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The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 11- Wharfs and All

The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 11- Wharfs and All

The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 6, Episode 11 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!]

 

 

Plot Summary

Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Terry Matheson uncover the new underground wooden wall at Smith’s Cove, discovered at the end of the previous episode. Rick observes that the wall appears to form the shape of the letter ‘L’. The narrator then informs us of a hitherto undisclosed discovery which Dan Blankenship made in the 1970s. When conducting his own excavation of Smith’s Cove, Dan partially uncovered a 50-foot-long L-shaped wall made of wood. This L-Shaped structure roughly paralleled the southern half of the U-shaped structure, and was located further from shore than the latter. In an interview, Rick Lagina voices his suspicion this this structure was perhaps the remains of an “abortive attempt” at a cofferdam which proved “too much work for the result”.

That night, the Oak Island crew congregates in the War Room to discuss the results of the LIDAR scan of Tory Martin’s stone, which was carried out the previous episode. Rob Hyslop and Ryan Levangie, the men who conducted the scan, explain that the results of their operation indicate that one of the stone’s sides is perfectly flat, indicating that it may have been worked by man.

Hyslop and Levangie also display the results of their attempt to define the markings on the stone. Doug Crowell suggests that the two men’s interpretation of the markings resembles Futhark, a runic alphabet used by Dark Age Germanic tribes. Charles Barkhouse then informs the crew that the Yarmouth County Museum, located on the southern shores of Nova Scotia across a narrow strait from Overton, houses the Yarmouth Runic Stone, a flat stone bearing an inscription which some have interpreted as Norse runes.  The narrator then launches into a brief description of the theory which contends that the Money Pit was constructed by Vikings.

The next day, Gary Drayton, Laird Niven, and Terry Matheson resume the investigation of the newly discovered underground wall at Smith’s Cove. Niven and Matheson laboriously expose the structure by hand using shovels, while Drayton scans a recently-excavated area nearby with his metal detector. Drayton quickly discovers a piece of curved lead which he suggests might be a fragment of a bracelet. The narrator then reminds us of the lead cross discovered on Smith’s Cove the previous season and suggests that there might be some sort of connection between it and this newly discovered artifact.

Later that day, the crew meets in the War Room to discuss future operations in the Money Pit area. Craig Tester suggests that they sink multiple shafts in the direction in which the supposed Shaft 6 tunnel appears to lead. Most of the treasure hunters appear to concur with Tester’s proposal. Marty Lagina then states the he would like to “have a re-go at H8”, in which some of the previous season’s most intriguing discoveries were made. The crew agrees that this ought to be their first priority.

Later, members of the Oak Island team meet at the Money Pit area with Vanessa Lucido, Danny Smith, and John Lee of ROC Equipment. Marty Lagina explains that he would like ROC to remove the contents of Borehole H8 with a hammergrab. That accomplished, he would like the crew to raise the caisson to a depth of 170 feet in the hope that the supposed Chappell Vault, which the H8 caisson may have pushed to the side, will fill the void.

While the ROC crew set up their oscillator at the Money Pit area, Alex Lagina and Paul Troutman drive to the Yarmouth County Museum in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, in the hope of shedding some light on the runic-like inscription on Martin’s stone. The pair arrive at the museum and locate the Yarmouth Runic Stone, whereupon the narrator relates the story of the stone’s discovery in 1812 by a local doctor and the various hypotheses surrounding its inscription.

As they admire the stone, Alex and Paul are approached by the museum’s director, Nadine Gates, and her assistant, Lisette Gaudet. Upon being prompted by Troutman, Gates explains that some believe the inscription on the Yarmouth Stone to be Norse, and translate it as saying “Leif to Erik”. The implication of this translation is that the stone constitutes a monument commissioned by Viking explorer Leif Erikson in honour of his father, Erik the Red.

After Marty and Alex Lagina give Mike Jardine of Irving Equipment Ltd. the green light to set up a crane over H8 in preparation for the upcoming hammergrab operation, Alex, Rick Lagina, and Laird Niven head to Smith’s Cove, where most of the L-shaped structure has been exposed. While chatting with Alex, Niven remarks that the absence of iron in any of the Smith’s Cove structures is very strange, and states “archaeologically, I don’t think anyone in Nova Scotia has seen this”.

Niven then tells Rick Lagina that, although he initially believed the U-shaped structure to be a relic of previous searchers, the discovery of the L-shaped structure has made him less certain of this belief.

While the treasure hunters talk, heavy equipment operator Billy Gerhardt uncovers a long wooden log with his backhoe. Further excavation reveals this log to be part of a larger platform which Rick Lagina suggests is a “slipway”, or boat ramp. “This could be the Hedden wharf,” he concludes, whereupon the narrator explains that, in 1936, Oak Island treasure hunter Gilbert Hedden built a wharf at Smith’s Cove, with which he intended to transport excavation equipment to the island. During this operation, he and his crew discovered the pallett-like structure elaborated upon in the previous episode, which Hedden believed to be a skid.

After the narrator’s exposition, Rick Lagina wonders aloud whether this new structure comprises the remains of Hedden’s wharf or is part of the older skid that Hedden discovered in 1936. Alex Lagina then remarks that this structure appears to be in line with the L-shaped structure and suggests that the two might be connected in some way. Rick agrees that they ought to investigate this potential connection.

Later, at the Money Pit area, the treasure hunters stand by as the crew of Irving Equipment Ltd. begins removing mud and clay from H8 via hammergrab, expressing their hope that the upcoming excavation will yield the artifacts that somehow eluded them the previous year.

 

Analysis

L-Shaped Structure

In this episode, Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Terry Matheson exposed the wooden wall at Smith’s Cove discovered at the end of the previous episode. This wall forms the shape of the letter ‘L’. It is congruent with the southern half of the U-shaped structure, but is located further from the island. Following its disclosure, the narrator revealed that Dan Blankenship discovered this structure in the 1970s. In addition, according to Lee Lamb in private correspondence with this author, Mildred Restall, in the 1960s, “discovered a partial wooden wall outside (that is- beyond) the cofferdam”.

Although the purpose of this structure is not known, Rick Lagina suggested that the L-shaped structure constitutes an “abortive attempt” at a cofferdam which proved “too much work for the result”.

The Yarmouth Runic Stone

In this episode, Tory Martin’s stone, in light of the rune-like markings revealed on its surface, was compared with the Yarmouth runic stone, an artifact currently housed in the Yarmouth County Museum.

The Yarmouth rune stone, also known as the Fletcher stone, is a 400-pound flat slab of quartzite bearing an inscription which some have interpreted as Norse runes. The stone was discovered by Dr. Richard Fletcher, a retired British Army surgeon, in the early 1800s, and revealed to the public in 1812. Some believed the inscription to be proof that the Vikings had visited the southern shores of Nova Scotia during their New World voyages.

In 1884, a man named Henry Phillips Jr. wrote a paper in which he argued that the inscription on the Yarmouth stone were Norse runes which translate to “Hako’s son addressed the men”. Phillips then attempted to identify Hako as Thorfinn Karlsefni, a Norse explorer who features in the Icelandic sagas which describe Norse voyages to the New World. “Hako’s son”, in this case, would be Karlsefni’s son, Snorri Thorfinnson, the first Caucasian child to be born in the New World.

In 1934, a student of runology named Olaf Strandwold proposed that the inscription on the Yarmouth stone reads “Leif to Eric raises (this monument)” in Norse. This interpretation implies that the stone was carved by Viking explorer Leif Erikson, the Viking who discovered Vinland, as a tribute to his father, Erik the Red.

