episode, geophysicist Jeremy Church points out a third underground anomaly indicated by the results of Eagle Canada’s seismic survey. This long, narrow gap in the earth lies in the Money Pit area at a depth of 100-110 feet, and bears vague resemblance to a tunnel. It is suggested that this anomaly might be the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel.

Indeed, it is believed that the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel once intersected the Money Pit at this approximate depth. Back in 1862, the Oak Island Association- an Oak Island treasure-hunting syndicate- excavated the original Money Pit to a depth of 110 feet. There, the workers claimed to have found a 4-foot-tall hole in the side of the shaft from which water gushed violently. One worker reported that “the water hurled around rocks about twice the size of a man’s head with many smaller, and drove the men back for protection.”

Despite this, the anomaly indicated by the seismic survey is almost certainly not the original Smith’s Cove flood tunnel. In the late 1960s, treasure hunter Robert Dunfield dug an enormous 100-foot-wide crater in the Money Pit area.  Although heavy rains constantly caused the sides of the pit to cave in, he managed to dig the hole to a depth of 140 feet. This excavation completely destroyed all traces of original workings and most of the adjacent searcher shafts. Therefore, if the anomaly indicated by the seismic survey is located anywhere in the neighbourhood of the original Money Pit, its resemblance to the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel is likely coincidental.

The Crossbow Bolt

At the end of this episode, Gary Drayton discovers what he identifies as a crossbow bolt on the beach of Oak Island’s Lot 26. Drayton suggests that this artifact was designed to pierce mail armour, and implies that it might have belonged to a member of the Knights Templar.

According to Carsten Rau, the author of the book European Arrowheads and Crossbow Bolts: From the Bronze Age to the Late Middle Ages (2017) and archivist of Berlin-based publishing company Barbarus Books, this artifact does resemble a crossbow bolt, but not one of European origin. “The tang is far too long for Europe or North Africa,” he told this author. “[It] looks more Asian. The length would suit Asia.”

Rau additionally opined that this artifact might be an incendiary crossbow bolt used to set fire to buildings and equipment. These projectiles were wrapped in fuel-soaked fabric and set alight before being fired. “These are rare,” Rau explained, “and not really to be found outside Europe.”

In addition to using archaeological methods, we may attempt to shed more light on this artifact by taking a closer look at history. In light of The Curse of Oak Island‘s attempts to connect the crossbow bolt with the Knights Templar, a commentary upon the role of the crossbow in the world of this monastic military order is required.

During the Crusades, the arbalest- a particular variety of crossbow- was a mainstay of Christian armies. Unlike the bow, the crossbow required relatively little training to competently operate. With a few weeks of practice, a company of crossbow-wielding infantrymen might be able to hold its own against a squadron of Muslim horse archers.

Despite the essential role it played on the Palestinian battlefield, the medieval Church considered the crossbow a cowardly contrivance better suited to a lowly peasant than an honourable monastic knight like a member of the Knights Templar. In 1139 (the same year that the Knights Templar were formally recognized as a military order by the Catholic Church), Pope Innocent II banned the use of crossbows against other Christians.

In spite of the stigma which surrounded crossbows in the Middle Ages, some Templars are known to have owned these armaments. In fact, a 12th Century document called the “Latin Rule”, which outlined the ideal behavior of a Templar knight, contains a number of passages which seem to indicate that the crossbow was a common item in a Templar’s outfit.

Nevertheless, the crossbow was seldom used by Templar knights in battle. The Knights Templar were heavily-armoured cavalrymen who specialized in smashing through enemy lines at full speed. The sword, the lance, and the mace were their weapons of choice.

Although Templar knights may not have used crossbows with any degree of regularity, one appendant body of the Templar army did. Like most Crusader armies, the Knights Templar often rode into battle with large numbers of Turkish and Syrian mercenaries called Turcopoles. These native horsemen were lighter and more maneuverable than their knightly companions-in-arms, and served to protect the Templars and their warhorses so that their charges were more effective. Many of these mounted auxiliaries were archers and crossbowmen. Thus, if the crossbow bolt found on Oak Island’s Lot 26 truly has some sort of connection with the Knights Templar, it is more likely a relic of a Middle Eastern Turcopole than the possession of a European knight.