Over the years, others have identified the stone’s inscription as Phoenician, Old Japanese, and Mycenaean Greek. Dr. Barry Fell, who championed the theory that the Oak Island Money Pit was the work of 8th Century Coptic Christian refugees from North Africa, theorized that the inscription on the Yarmouth stone was an early Basque message reading, “Basque people have subdued this land.”

In spite of these various interpretations, many experts have conclude that the markings on the stone are nonsensical, and that the Yarmouth stone is likely a hoax.

The Viking Theory

In this episode, we are introduced to the vague theory that Norse Vikings are behind the Oak Island mystery.

For centuries, Scandinavians have told tales of medieval Viking voyages to the Americas that took place around the turn of the last millennia. In the 13th Century, Icelander chroniclers put these tales to parchment, writing the Saga of Erik the Red and the Greenlander Saga. Although the tales outlined in these sagas are very different from each other, they generally agree that, around 1000 A.D., an Icelandic Viking named Leif Erikson sailed west from Greenland. Whether following up on the tale of another Norse mariner who had been blown off course, or being blown off course himself in an attempt to bring Christianity to Greenland, Leif came upon three mysterious western lands. The northernmost of these a barren country of flat rocks and arctic foxes, which he called Helluland (“Flatstoneland”). Further south, he came to a land of evergreen forests, white shores, and wild animals, which he called Markland (“Forestland”). South of Markland, Leif Erikson and his crew discovered a place filled with lush grass and wild grapes, which they called Vinland (“Wineland”).

In the years that ensued, Leif Erikson’s friends and kinsmen would make three more voyages to Vinland in an attempt to explore and possibly establish a colony. They were ultimately driven back to Greenland by diminutive fur-clad natives whom they called Skraelings.

Today, archaeologists generally agree that the Viking sagas have some truth to them, and that Norse explorers indeed visited the shores of the New World around 1000 A.D. Most agree that Helluland is likely the eastern shores of Baffin Island, and Markland likely northern Labrador. The location of Vinland, however, is hotly contested. Many believe that Vinland is likely the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland- a theory that was bolstered in 1960 by the discovery of Viking ruins near the town of L’Anse aux Meadows. Others content that Vinland must be located further south, as wild grapes do not grow naturally north of New Brunswick.

Although there is conclusive evidence that medieval Vikings did visit the shores of Eastern Canada, there are no indications in the sagas or otherwise that the Norsemen built anything like the Money Pit during their New World voyages, nor that they had cause to bury bury anything other than their fallen comrades on Vinlandic soil.

Hedden’s Wharf

Near the end of the episode, the Fellowship of the Dig discovered what appeared to be the remains of a wooden slipway, or boat ramp, beneath Smith’s Cove. This structure appears to be composed of long wooden logs which had been lashed together like a raft. Whatever means by which the logs were originally adhered to each other remains a mystery, as the structure does not bear evidence of any fastenings. Both ends of the logs rest on perpendicularly-aligned timbers.

The prevailing opinion among the treasure hunters was that this structure constitutes the remains of the wharf that Gilbert Hedden constructed in the summer of 1936 for the purpose of transporting equipment to the island. The narrator also suggested that this structure might be the remains of the older skid discovered by Gilbert Hedden in 1936, which was elaborated upon in the previous episode. The fact that this structure bears vague resemblance to the skid described and drawn by Hedden neither verifies nor discredits this latter theory.

Although the construction of Hedden’s Wharf was not alluded to in The Oak Island Mystery by R.V. Harris (a book containing one of the most comprehensive accounts of the Hedden treasure hunt), the writings of Lee Lamb and Bobby Restall indicate that Hedden’s Wharf was known to and used by the Restall family in the 1960s.

In her 2012 book Oak Island Family: The Restall Hunt for Buried Treasure, Lee Lamb (the daughter and sister, respectively, of Oak Island treasure hunters Robert and Bobby Restall) claimed that “local boatmen had kept the wharf in good repair since Gilbert Hedden had ended his search for treasure on the island in [1938].” Later on in the book, Lamb relates that, during a number of violent storms which buffeted the island in the 1960s, “Hedden’s Wharf was reduced to its stone bed, not a stick of wood remaining”.

Perhaps the most intriguing piece of information regarding the Hedden Wharf comes from the journals of Bobby Restall, excerpts from which Lee Lamb published in her 2006 book Oak Island Obsession: The Restall Story. The passage in question reads:

“After studying some aerial photos of the island, we noticed that the cofferdam, as it’s thought to be, was out of shape. By checking with some of Hedden’s old workers, we found that the Hedden Wharf was built by removing the north one-third of the old 1850 cofferdam remains.”

Considering all we know about the various structures as Smith’s Cove, this passage is very confusing. First, we must determine what Bobby Restall is referring to when he uses the word “cofferdam”. It seems likely that Bobby’s cofferdam is either: a) the U-shaped structure; or b) the newly-revealed L-shaped structure, which appears to have once been congruent with the U-shaped structure, but which lacks more than half of its northern section.

If the “cofferdam” Bobby was referring to was the U-shaped structure, then it appears that he mistook his directions when he wrote that “the north one-third of the… cofferam” was dismantled and used to create Hedden’s wharf. The northern section of the U-shaped structure appears to be completely intact. However, sketches indicate that roughly 1/3 of structure’s the southern arm may be missing. Perhaps Bobby meant to write “south” instead of “north”.

It is also possible that the “cofferdam” Bobby was referring to was the L-shaped structure, which appears to be missing much of its northern section. If this is the case, then it seems that Bobby got is directions right and his ratios wrong; the L-shaped structure today appears to be missing more than half of its northern section (i.e. far more than a third).

It must be mentioned that the two successive paragraphs of Bobby’s essay in which the passage in question is ensconced render the passage even more confusing. While they were doubtless clear and straightforward at the time of their composition, these paragraphs are rendered cryptic by all the new information we have, and could serve to support either of the previously mentioned possibilities depending on their interpretation.

The paragraphs read:

“In Smith’s Cove we found bits of coconut fibre and evidence of earlier searchers’ work that is unrecorded. It took the form of old plank walls buried under the sands of the beach, also five vertical board boxes built to protect drill holes of past years.

“After studying some aerial photos of the island, we noticed that the cofferdam, as it’s thought to be, was out of shape. By checking with some of Hedden’s old workers, we found that the Hedden Wharf was built by removing the north one-third of the old 1850 cofferdam remains.”

It is unclear whether the “cofferdam” mentioned in the second paragraph is a reference to the “old plank walls” mentioned in the first paragraph, the walls being evocative the L-shaped structure, or to another structure (ex. the U-shaped structure) which was presumed to be well-known to the reader and required no preamble.

Whatever the case, the disparity between the materials of which the U-shaped, L-shaped, and raft-like structures are comprised, coupled with Bobby’s statement that the Hedden wharf was built from the northern third of the cofferdam, seem to indicate that the supposed slipway discovered this episode does not constitute the remains of Hedden’s wharf after all. However, when one considers Lee Lamb’s statement that the original Hedden wharf was reduced to its stone foundation by violent Atlantic storms, it seems possible that the slipway might be the remains of the wharf rebuilt by the Restalls.

There is yet another possibility regarding the identity of the “slipway”. In an email, Lee Lamb sent this author an image which she said depicted Robert Restall constructing cribbing intended for a Smith’s Cove shaft he had sank. The structure Restall appears to be working on in the photo is composed of logs lashed together, the ends of which rest on the upper lip of the shaft in question. Despite being composed of smaller logs, this structure bears remarkable resemblance to the “slipway” discovered this episode; perhaps the slipway is the remains of one of these structures.

The Legend of Canada’s Tropical Valley- Part 1: An Oasis in the Arctic

The following is an excerpt from my 2018 book Legends of the Nahanni Valleya non-fiction which explores the history and folklore surrounding Nahanni National Park, one of the most mysterious regions in all of Canada.  I’ll include a link to this book at the end of the article.

 

The Legend of Canada’s Tropical Valley

Part 1: An Oasis in the Arctic

“There are more . . . stories about the Nahanni River than any other place in Canada. The most famous of them is the story of the tropical valley, where 10,000 hot springs bubble out of the ground, ferns grow 30 feet high, and the temperature never goes below 50 degrees in midwinter.”

–  Colonel Harry Snyder; Toronto Daily Star; October 9, 1937.

 

ONE OF THE MOST ENDURING legends of the Nahanni Valley– one which transcends its sinister reputation as a land of murder, madness, Indian curses, and lost gold- has it that somewhere in that wild domain, perhaps surrounding one of the many tributaries of the South Nahanni River, lies a tropical valley free of snow and ice. This legend is but a piece of a much larger puzzle spanning the entire North Country- a puzzle which has its origins in a historic event that changed the face of the Canadian North forever.

 

THE KLONDIKE GOLD RUSH

On July 14, 1897, a steamship called the Excelsior slipped into the San Francisco harbour. To the stevedores working on the docks that day, this rusty little ship with two blackened smokestacks appeared to be nothing out of the ordinary. A few heads might have turned, however, when its passengers walked down the gangplank. The people who poured off the steamer were a gaunt, ragtag bunch clad in ragged work clothes and broad-brimmed hats. The men bore rough, unkempt beards, the women wore wild, tangled hair, and all had the sun-burned, wind-whipped faces of frontiersmen well accustomed to long days in the bush.

What really captured the attention of the men on the docks that day, however, was the mysterious cargo the passengers hauled from the ship. Some wrestled with extraordinarily heavy suitcases. Others lugged bulging buckskin sacks. Others still hauled heavy tin canisters with both hands, their cracked lips drawn back over tobacco-stained teeth in grimaces of exertion. The strange site piqued the curiosity and imaginations of nearby locals. Soon, a growing throng of city residents began to gather around the newcomers.

Some of the Excelsior’s passengers immediately made their way to the Selby Smelting Works on Montgomery Street. There, on the establishment’s counters, they revealed their identities and the contents of their cargo to the curious onlookers; they were prospectors from the north, and they had brought with them several metric tons of raw northern gold.

The news spread like wildfire throughout the streets of San Francisco: a spectacular gold strike had been made in an obscure region of northwestern Canada known as the Klondike. Immediately, gold fever swept throughout the Pacific Northwest like an epidemic, infecting men and women from all walks of life with a restless furor which some newspaper men dubbed “Klondicitis”. Rallying to the cry of “Klondike or bust,” so-called Stampeders deserted their day jobs en masse and headed for the Yukon in search of fortune and adventure.

The Stampeders of 1898- men and women of all nationalities and occupations- approached Dawson City, the heart of the Klondike, by a number of different routes. Some purchased steamboat tickets in San Francisco or Seattle and travelled north up the Pacific Coast to the Lynn Canal, an Alaskan inlet. From there, they packed their gear over the Coast Mountains by way of the Chilkoot Trail or White Pass, hand-crafted their own canoes on the other side of the divide, and paddled up a series of lakes and rivers to the Klondike. Wealthier Stampeders travelled by steamer the whole way, heading to the old Russian fur trading settlement of St. Michael, Alaska, on the coast of the Bering Sea, before travelling up the Yukon River to Dawson. Some patriotic Americans, in an effort to circumvent Canadian customs, opted to take the “all-American route” to the Yukon- a suicidal trek over the crevasse-ridden Valdez and Malaspina Glaciers. Some poor prospectors attempted to reach the Klondike on horseback via the Ashcroft Trail, slogging through the sunny grasslands of the Cariboo Plateau, the misty jungles of the Great Bear Rainforest, and the dismal, mosquito-infested swamps of northern British Columbia. Others, prompted by encouraging articles in the Edmonton Journal, toiled over the “all-Canadian route”, a long, arduous, overland journey starting in Edmonton, Alberta. A handful of those who took this latter route disappeared into the Nahanni Valley, hoping that the South Nahanni River might serve as a shortcut to the Klondike.

Throughout the course of the Klondike Gold Rush, more than 100,000 Stampeders from all over the world set out for the northern diggings. About 30-40 thousand of them actually reached their destination, and of those, only about 20,000 bothered to look for gold.

These 20,000 enterprising prospectors, throughout the last few years of the 19th Century and the first few of the 20th, panned the creeks just south of Dawson City. Those who found promising colours- trace amounts of gold dust, flakes, or nuggets- in their pans staked claims on the sites of their discoveries.

In the winter, those who staked claims exchanged the gold pan of the prospector for the pickaxe of the miner and set about sinking shafts to bedrock. In order to carve through the nigh-impermeable permafrost, they lit huge fires on top of their shafts and fed them constantly so that they burned throughout the night. In the mornings, with picks and shovels, they dug their way through the smoky ashes and the softened earth beneath. The gold-flecked rubble which they removed from their shafts was set aside in a massive ‘dump’ pile.

In the spring, when the ice began to melt, the Klondikers shoveled their gold-bearing pay dirt into sluice boxes- long, ribbed troughs oriented at a decline. That accomplished, they poured water into the top of the sluices and let gravity do its work; as gold is considerably heavier than sediment, it floated downwards during this process to collect in the sluice box’s ribs, where it could be easily extracted, while the lighter gravel and sand simply washed away.

Of the 20,000 Stampeders who toiled for gold in this manner, only 4,000 found anything of significance. Of those 4,000, only a few hundred struck it rich. Dejected, many of the thousands of prospectors who failed to find their fortunes in the creek beds of the Klondike set out for home. Others, held in thrall of what British-Canadian poet Robert Service termed “The Spell of the Yukon”, began to look elsewhere for the elusive yellow metal that had lured them into the North Country. Some made the long westward journey to the newly-established Nome mining district in Alaska, where another gold rush was underway. Others, travelling by dogsled or canoe, explored more remote reaches of the subarctic, only to return from these far-flung gold-seeking expeditions with tales that defied belief.

AN OASIS IN THE ARCTIC

Throughout the early 1900’s, some of the prospectors who wandered throughout the boreal wilderness in the wake of the last great gold rush returned to civilization telling all manner of strange tales. Northern saloons, HBC trading rooms, Mountie outposts, and Mission rectories resounded with their stories of phantom lights, lost mines, woolly mammoths, and hairy wildmen. One of the tales told by these travelling prospectors spoke of a tropical valley hidden away somewhere in the northern wilds. This lost valley, the stories went, was a steamy paradise filled with luxuriant vegetation and an abundance of wild game, its peculiar climate owing to hot springs, volcanoes, or some other variety of subterranean thermal activity.