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The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 2- Gold Rush

The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 2- Gold Rush

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 6, Episode 2 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.






Plot Summary

Rick Lagina and Gary Drayton pay a visit to Dan Blankenship’s home on Oak Island. In Blankenship’s kitchen, they find the veteran treasure hunter in conversation with Marty Lagina. Rick and Gary interrupt their companions to show them the bejeweled brooch discovered at the end of the previous episode on Oak Island’s Lot 21. As Dan and Marty examine the artifact, the narrator reminds us that Drayton found a similar piece of jewelry on Lot 8 the previous season. Following the narrator’s exposition, Rick observes, in an interview, that “the jewel is much smaller than the find last year, [has] a little more intricate design on the setting, [and] is much more well-preserved.” Back in Dan’s kitchen, Gary Drayton says, “I have visions of… pirates filling their pockets with jewelry, running across the island, dropping this stuff.”

After the narrator briefly touches on theories which the brooch evokes, including the pirate theory, the story of Captain James Anderson, and the hypothesis revolving around Marie Antoinette’s jewels, the four treasure hunters all agree that the ought to have an expert determine the artifact’s age.

While Charles Barkhouse watches as the men of Eagle Canada wrap up their seismic survey in the Money Pit area, Laird Niven meets Rick and Marty Lagina and Gary Drayton at the Oak Island Visitors’ Centre. Drayton informs the archaeologist that Lots 21 and 22 have been cleared of trees and brush, allowing him to metal detect there more efficiently and effectively. He then shows Niven the brooch that he dug up on Lot 21. Niven examines the artifact for some time before declaring that he has never seen anything like it before. He also observes that the brooch’s ornamental housing has been gilded, or coated with gold leaf, and encourages the team to have it analyzed by an expert in antique jewelry.

The next day, Rick Lagina and Gary Drayton meet with representatives of Brycon Construction and Irving Equipment Ltd., the contractors tasked with building an enormous cofferdam around Smith’s Cove. While the men shake hands, the narrator informs us that this structure will be 25 feet deep and composed of metal.

Rick explains in an interview that in order to begin work at Smith’s Cove, they will first have to build a substantial road from Borehole 10-X to the beach. This road will need to support the 300 ton crane with which the cofferdam will be constructed.

Later, the Oak Island team meets at the Mug & Anchor Pub in the nearby town of Mahone Bay. Rick Lagina informs the crew that they have arranged for a gemologist in Calgary, Alberta, to take a look at the two brooches found on Oak Island.

We are then transported to Calgary, Alberta, where the Lagina brothers and Dave Blankenship are driving. The treasure hunters head to the Alberta College of Art and Design, where they meet with gemologist and master goldsmith Charles Lewton-Brain and his assistant Axel Bernal Bladh. Lewton-Brain, who has agreed to take a look at the two brooches, removes the rhodolite garnet from its housing and examines it using a digital video microscope. He remarks that “the facets… don’t meet perfectly”, which he claims is an indication that they were hand-cut (as opposed to machine-cut). He later declares that the garnet has a refractive index of over 1.7; for reference, he states that a ruby’s refractive index is 1.74. After examining the gem under another microscope, he declares that the stone indeed appears to be a garnet.

Next, Lewton-Brain examines the stone ensconced in the Lot 21 brooch. He quickly discovers tiny bubbles inside the object when examining it under a microscope, which leads him to conclude that the material is actually coloured glass. After the Lagina brothers express their disappointment with this development, Charles Lewton-Brain informs them that the bauble is definitely “handmade” and “not modern”. “Glass gems have been around at least 500 years,” the gemologist continues. “Leaded glass has been used a long time because the light passes through it well…”

Marty asks the gemologists what accounts for the bauble’s red colour. Axel Bladh then informs him that “the formulas for making red glass have been lost and found and lost and found again several times through history… Glass people were extremely secretive. Each family that was working glass would have their own little book of recipes, sometimes in code.” This revelation prompts the narrator to remind us of the Rosicrucian theory, which holds that members of a secret 17th Century society are behind the Oak Island mystery.