Russell and Lee’s Account

The tale of the tropical valley circulated rapidly throughout the North Country by word of mouth. By the 1920’s, it was finding its way into print. One of the first papers to run the story was the Valdez Miner, a weekly periodical based out of Valdez, Alaska. On Remembrance Day, 1922, it published an article entitled “An Oasis in the Arctic,” describing a strange find made by prospectors Hank Russell and Jack Lee.

According to the article, one morning, while climbing a snow-covered “high arctic mountain pass,” Russell and Lee spied a green valley far below, partially obscured by the mist. Determined to investigate this geological anomaly, they descended into the area.

Dressed as they were in heavy, fur-lined parkas, Russell and Lee found the valley uncomfortably warm. In some spots, the heat was so intense that it penetrated the thick moose hide soles of their moccasins. The two prospectors reasoned that the unusual temperature- along with the presence of powerful geysers and steamy fumaroles, the latter over which they allegedly cooked their food- was an indication that the valley was actually the crater of an enormous, ancient volcano.

Naturally, the valley attracted huge populations of wildlife. Herds of fat caribou grazed in fields of succulent, shoulder-high grass, eying the newcomers with lazy indifference. Thousands of birds, chiefly warblers and robins, flitted about in the canopies of the valley’s thick-trunked trees. Huge flocks of geese and ducks congregated on a small lake in the middle of the valley, and enormous grizzlies and black bears prowled about the valley’s edge, where many varieties of colourful flowers grew in abundance.

In addition to these faunal fixtures of the North, Russell and Lee observed signs of a more mysterious valley denizen; around the lake were strange, perfectly round tracks eighteen inches in diameter, which bore three toe-like depressions in the front. “Had they been living in a prehistoric age,” the article went, “the prospectors would have sworn the tracks to be those of a mastodon or mammoth.”

Captain Scotte’s Account

Although Russell and Lee’s account of the tropical valley was not particularly specific as to location, other stories placed the hidden paradise in a precise geographic region. One such story appeared in the July 25, 1924 issue of the Alaska Weekly, a newspaper based out of Seattle, Washington. Under the headline “Winter in Paradise,” this story detailed the testimony of an American military man named Captain Samuel C. Scotte.

According to the article, Scotte alleged to have spent two winters in a tropical vale tucked away somewhere in the Cassiar Mountain Range of northern British Columbia. Accessible by both the Stikine River and Telegraph Creek- two waterways which cut across northern BC- this valley was purportedly 20 miles (32 km) long and 3-4 miles (5-6 km) wide. “The valley is swampy,” said Scotte, “with many small lakes and timbered flats. The soil is a rich, black loam” well-suited to growing vegetables.

Captain Scotte believed that the valley owed its balmy climate to hot springs situated in the nearby foothills. These springs were warm in the winter, yet curiously ice cold in the summer. Following the captain’s description of the hot springs, the author offered his own theory regarding the valley’s tropical condition, suggesting that its unusual temperatures might have something to do with the fact “that it is 3,000 feet lower than the general contour of the surrounding country.”

The article ended with a vague reference to various strange animals which Scotte observed in the valley, including a mysterious “white deer.”

Perry’s Account

The following year, on June 26, 1925, the Alaska Weekly published another, far more dramatic article on a tropical valley, entitled “The Valley of Eden.” This narrative is, in many ways, eerily consistent with that of Russell and Lee. The source for this piece was Frank Perry, a mining engineer from Vancouver who, “for seventeen years, with only two pack dogs to carry his equipment… explored the unknown subarctic regions until, by chance… he came upon a vast paradise in the midst of the snow-covered mountains.”

The article opens with a description of how Perry, while mushing over a remote mountain pass located somewhere between the Fort Nelson and Liard Rivers, on the eastern slopes of the Cassiar Mountains, stumbled upon a strange valley filled with heavy mist. Rivers of hot water “fed by hundreds of hot springs” ran directly through it, their steamy vapours colliding with the frigid subarctic air to condense into a thick layer of fog.

The tropical temperatures generated by the hot springs, in addition to keeping the valley free of snow and ice all year round, supported marvellously robust vegetation. This spectacular plant life included sixty-foot vines, nettles and ferns “higher than a man’s head,” trees three feet in diameter, and impenetrable patches of wild rosebushes with “stems as thick as a man’s forearm.” The lush flora, in turn, attracted “hundreds of mountain sheep, goats, caribou, and moose, with bears and other fur-bearing animals.” Perry maintained that, “due to the exceptionally good grazing in the valley… the moose and caribou looked like the pictures of the old Norman horse- almost square from fat.”

Perry learned that neighbouring Indians, in spite of its surfeit of game, gave the place a wide berth. This was on account of “imprints of huge three-toed prehistoric animals found in the sandstones and shales” – imprints strikingly evocative of the mysterious tracks reported by Russell and Lee. The natives believed that the monsters which made those tracks still roamed the area.

The piece ended with a brief description of the valley’s abundant mineral formations, which included healthy veins of gold, silver, and copper; huge seams of coal; and large concentrates of iron ore.

Colonel Williams’ Account

Three months after Perry’s account was published in the Alaska Weekly, an Alaskan newspaper ran with a story that seemed to corroborate the engineer’s claims. According to the article “Where the Waters Run Warm,” published in the September 24, 1925 issue of the Wrangell Sentinel, a Montreal-based Royal Canadian Air Force colonel named J. Scott Williams stumbled upon a tropical valley while conducting British Columbia’s first aerial prospecting expedition. This valley contained “numerous hot springs, grass, and verdure of amazing growth due, it is thought, to the warmth generated by the springs.” Other floral marvels included giant tulips and a fantastic profusion of currents and raspberries.

Colonel Williams claimed that he and his crew had prospected in the valley for three months, feasting on moose meat, mountain mutton, and vegetables which he and another prospector, whom he identified as “Smith,” had planted. During their three-month stay, Williams and his crew observed a number of interesting animals, including an albino moose somewhat reminiscent of Captain Scotte’s white deer and a “white bear similar to the Beacon Hill Park animal in Victoria.” The “Beacon Hill Park animal” Williams was referring to was a Kermode or ‘spirit’ bear- a rare, often cream-coloured subspecies of the American black bear- which resided at that time in Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park zoo.

Perhaps most interestingly, Colonel Williams placed his tropical valley in the Liard River country “beyond the Liard Trading Post,” in the same general vicinity as Frank Perry’s northern paradise. It seemed as if a tropical valley might indeed lie somewhere among the eastern slopes of the Cassiars…

 

Want to Learn More?

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more about the tropical valley and other forgotten mysteries of the Canadian North, please check out my book Legends of the Nahanni Valley.

Famous Black Canadians: 8/10: Josiah Henson

Back to Ten Famous Black Canadians.

Josiah Henson

Although I’ve personally never heard anyone use the term in real-life conversation, every once in a while, I’ll hear the name “Uncle Tom” while watching American news. This name is employed as a derogatory epithet, usually by left-leaning political pundits, against African-Americans whom they perceive to be traitors to their race.

The ‘Uncle Tom’ slur derives from the titular character of distorted theatrical and cinematic renditions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a famous 19th Century American novel intended to illustrate the evils of slavery. Uncle Tom, the novel’s eponymous main character, is almost certainly based on Josiah Henson, a celebrated Canadian hero who, ironically, was one of the greatest champions of the 19th Century black Canadian community.

Slavery

Josiah Henson was born into a life of slavery on a tobacco plantation near the town of Port Tobacco Village, in southern Maryland. His earliest memory is of an incident which followed his father’s decision to beat a white man for assaulting his wife. As punishment, Josiah’s father was shackled to a whipping post and given one hundred lashes. When the scourging was over, his owner nailed Josiah’s father’s right ear to the post and severed it with a knife.