After that, Lewton-Brain examines the settings in which the gems were housed. While examining the Lot 21 brooch, he draws the treasure hunters’ attention towards a metal cord which encircles the bezel. “If you look at this cord, or wire,” he explains, “you can see that there’s a spiral nature to it… This is not your ordinary old brooch found in the ground. That is a super ancient way of making wire.” He later explains that the method by which this wire was formed is called “block twisting”.

When Marty asks the gemologist how old he believes the artifact to be, Lewton-Brain explains that block twisting fell out of fashion after 1340 A.D., when it was eclipsed by wire drawing with draw plates. “Potentially older than 1340?” asks an incredulous Marty Lagina. “Yeah,” replies Lewton-Brain, nodding his head.

In response to this assessment, Marty says, “I’ve been completely unwilling to believe that what happened on Oak Island happened pre-1400s… And now you’ve got this.” In a later interview, Marty explains that, although some uncertainty still remains, Lewton-Brain’s analysis of the Lot 21 brooch has opened his mind up to new possibilities.

Lewton-Brain concludes his analysis by stating that the Lot 21 brooch is possibly “countryside work” and definitely of European origin. He encourages the Oak Island crew to consult the databases of London, England’s British Gemological Society, from which they might be able to learn more about their artifacts.

The following day, Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, and Alex Lagina drive to St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There, they meet with associate professor of Chemistry Dr. Christa Brosseau and research instrument technician Dr. Xiang Yang. The treasure hunters present the scientists with the Lot 21 brooch, which Brosseau and Yang subsequently examine with an electron microscope. The scientists determine that the outer decorative housing is made of brass, and that the inner housing in which the glass gem is set is composed of pure copper. They also conclude that, in accordance with Laird Niven’s assertion, parts of the brooch are coated in gold leaf.

Later that afternoon, the Oak Island crew meets in the War Room. There, Marty relates the recent revelations regarding the Lot 21 brooch. “David,” he says, turning to Dave Blankenship- who has formerly declared that his chief interest in Oak Island lies in the acquisition of its elusive “spendables”- “this little gem has gold on it. We have found our first gold on Oak Island.”

“I want more gold than that,” says a clearly unimpressed Dave, to which Marty replies, “Well, come on, man. Small victories, right?”

Later, Rick Lagina and Dan Henskee walk to the Money Pit area, where the men of Eagle Canada inform them that their seismic survey is complete. The seismic crew members tell the treasure hunters that the survey data should be fully analyzed in “a couple weeks”.

The episode ends with the narrator’s announcement that the road to Smith’s Cove has been completed, and that the construction of the cofferdam will soon commence. The camera pans to the causeway, where tractor-trailers loaded with heavy equipment slowly make their way onto the island.



The Glass Gem

In this episode, Calgary-based gemologist Charles Lewton-Brian examines the gem from the brooch found on Oak Island’s Lot 21 and determines that it is made of red-coloured lead glass. He immediately remarks that the artifact could be up to 500 years old.

Coloured glass has been used in jewelry for millennia, often functioning as imitation gemstones. Considering its colour, the glass gem in the Lot 21 brooch was perhaps meant to imitate a ruby. The fact that the gem bears facets, considering the history of facet-cutting, suggests that it was probably crafted no earlier than the 1400s.

Block Twisting

In this episode, Charles Lewton-Brain examines the brooch found on Oak Island’s Lot 21 and observes that the wire that encircles the artifact’s bezel bears diagonal lines. These markings, according to Lewton-Brain, indicate that the wire was formed through block twisting- an ancient method of wire manufacture not commonly found in post-14th Century artifacts.