Despite the cruelty and fear which were part and parcel of life as a plantation slave, Josiah Henson’s early years were not devoid of happiness. His mother raised him to be a devout Christian, teaching him about God and Christ and frequently reciting the Lord’s Prayer. His faith was of immense importance to him, and would direct his actions throughout his life.

When his master died, Josiah’s brothers and sisters were sold to various slave owners. As Josiah was the youngest of six siblings, his mother begged her new owner, Isaac Riley, to allow him to stay with her. When little Josiah fell ill in his mother’s absence, Riley purchased him from the owner to which he had been sold on the condition that he labour in the fields.

Josiah and his mother were relocated fifty miles north to Riley’s farm, situated north of Washington, D.C. Josiah grew into an athletic and intelligent young man. He also proved to be an industrious and resourceful worker, and Isaac Riley took note of his strong character. Over the years, he climbed the ranks of the slave hierarchy, eventually becoming the farm’s overseer. When he was 22 years old, he married a woman from a neighbouring family. The couple would eventually have twelve children together.

In 1825, Isaac Riley was sued by his brother-in-law and was forced to lend out some of his slaves. With tears in his eyes, he begged Josiah Henson, the only of his slaves that he could trust, to march eighteen of his fellow inmates across what is now West Virginia to his brother’s plantation in Kentucky. Henson did as his master requested, ignoring the tempting opportunity to slip into Ohio, a free state, out a sense of duty. When they finally reached Kentucky, Henson and his charges became the temporary property of Isaac’s brother, Amos.

In later life, Henson expressed some regret for denying his brother slaves the opportunity to escape, writing:

“I have often had painful doubts as to the propriety of my carrying so many other individuals into slavery again, and my consoling reflecting has been, that I acted as I thought at the time was best.”

Escape to Freedom

While working for Amos Riley, Henson met a Methodist Episcopal preacher who began to teach him his profession. In 1825, the preacher suggested a clever method by which Henson might earn his freedom in a manner satisfying his sense of honour. Seeing that Henson was an intelligent man and a gifted orator, he suggested that he ask Amos Riley for permission to visit his old master. On the road to Maryland, he could deliver sermons, for which grateful audiences would give him donations. He could then use these donations to buy his freedom from Isaac Riley.

Josiah Henson took the preacher’s advice and, with Amos’ permission, made his way back to Maryland, preaching as he went. His sermons earned him $350. When he returned to Isaac’s farm, he offered his master all his savings, as well as an additional $100 which he would pay with his labour, in exchange for his freedom. Riley took Henson’s money and agreed to his proposal, but not before duplicitously adding an addition ‘0’ to the contract, requiring Henson to give him $1000-worth of his labour rather than the $100 originally agreed upon. Dejected, Henson returned to Amos Riley’s Kentucky farm.

In 1830, Josiah Henson accompanied Amos Riley on a trip, at the end of which Henson suspected Riley might sell him to another owner, thus separating him from his wife and children. One night, while Riley was asleep, Henson grabbed an axe and prepared to murder his master so that he might escape this fate and flee to Canada with his family. As he raised the axe, he remembered his Christian values and decided to let Riley live. Riley subsequently became gravely ill, and only managed to survive due to Henson’s ministrations. The sale of Henson to another slave owner, if indeed that was the purpose of Riley’s business venture, never took place.

Upon returning to Amos Riley’s farm, Henson- along with his wife, Nancy, and their four children- escaped and made for Upper Canada, where slavery was all but outlawed, via the Underground Railroad. Henson carried his two youngest children on his back in a crude knapsack made from a single sheet of cloth.

A humorous incident occurred on their trip to Canada, which Henson related in a later reminiscence:

“We had not gone far, and I suppose it was about three o’clock in the afternoon, when we discerned some persons approaching us at no great distance. We were instantly on the alert, as we could hardly expect them to be friends. The advance of a few paces showed me they were Indians, with packs on their shoulders; and they were so near that if they were hostile it would be useless to try to escape. So I walked along boldly, till we came close upon them. They were bent down with their burdens, and had not raised their eyes till now; and when they did so, and saw me coming towards them, they looked at me in a frightened sort of way for a moment, and then, setting up a peculiar howl, turned round, and ran as fast as they could. There were three or four of them, and what they were afraid of I could not imagine, unless they supposed I was the devil, whom they had perhaps heard of as black. But even then, one would have thought my wife and children might have reassured them. However, there was no doubt they were well frightened, and we heard their wild and prolonged howl, as they ran, for a mile or more…

“As we advanced, we could discover Indians peeping at us from behind the trees, and dodging out of sight if they thought we were looking at them. Presently we came upon their wigwams, and saw a fine-looking, stately Indian, with his arms folded, waiting for us to approach. He was, apparently, the chief; and, saluting us civilly, he soon discovered we were human beings, and spoke to his young men, who were scattered about, and made them come in and give up their foolish fears.

“And now curiosity seemed to prevail. Each one wanted to touch the children, who were as shy as partridges with their long life in the woods; and as they shrunk away, and uttered a little cry of alarm, the Indian would jump back too, as if he thought they would bit him.”

When the natives sufficiently acquainted themselves with the strange-looking newcomers, they treated them to a bountiful meal and gave them the use of one of their wigwams for the night.

Life in Canada

When they finally arrived in Canada, Josiah Henson and his family found employment on a succession of farms near Fort Erie (a town situated at the head of the Niagara River), the westerly city of Waterloo (adjacent to Kitchener, Ontario), and the southerly community of Colchester (on the northwestern shores of Lake Erie). When they had saved sufficient money, the Henson family established Dawn, a black community situated between Lakes Huron and Erie. There, Henson founded a vocational school for black labourers, believing that African-American refugees to Canada ought to hone their occupational skills before attempting to integrate into Canadian society.

Henson’s institution flourished, and in no time, Dawn boasted a population of 500. Under Henson’s guidance, the townspeople established a sawmill, which they used to mill local black walnut wood for export to Britain and the United States. Henson himself resumed work as a Methodist preacher, a vocation he had begun on Amos Riley’s farm, and began to speak publicly in favour of American abolition.

The Upper Canada Rebellion

In early December, 1837, a thousand American-born Upper Canadians, angry at the colonial British government for denying them political rights, assembled at a Toronto tavern. About 600 of them, under the leadership of Scottish-born politician William Lyon Mackenzie, armed themselves with hunting muskets and pitchforks and marched down Yonge Street, where they engaged in a minor skirmish with a much smaller government force.

Word of the revolt spread quickly throughout Upper Canada, and soon a thousand local settlers volunteered to help take back the tavern. Among these volunteers were hundreds of black militiamen who, knowing that Mackenzie’s rebellion was backed by American expansionists, would do anything to ensure that Upper Canada kept from falling into the hands of the United States. One of these black militiamen was Josiah Henson, who led a unit comprised of his fellow Dawn settlers.

Mackenzie’s rebels scattered in the face of the thousand-man militia that marched to oppose them and the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, as it was called, ended as quickly as it began. Far from abandoning his crusade, however, William Lyon Mackenzie began preparing for another assault on Upper Canada’s colonial government. Aided by the United States, Mackenzie commissioned a crew of rebels with ferrying troops and supplies from Detroit to the proximate district of Sandwich (present-day Windsor, Ontario), on the other side of the Detroit River.