Block twisting was employed as early as Classical Antiquity. This wire-making method involves hammering a quantity of metal into a thin sheet, cutting a narrow ribbon from this sheet, and twisting the ribbon at both ends as tightly as possible. The twisted cord is then rolled between two planks of hard wood until it forms a smooth wire. Although the spiral-shaped grooves resultant of the twisting process can be completely removed during the rolling process, some vestige of these markings usually remains.

Block twisting was not the only method used by ancient wire makers. Another method, called “strip-drawing”, involves threading thin metal strips through small holes. While passing through the hole, the strip curls in on itself, forming a thin, hollow tube. A simpler, more primitive method of wire making involves hammering and rolling an ingot until it forms a cord.

Over time, one particular method of wire-making eclipsed all others. This method, called “drawing”, involves pulling a metal rod through a series of cone-shaped holes of steadily decreasing diameter. These holes are bored through either a “die” or a “drawplate”, the latter being a plank of metal, wood, or bone. When passed through a hole smaller than its diameter, the rod becomes thinner and longer.

The origin of this wire-making technique is a mystery over which historians have debated for centuries. Some say that wire drawing was invented by the Ancient Egyptians. Others suspect that Persians employed it as early as the 6th Century B.C. Others still contend that it was first used by the Romans, while many more argue that Merovingian Franks invented it in the 7th Century A.D. Most historians agree, however, that the first written reference to the drawplate is the Treatise of Theophilus, an early 12th Century Latin text describing various medieval arts, and that the earliest universally-accepted drawplates are 10th Century Viking artifacts.

Although wire drawing gradually superseded all other forms of wire-making techniques during the Middle Ages, it would certainly be possible for medieval and post-medieval jewelers to craft their wires using more ancient methods like block twisting and strip-drawing. Wire makers might even be forced to use these methods if they found themselves in want of a drawplate. Therefore, although the spiral wire on the Lot 21 brooch may be more consistent with pre-medieval jewelry, it by no means eliminates the possibility that the artifact was crafted in more recent times.


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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 6 Premiere: Rick’s Big Bang Theory

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 6, Episode 1: Rick’s Big Bang Theory

The following is a plot summary and analysis of the Season 6 premiere of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.






Plot Summary

Brothers Rick and Marty Lagina head to Oak Island for another season of treasure hunting. During the drive, Rick asks the historically skeptical Marty how confident he is that “something happened on Oak Island.” The younger Lagina replies that he is now “70% convinced that something very out of the ordinary” took place, and admits that his views have changed considerably in light of the many interesting discoveries made on the island the previous year. He later states that these discoveries have motivated him to increase operations on the island tenfold this season.

The brothers arrive on Oak Island and head to the War Room, which is now located at a different part of the island devoid of summer tourists. There, they meet with the “Fellowship of the Dig” and discuss the agenda for the upcoming season. Rick suggests that they spend this season working on the “Big Three”: the Money Pit, the Swamp, and Smith’s Cove. His suggestion is met with general acclaim.

Regarding operations on Smith’s Cove, the treasure hunters agree that they would like to fully expose the mysterious U-shaped structure, a piece of which was unearthed in Season 5, Episode 16. Craig Tester remarks that, in order to accomplish this, they will need to build an enormous cofferdam around Smith’s Cove. This structure, the narrator informs us, will be larger than any other cofferdam ever constructed in the island.

Regarding operations in the Money Pit area, the treasure hunters agree that there is likely more information to be extracted from Borehole H8, which yielded parchment, leather, and human bones the previous year. Rick also suggests that they conduct a seismic survey of the Money Pit area in order to come to a better understanding of its subterranean nature.