Exactly a month after Mackenzie’s failed uprising, Josiah Henson led fifty black militiamen in capturing the Ann, the ship the rebels had been using to transport their American supplies to Sandwich. This victory was a major blow to Mackenzie’s cause, constituting a substantial nail in the coffin of his rebellion.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

In 1841, Josiah Henson and his family moved to Dresden, Ontario. The following year, he established the British-American Institute, a school for all ages intended to provide a general education to fugitive slaves.

In 1849, Josiah Henson published his memoirs, entitled The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself. At that time, Henson himself had not yet learned to read and write. He was able to get his story into print by dictating it to Samuel A. Eliot, a former mayor of Boston, Massachusetts, well known for his opposition to slavery.

Henson’s story, in part, inspired U.S. novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), an American classic which helped turn American popular opinion in favour of abolition. Uncle Tom’s Cabin would become the second best-selling book in American in the 19th Century, eclipsed only by the Bible. Many believed that Stowe’s book was an integral impetus for the abolitionist movement which led to the American Civil War. The novel’s titular character, the selfless, devoutly Christian Uncle Tom, is based on Josiah Henson.

Legacy

The success of Stowe’s book prompted Henson to republish his memoirs under the title Truth Stranger Than Fiction: Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life (1858). Henson wrote a second, more detailed autobiography, entitled Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life: An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson, in 1876.

On May 5, 1883, 93-year-old Josiah Henson passed away in his home in Dresden, Ontario. A century after his death, the portrait of this celebrated Canadian hero was featured on a Canadian 32 cent stamp, making Josiah Henson the first black Canadian to acquire this distinction. Today, the home of Henson’s former master, Isaac Riley, (known locally as ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site, located near Dresden, Ontario, is dedicated to his memory.

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Famous Black Canadians: 7/10: Nathaniel Dett

Back to Ten Famous Black Canadians.

R. Nathaniel Dett

Robert Nathaniel Dett was born on October 11, 1882, in the village of Drummondville, Ontario, not far from Niagara Falls. His parents were both African American refugees who had fled from the U.S.A. to Canada via the Underground Railroad.

Dett displayed an aptitude for music from a young age and began taking piano lessons at the age of five. When he was sixteen years old, he found employment as an organist at the British Methodist Episcopal Church at Niagara Falls, Ontario- an occupation that he would retain for four years. The church hymns that he played, along with the African American folk songs and spirituals that he learned from his grandmother at home, imbued him with a deep respect for and partiality towards African American sacred music.

In 1907, Nathaniel Dett earned a Bachelor of Music degree, with a double major in piano performance and composition, from the Oberlin (Ohio) Conservatory of Music. He subsequently acquired a succession of piano teaching positions in Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee; at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri; and at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. In 1913, he was promoted to Director of Music at Hampton University, becoming the first African American to hold that position.

Education

Nathaniel Dett’s piano teaching career was punctuated by spells in which Dett would further his own musical education. From 1920 to 1921, he studied with Bostonian composer Arthur Foote at Harvard University, and in 1929, he studied under French composer Nadia Boulanger at the Chateau de Fontainebleau in Paris, France. Before finally obtaining his Masters of Music degree at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, in 1932, he studied with fellow African American musician Emma Azalia Hackley. Hackley displayed immense pride in her heritage and encouraged Dett to allow his roots to influence his own composition.

Musical Compositions

Despite his long career as a piano teacher, Nathaniel Dett is best known for his musical compositions, most of which were piano and choral pieces. Like Antonin Dvorak of Czechoslovakia and Richard Wagner of Germany, Dett drew upon the folk songs of his ancestors, immortalizing the African American spirituals of his people with ink and paper. Dett succinctly summarized the philosophy behind his crusade to transcribe the oral melodies of black Americans in the title of a 1918 essay that he wrote for Hampton University: The Emancipation of Negro Music. He elaborated upon this philosophy in The Emancipation, writing:

“We have this wonderful store of folk music- the melodies of an enslaved people… But this store will be of no value unless we utilize it, unless we treat it in such manner that it can be presented in choral form, in lyric and operatic works, in concertos and suites and salon music- unless our musical architects take the rough timber of Negro themes and fashion from it music which will prove that we, too, have national feelings and characteristics, as have the European peoples whose forms we have zealously followed for so long.”

Throughout the course of his life, Dett published around 100 compositions. These included 46 choral works, 23 vocal solos, 12 piano solos, 5 piano suits, 2 collections of spirituals, and 1 oratorio. The most famous of these include:

  • Chariot Jubilee: Motet for Tenor Solo and Chorus of Mixed Voices
  • The Ordering of Moses: An Oratorio From Scripture and Folklore
  • Listen to the Lambs
  • Somebody’s Knocking at Your Door
  • I’m So Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always
  • Don’t Be Weary, Traveler
  • Religious Folk-Songs of the Negro as Sung at Hampton Institute
  • The Dett Collection of Negro Spirituals

Although Nathaniel Dett was a vigorous champion of the composition and transcription of African America sacred music, he was just as energetically opposed to its influence by ragtime and swing, considering such influences sacrilegious and denigrating to the religious services which they were meant to compliment.

Legacy

During World War II, Nathaniel Dett joined the United Service Organization (USO)- a non-profit that provided entertainment to U.S. military forces and their families- in the capacity of a choral advisor. On October 2, 1943, while on tour with the USO, he died of a heart attack. His body was brought to his hometown, Niagara Falls, Ontario, and buried beside his wife, Helen Smith (a fellow African-American composer and the first black graduate of what would become the Julliard School), and his two daughters. Today, the Niagara Falls church in which he once played the organ (Nathaniel Dett British Methodist Episcopal Church, a Canadian National Historic Site since 2001) and a Canadian choral group called the Nathaniel Dett Chorale are named in his honour.

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Kelly Chamandy- Canada’s Last Bear Oil Salesman

Kelly Chamandy- Canada’s Last Bear Oil Salesman

If you’re a fan of old Westerns, chances are that you’re familiar with the snake oil salesman- the slick confidence man who rides into town with a cart filled with worthless patent medicines, falsely accredits his potions with curative properties, sells his wares to a handful of gullible customers, and hits the trail before his deception can be found out. This character derives from actual 19th Century American quack doctors who passed bottles of mineral oil off as genuine snake oil- a traditional Chinese medicine.

A few weeks ago, my friend, Kevin Guhl, while working on a fascinating research project that will knock the socks off the Fortean community, came across the tale of Kelly Chamandy, Canada’s most famous bear oil salesman. Chamandy was a 20th Century woodsman from northern Ontario who garnered international renown for selling bottles of black bear grease to balding men and women, alleging that his ursine pomade helped to reverse hair loss. Quite unjustly, I was quick to categorize him as a sort of Canadian snake oil salesman- an unscrupulous businessman who preyed on people’s hopes and fears in the pursuit of profit. A closer look at this most colourful of characters, however, reveals another picture entirely.

Early Life

Kelly Chamandy was born in 1902 in the city of North Bay, Ontario, on the northern shores of Lake Nipissing. His father, A.K. Chamandy, was a Syrian peddler who named his son after his friend and neighbour, an Irishman who had treated him and his wife kindly upon their immigration to Canada.

When he was still a young boy, Kelly’s family moved 370 kilometres north to the town of Cochrane, Ontario, where his father opened his first store. There, at the age of six, while riding in a packsack on the back of a Cree Indian, he saw his first black bear- an animal around which his life would come to revolve.