The narrator then explains that this seismic survey will entail hiring a seismic exploration crew to lay out lines of geophones (devices which detect seismic waves) in the Money Pit area, as well as perpendicular lines of blast charges across them. The seismic crew will then detonate the charges, sending seismic waves into the earth. Some of these waves will reflect off bedrock and travel back to the surface. The geophones will capture data from these shockwaves, which a geophysicist will later interpret in the hope of identifying and locating any underground anomalies in the surveyed area.

Talk then turns to the rhodolite garnet brooch which Gary Drayton discovered on Oak Island’s Lot 8 in Season 5, Episode 16. Marty states that he would like Drayton to metal detect the entire island. Rick then suggests that they clear Lots 1-8, as well as Lots 21 and 22, of trees and brush so that Drayton can search these areas more thoroughly and efficiently.

The following day, Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, and Dave Blankenship meet with Alex Gauthier of Eagle Canada (a seismic exploration company) at the Money Pit area. It is revealed that Eagle Canada will conduct a preliminary seismic survey on a small patch of ground where the Halifax Tunnel is believed to be located. If the survey data yields a clear picture of the area which is consistent with the Oak Island team’s knowledge of the Halifax Tunnel, the Fellowship of the Dig will allow Eagle Canada to conduct a larger, more expensive seismic survey of the entire Money Pit area.

While the men of Eagle Canada lay their geophones, Marty Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, Gary Drayton, and Laird Niven head to Smith’s Cove, where they do some metal detecting. The narrator explains that harsh winter storms had eroded the beach at Smith’s Cove, potentially bringing buried artifacts closer to the surface.

Drayton quickly uncovers an iron nail which Niven estimates to be late 19th Century. Shortly thereafter, he uncovers a small scrap of lead sheet. Drayton and Niven explain that lead was once commonly used to patch up damaged ships, and suggest that this artifact is likely such a patch- perhaps even a patch from a Spanish galleon.

Later, the Oak Island crew congregates at the Mug & Anchor Pub in the nearby town of Mahone Bay, on the mainland. There, Rick Lagina informs the team that the University of New Brunswick has agreed to run a laser ablation test on the lead cross (which Rick has dubbed ‘Drayton’s Cross’ after its discoverer)- a procedure which may help determine the artifact’s geographic origin. Rick tasks Peter Fornetti with taking the cross to the university.

The next day, Rick Lagina, Gary Drayton, and Laird Niven head to Oak Island’s Lot 2, on the island’s western end, where Drayton starts metal detecting. At the base of a large granite boulder, Drayton gets a hit on his metal detector indicating a non-ferrous metal at depth. Rick digs at the prescribed location and unearths a 1797 British twopence bearing the image of King George III.

Meanwhile, at the Money Pit, Craig Tester, Dave Blankenship, Jack Begley, and Charles Barkhouse watch as the men of Eagle Canada conduct their seismic test in the Halifax Tunnel area.

The following day, the Oak Island crew meets in the War Room with several members of the Eagle Canada crew, and with geophysicist Jeremy Church, who is in attendance via Skype. Church presents his analysis of the seismic survey data, showing the crew a cross-section of the ground that was tested and pointing out the location at which the data indicates the presence of the Halifax Tunnel. Jack Begley remarks that the depth of this anomaly (specifically 90 to 120 feet) is consistent with the Oak Island crew’s understanding of the nature of the Halifax Tunnel. Rick Lagina passionately thanks the crew of Eagle Canada for their good work.

The following day, the men of Eagle Canada begin laying lines of geophones and charges all across the Money Pit area. After all the lines are laid, the seismic crew detonates the charges while the Oak Island crew members stand by.

Meanwhile, Craig Tester, Dave Blankenship, and Peter Fornetti drive to the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, NB. They head to the Department of Earth Sciences building and meet with geochemistry professor Dr. Chris McFarlane, who tells them about the laser ablation test the university will conduct on Drayton’s Cross. He explains that, during the operation, he will use lasers to vaporize a microscopic portion of lead on the cross and funnel the gas into a mass spectrometer- a device which will enable him to determine the precise chemical makeup of the sample. The isotopic ratios present in the vaporized sample may help him to determine the artifact’s place of origin.