The Fur Trade

When he came of age, Kelly headed to the woods of Northern Ontario and became a fur trader. His subsequent adventures formed the basis of many a tale, both tall and true, to which he would often treat visitors to his store.

One of these stories involved an incident that took place during a bear hunt, which Kelly undertook with a fellow fur trader and several Inuit friends in James Bay (the southern appendage of Hudson Bay). This was no mere black bear hunt, Kelly was quick to assure his audience. “Hunting blacks is a pushover,” he would say. “It is the polars and grizzlies which are a man’s job.”

On this hunting trip, while boating along the coast of North Twin Island (a large isle in the middle of James Bay), Kelly and his companions saw a huge polar bear with her cub walking along the shore. Brandishing spears, the Inuit disembarked with three of their dogs and prepared to hunt the mother bear the traditional way.

“A polar bear always lunges to the left,” Kelly told Don Deleplante, a writer for Maclean’s magazine who interviewed him in the early 1950s. “The Eskimos timed their thrusts for this movement which they knew would occur… The bear seemed to be on one man, then another, but always the dogs leaped in in time. The courage of the little men before the white monster was fantastic.”

One of the hunters finally managed to kill the bear by planting the butt of his spear into the ground and swinging the business end towards the bear as it barreled towards him. “The bear impaled itself on a blade two and a half feet long and smashed the haft with the force of the charge. The sons ran after the cub and killed it. The three laughed like madmen.”

Another tale with which Kelly would often regale tourists was the story of a wrestling match that he claimed to have won against a bear during a springtime business trip to a Cree village. While attempting to cross a steam, he leapt from a high rock to a ledge on the bank. Upon landing, he found himself sharing the ledge with an enormous grizzly which had been looming over the water with its paw extended, attempting to catch fish. The ledge was too high to jump from, and the bear was blocking the only exit. When Kelly cautiously approached the animal, it lunged at him.

For about thirty seconds, Kelly Chamandy- a burly, bearlike man himself, with broad shoulders and thick, muscular arms- grappled with the monster. Finally, he pressed his back against the rock wall behind him and delivered a two-footed kick to the bear’s belly, sending the bruin behemoth crashing into the stream below.

“Say,” Chamandy would say at the end of his incredible tale, “don’t believe that story about the bear fishing by standing watch over a stream and knocking the fish from the water by a sweep of its paw. A bear dives right in to get fish.”

Kelly Chamandy eventually established an independent fur trading post in the town of Moosonee, about twelve miles up the Moose River from James Bay. There, in the late 1930s, he met a tall, grey-eyed woman named Frances Violet Pullen. Ten years his junior, Frances was the daughter of a local railway foreman. Kelly courted and married Frances, and a year later, the couple had their first child- a son named Monty.

Misfortune and Disaster

About a month after Monty’s birth, Kelly Chamandy reported on the dramatic rescue of a 15-man French-Canadian survey team, the members of which nearly starved to death in the frozen muskeg country of Northern Quebec, having failed to find the food cache that had been prepared for them on account of heavy snowfall. Chamandy interviewed 32-year-old Leo Bernier, the most emaciated of the crew, while he lay on a bed in a Moosonee inn. Bernier’s account, which Kelly translated from French to English, was published in the January 3, 1938 issue of the Ottawa Evening Citizen.

A year and a half later, Kelly Chamandy had his own brush with disaster. In early July, 1939, Kelly, his wife Frances, and their 17-month-old son Monty- along with four Cree employees named Tom Linklater, Willie Isserhoff, John Wesley, and Alec Simion- set out on a fur-buying trip. They piled into the Kittiwake, a 40-foot-long fishing boat which Kelly had purchased shortly after his wedding, and headed down the Moose River into James Bay, bound for the Cree village of Attawapiskat. While they were on the water, a ferocious gale blew in from the north and inflicted serious damage upon Chamandy’s vessel. The crew was forced to abandon the craft and row for shore in a canoe. Although the seven passengers safely made landfall at a place called Partridge Creek, the Kittiwake was wrecked beyond repair, bringing $35,000-worth of Kelly Chamandy’s trade goods with it to the bottom of James Bay.

Six months later, Chamandy was hit with another misfortune: his family’s cabin at Moosonee mysteriously burned to the ground. By that time, war had broken out in Europe, and in order to both support his family (which would soon gain another member, baby Ulna) and serve his country, Kelly Chamandy enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

When he finally came home for good at the end of the war, Kelly Chamandy was bald as an egg. Taking the advice of his Cree friends, he began massaging rendered bear fat into his scalp and, lo and behold, his hair began to grow back! The state of his pate, his Syrian peddler heritage, and his wilderness experience gave him a brilliant idea which led to his entrance into an ancient, unconventional, and all-but-forgotten industry: the bear grease market.

Kelly Chamandy’s Bear Grease

From the mid-1600s until the end of the 19th Century, many wealthy Europeans anointed their scalps and greased their whiskers with the rendered fat of Russian brown bears, hoping that the tallow contained the same mysterious property which gave bears their thick winter coats. Antiquated though it was, this practice was by no means obsolete by the time Kelly Chamandy decided to enter the market in the 1940s. He promptly opened a store in the hamlet of Ramore, Ontario, located about 200 miles south of Moosonee, and began to make his own bear grease, rendering the fat of black bears he killed in the late summer or early fall, right before hibernation, in a washtub over his cabin’s wood stove. No sooner had he set up shop than his bottles began to fly off the shelf. In no time, Kelly Chamandy was selling his exotic commodity to clients from all over North America, the going price being $1.50 for an eight-ounce jar.

“I don’t claim that bear grease grows hair, nor cures aches and pains,” Kelly Chamandy once said of his pungent product. “But my customers claim it does. Who am I to call them liars?”

One Manitoba newspaper quoted him as saying: “I got bald as a billiard ball myself in the air force during the war, when I could not get the grease. Now my own hair is starting to come back. Maybe it’s the change of diet, but then again, maybe it’s the bear grease.”

Although Kelly may not have outright ascribed his bear grease with follicle-friendly features, he was not beyond dropping some not-so-subtle hints to the same effect. “Have you ever seen a bald-headed Indian?” he would often ask tourists, before explaining that natives from the prairies to the Great Lakes would often work bear oil into their long hair to make it shine.

Baldness was not the only ailment for which Kelly Chamandy’s bear oil was used to affect a cure. Customers also used the grease to combat rheumatism, arthritis, and muscle aches, and applied it as a lubricant, waterproofing agent, and conditioner to everything from fishing lines to boot leather.

Kelly Chamandy soon expanded his product line, becoming Canada’s only licenced purveyor of bear, beaver, muskrat, and raccoon meat. He sold his bear and beaver meat at 35 cents a pound, and retailed his untanned pelts for up to $25. He also sold bear gallbladders and left forepaws to Chinese merchants, bear bile and bear paw soup being rare and expensive ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine, as well as live black bear cubs, whom gas station, restaurant, and hotel owners purchased in the hope of attracting patrons to their establishments. Soon, Kelly’s profits allowed him to open a gas station, a trading post, a general store, and a museum, his main articles for sale and display being Inuit soapstone and ivory carvings which he purchased from his old fur trade friends.