The treasure hunter give McFarlane the lead cross, which he takes to a lab with a mass spectrometer. After remarking that the corrosion on the cross is indicative of the artifact’s having spent several centuries underground, the professor attaches the object, along with six other reference samples of lead, to a plate, which he then inserts into the mass spectrometer. After defining twenty sample locations on the cross, McFarlane starts up the laser and initiates the sample-collecting process as the treasure hunters and lab technician Brandon Boucher look on.

While the laser ablation operation is underway, Jack Begley and Gary Drayton search for more surface artifacts on Oak Island’s Lot 2. After doing some metal detecting near a large granite boulder, Drayton’s metal detector indicates the presence of iron. The treasure hunter removes a layer of moss from the boulder and discovers the rusted head of an iron spike which has been completely embedded in the rock. Near the iron spike is a shallow drilled hole. Drayton suggests that the spike and hole constitute the remains of a ring bolt through which a chain or rope was threaded for the purpose of hauling heavy objects.


Certain that they have discovered a relic of the original depositors, an excited Begley and Drayton call up Rick Lagina and inform him of the find. Rick soon arrives on the site with Doug Crowell. The treasure hunters all agree that they ought to let archaeologist Laird Niven examine the boulder before they conduct a more thorough investigation of the object, in accordance with Nova Scotian law.

Back in Fredericton, Dr. Chris McFarlane analyzes the results of the laser ablation test that has just been conducted on Drayton’s Cross. He informs the crew that the lead cross contains trace amounts of silver- an indication that the object was crafted using old-fashioned smelting techniques. The narrator then explains that an important source of lead is galena, an ore containing significant concentrations of silver, and that lead objects crafted prior to 19th Century advances in smelting often contained trace amounts of silver.

McFarlane then compares the isotopic ratios in Drayton’s Cross with samples of North American lead, and concludes that the artifact was not crafted anywhere in North America. Craig Tester, Dave Blankenship, and Peter Fornetti thank the professor for his work and head back to Oak Island.

Later, the Oak Island crew meets in the War Room, where Craig Tester, who is in attendance via Skype, relates the findings of the laser ablation test. The treasure hunters express their pleasure in the knowledge that Drayton’s Cross is not a product of North America, and agree that further testing of the artifact is in order.

Later, Rick Lagina and Gary Drayton head to the newly-found drilled stone with Laird Niven so that the archaeologist might prescribe an excavation procedure. After photographing the drilled stone, Niven allows the treasure hunters to remove more of the moss that covers it.

More of the stone is uncovered, revealing five additional drillholes which form a line. When even more moss is pulled away, Rick Lagina spots a faint triangular mark on the stone, which Niven suggests may have been chiseled, and might even constitute a stonemason’s signature. Rick expresses his desire to determine whether the marking is really a man-made carving, “or even an attempt at a carving”.

Later, Marty Lagina and Peter Fornetti meet with geophysicist Mike West (who conducted a conductivity test in the Money Pit area in Season 5, Episode 6) and technician Andrew Gillis at Smith’s Cove. West and Gillis proceed to carry out a metal-detecting operation with an EM61 Metal Detector- a device which the narrator informs us is able to sense metal objects at a depth of nearly 20 feet, and which can pinpoint the precise location of the target using GPS technology.

Meanwhile, Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Dave Blankenship drive to Saint John, New Brunswick, where they meet with David Irving and Victor Murty of Irving Equipment Ltd. In a boardroom in Irving Equipment Ltd.’s headquarters, the contractors discuss the upcoming excavation in Smith’s Cove, and inform the treasure hunters that they have made an “augmented reality” model of Oak Island so that they might give the treasure hunters a more “immersive” understanding of the operations they intend to carry out. Murty proceeds to don a pair of HoloLens goggles, through which he can see the 3D “augmented reality” model of Oak Island. The goggles have a built-in camera which enables the treasure hunters to see Murty’s point of view on a screen. With this visual aid, the contractors show the treasure hunters a model of the cofferdam they plan to construct around Smith’s Cove, and explain how they plan to build it. First, Murty explains, they plan to build a road from the Money Pit area to Smith’s Cove. That accomplished, they will construct a crane pad on the beach which will enable them to place the cofferdam components via crane. After the presentation, Rick remarks upon the considerable scale of the operation, and emphasizes the importance of the upcoming operation at Smith’s Cove.

The men conclude their meeting, and Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Dave Blankenship head back to Oak Island. During the drive, the three treasure hunters call up Marty Lagina and inform him of Irving’s plan. In a later interview, Marty states, “The excavation at Smith’s Cove is going to be the biggest thing we’ve done here since we’ve embarked on this quest. I have some trepidation about it. It’s going to be a lot of work.”

Back at Smith’s Cove, Mike West gets a hit on the EM61 Metal Detector. West explains to Peter Fornetti that although he cannot determine the depth of the object the EM61 has located, the object appears to be of considerable size.

The next day, Rick Lagina and Gary Drayton go metal detecting on Oak Island’s Lot 21, in the vicinity of the old McGinnis family cabin. The pair quickly unearth an old rusted hinge. Shortly thereafter, Drayton discovers “another bobby dazzler”- specifically a brooch with a red gemstone set in the centre, reminiscent of the rhodolite garnet previously discovered on Lot 8. “The Brooch Brothers are back!” Drayton exclaims before fist-bumping Rick and slipping the brooch into his top pocket.


Halifax Tunnel

In this episode, geophysical company Eagle Canada conducted a seismic survey of the Money Pit area. Before the Oak Island crew allowed them to proceed with this larger, more expensive operation, they first had them survey a smaller patch of ground overtop of the “Halifax Tunnel” so that they might prove the efficacy of their service.

The “Halifax Tunnel” is a bit of a misnomer, as it could apply to a number of tunnels constructed in 1866 and 1867 by members of the Halifax Company (also known as the Oak Island Eldorado Company), an Oak Island treasure-hunting syndicate. This company was headed by Jotham McCully and James McNutt- veterans of an earlier treasure-hunting company called the Oak Island Association.

Although it was known that the Halifax Company had constructed several shafts and tunnels in the Money Pit area prior to their dissolution in 1867, the location of these structures was not documented and, for many years, was believed to be lost. Fortunately, in 1937, Oak Island treasure hunter Gilbert Hedden rediscovered a tunnel dug by the Halifax Company when sinking the Hedden Shaft just east of the Chappell Shaft; at a depth of 104 feet, his crew discovered a narrow 4’ x 6.5’ tunnel with hemlock cribbing.

Years later, in 1965, treasure hunter Robert Dunfield discovered what was believed to be another undocumented Halifax Company tunnel near the Cave-in Pit.

In Season 2, Episode 3 of The Curse of Oak Island, the men of Oak Island Tours Inc. attempted to relocate the Halifax Tunnel discovered by Gilbert Hedden in 1937 via exploration drilling. The operation was ultimately unsuccessful. Apparently, the Oak Island crew conducted a similar operation without our knowledge and succeeded in locating another Halifax Tunnel. In this episode, the narrator informed us that this particular “Halifax Tunnel” begins at the bottom of a 110-foot-deep shaft sunk 200 feet south of the Money Pit and runs north for an unspecified length before it intersects a flood tunnel.

The New Cofferdam

In this episode, it was revealed that the men of Oak Island Tours Inc. plan to construct an enormous cofferdam around Smith’s Cove so that they can excavate the area without having to contend with the tide. The narrator informed us this structure will be the largest of its kind ever build on Oak Island.

So far, there have been at least five cofferdams constructed on Oak Island:

  1. The first was built in the summer of 1850 by members of the Truro Company, who hoped to dismantle and plug the Smith’s Cove box drains. This cofferdam was swept away by a ferocious Atlantic storm shortly after its construction.
  2. The second cofferdam was built in 1866 by the men of the Halifax Company. Like its ill-fated predecessor, this structure was also washed away by a storm.
  3. Dan Blankenship built his own cofferdam in 1970, which also failed to withstand the maritime elements.
  4. In Season 4, Episode 11 of The Curse of Oak Island, Jeremy Frizzell began to construct a small, temporary, 8-foot-high inflatable cofferdam around Smith’s Cove. Before it could be fully assembled, however, the cofferdam inexplicably ruptured, rendering it useless.
  5. In Season 4, Episode 12, Jack Nichols of Dam-It-Dams built a cofferdam which allowed Oak Island Tours Inc. to uncover what they believed to be remnants of a French drain on Smith’s Cove. Apparently, this cofferdam was demolished by the storms that ravaged Oak Island in the winter of 2017/18.
  6. Some have speculated that the mysterious U-shaped structure which lies beneath Smith’s Cove constitutes the remains of an ancient cofferdam erected by the original Money Pit builders.

Having learned from the mistakes of the past, Oak Island Tours Inc. has wisely decided to build an enormous cofferdam which will, in theory, be able to withstand any storm the Atlantic can throw at it. Perhaps this structure will help the crew solve the mystery of the box drains, the lead cross, and the French drain once and for all.

The Drilled Rocks

In this episode, Jack Begley and Gary Drayton, while metal detecting on Oak Island’s Lot 2, discovered a large boulder with six drilled holes and an iron spike driven into it.

This is not the first drilled rock to be discovered on Oak Island. In the summer of 1938, treasure hunter Gilbert Hedden discovered two similar rocks, one of which was estimated to lie 50 feet north of the Money Pit, and the other about 415 feet due east of the former, on Smith’s Cove (the Smith’s Cove drilled stone was later displaced in the 1960s during Robert Dunfield’s heavy duty operation on Oak Island). These rocks bore manmade holes about two inches deep and one inch in diameter. Prior to this discovery, Hedden had heard rumours about these rocks, which he was told had been found by earlier treasure hunters, but initially took little interest in them. That all changed when his lawyer, R.V. Harris, presented him with a bizarre document known as the Wilkins Map- a document which indicated that the drilled stones were of the utmost importance. Hedden subsequently had his crew search for these stones, which were found without great difficulty. Unfortunately, the fascinating story which follows this discovery is too complicated to detail in this article. For more information on this bizarre chapter of Oak Island history, please check out our analysis of Season 5, Episode 3.

The drilled rocks rediscovered by Gilbert Hedden feature in a number of intriguing Oak Island theories, including the theory involving the Wilkins Map, Laverne Johnson’s theory, and Robert Restall’s theory of the Vertical Shaft. Borehole 10-X also lies on the hypothetical line between these two stones.

In the 1970s, Dan Blankenship discovered three more drilled rocks similar to Hedden’s, all of which were located north of the Money Pit area. Fred Nolan also discovered several drilled rocks on his Oak Island property, along with a number of rocks with metal ringbolts embedded in them- artifacts evocative of the theory put forth in this episode that the drilled stone on Lot 2 once housed a ringbolt which functioned as a primitive pulley.

Another drilled rock was discovered in Season 3, Episode 1, when British Columbian engineers Mike and Sean Herold came to Oak Island in order to test the late Laverne Johnson’s theory.

Brooch #2

In this episode, “Brooch Brothers” Rick Lagina and Gary Drayton discovered an old bejewelled brooch on Oak Island’s Lot 21, near the foundations of Daniel McGinnis’ house. This artifact is strongly reminiscent of the rhodolite garnet brooch discovered on Lot 8 in Season 5, Episode 16. In the Season 5 finale, Gary Drayton claimed that an unnamed gemologist examined the rhodolite brooch and estimated that it had likely been fashioned in the 16th or 17th Century. Perhaps this second brooch will prove to be of a similar age.


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