The Giant Owl

In the spring of 1951, Kelly Chamandy offered a $100 reward to anyone who could bring him the carcass of an enormous black bird that had been harassing Northern Ontario livestock; apparently, he thought that the monster would make a nice addition to his museum. Ted Lind and Howard McDonald were two farmers who claimed to have seen the bird about 50 miles east of Timmins, Ontario (i.e. in the vicinity of Ramore). They described the bird as having huge talons, a hooked beak, jet black feathers, and the likeness of an owl, and claimed that it was four feet tall with a 9-foot wingspan. Lind suspected that the avian colossus had snatched up fish and meat that he had strung up beyond the reach of wolves; all that survived of his catch were the tattered remains of the half-inch rope from which he had suspended it. Chamandy himself maintained that the bird had yellow eyes “the size of silver dollars”, and was “large enough to carry off a small cow”.

Within a few days, Kelly Chamandy upped the bounty to $150 on the condition that the bird be captured alive. According to an article in the Pittsburgh Press, the entrepreneur feared that his initial offer would prompt locals to “commit wholesale slaughter of birds, shooting first and examining them afterwards”. To the best of this author’s knowledge, the fate of the monstrous bird remains a mystery.

Marketing Schemes

The international attention garnered by his big bird bounty may have been the inspiration for a series of ingenious marketing ploys that Kelly Chamandy conducted in the 1950s, in which he sent bottles of his bear oil to famous public figures. In around 1951, for example, he sent a large bottle of bear grease to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, whose receding hairline had attracted his attention. “I got no answer from the President,” Chamandy once said of the scheme, “but the grease wasn’t returned.”

Later on, in 1952, Kelly sent a jar to U.S. Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower as an inauguration present (Eisenhower was elected U.S. President in the fall of 1952). He never received a reply.

Two years later, in the summer of 1954, Kelly sent a bottle of bear grease to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, whose hair appeared to be thinning. This time, he promptly received a Royal letter from the Honourable Michael Parker, the Duke’s Private Secretary, thanking him for his concern and assuring him that “there is no cause for worry”.

Later Life

In the 1960s, the middle-aged entrepreneur relocated with his wife to the city of Kitchener, Ontario, in order to be closer to his two children, both of whom had moved there. There, he began selling some of his old Inuit art to high-end gift shops. “The prices I can get for this stuff today…” he remarked to a journalist, shaking his head in amazement. “I remember when my store was half full of it and I couldn’t give it away.”

On February 24, 1966, after successfully bidding for a truckload of abandoned bicycles at a police auction, 64-year-old Kelly Chamandy suddenly died of a heart attack, leaving behind his wife, Frances; his children, Monty and Ulna; and a legacy of happy customers with heads full of hair and hearts full of gratitude for the services rendered by Canada’s last bear oil salesman.

 

Sources

  • “Reward Offered for Huge Bird of Prey”, in the April 17, 1951 issue of the Boston Daily Globe; courtesy of Kevin Guhl
  • “Famed Ontario Trader Kelly Chamandy Dead”, in the March 3, 1966 issue of The Brandon Suncourtesy of Kevin Guhl
  • “Kelly Chamandy”, in the February 24, 1966 issue of The Gazette (Montreal)courtesy of Kevin Guhl
  • “Come-back Seen for Bear Grease”, in the July 18, 1951 issue of The Gazette (Montreal)courtesy of Kevin Guhl
  • “Lost Surveyors Rescued from Peril in North: Weak and Foodless Quebec Crew Cries With Joy When Flier Finds Them in Frozen Muskeg Country. Fifteen Men Lived 39 Days on Flesh of 14 Rabbits. Prayed for Help Since Food Ran Out”, in the January 3, 1938 issue of The Ottawa Evening Citizencourtesy of Kevin Guhl
  • “Make Escape as Storm Wrecks Boats”, in the July 11, 1939 issue of The Ottawa Evening Citizencourtesy of Kevin Guhl
  • “Mysterious Bird Four Feet High in Timmins Area”, in the April 15, 1961 issue of The Journal (Ottawa)courtesy of Kevin Guhl
  • “Trader Dead”, in the February 28, 1966 issue of the Ottawa Journalcourtesy of Kevin Guhl
  • “Sends Bear Grease to Philip as Hair Restorer”, in the March 28, 1955 issue of the Ottawa Journalcourtesy of Kevin Guhl
  • “Bear Business Bad”, in the June 24, 1954 issue of The Ottawa Journalcourtesy of Kevin Guhl
  • “$100 Reward Offered for Giant Bird of Prey” in the April 17, 1951 issue of The Pittsburgh Presscourtesy of Kevin Guhl
  • “Worth $150 Mystery Bird Said Buzzard”, in the April 19, 1951 issue of The Windsor Starcourtesy of Kevin Guhl
  • “Mystery Bird Four Feet Tall, Like Huge Owl”, in the April 17, 1951 issue of the Windsor Daily Starcourtesy of Kevin Guhl
  • “You Can’t Beat Kelly’s Bear Grease”, by Don Delaplante in the April 1, 1953 issue of Maclean’s magazine
  • “Kelly Chamandy: Bald Northerner Trader Sold Bear Grease Hair Restorer”, by Don Delaplante

 

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The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 10- Fingers Made of Stone

The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 10- Fingers Made of Stone

The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 6, Episode 10 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!]

 

 

Plot Summary

The Lagina brothers visit Smith’s Cove, where Billy Gerhardt, Terry Matheson, and Laird Niven have fully uncovered the mysterious underground wall discovered the previous episode. Niven tells the brothers his theory regarding the structure’s formation, saying, “Basically, they crudely tapered the boards, drove them into the C horizon [the substratum, or layer of unweathered rocks beneath the subsoil], ‘til they kind of curled up and stopped.” Matheson then proposes that “somebody dug on the shoreward side of this structure” and tried to pack its base and sides with clay.

In an interview, Marty Lagina expresses frustration at this new discovery, remarking: “These walls don’t appear to be consistent in material, they don’t appear to be consistent in construction, [and] they don’t give away, in an obvious sense, what on earth their purpose was.” Rick Lagina, however, remains optimistic, stating that they might find additional clues in Smith’s Cove which might help to shed some light on this new mystery.

Later, Alex Lagina, Doug Crowell, and Paul Troutman drive to the Lordly House in Chester, Nova Scotia- a museum dedicated to the preservation of local heritage. There, they gain access to the museum’s documents on Oak Island and begin to read through them. Troutman quickly unearths a letter written by Gilbert Hedden (a former Oak Island treasure hunter) to his lawyer, R.V. Harris, in 1936, in which he describes his discovery of an underground wooden structure in Smith’s Cove. In his letter, Hedden includes a diagram of the structure, which bears inscriptions of Roman numerals similar to the U-shaped structure.

Doug Crowell then announces that he discovered an article in the February 19, 1863 issue of the Yarmouth Herald which describes the “finger drains” discovered by the Truro Company in 1850, which some suspect were created to divert seawater into the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel. According to the article:

“… five small drains were discovered on the shore due east of the money pit, below high water mark; these drains were each sixty-six feet long, the outer ends of these two outside drains were exactly sixty-six feet apart, and the whole five converged to a point four feet wide, thus forming (between the outside ends of the two outer ones, and the point from which they all radiated) an equilateral triangle.”

Crowell remarks that these finger drains would fit inside the U-shaped structure, and suggests that the U-shaped structure constitutes the remains of a cofferdam used by either the box drains’ original builders or by treasure hunters who attempted to dismantle them.

The Yarmouth Herald article continues thus:

“These drains were all built upon beach stones, carefully laid down for the space of one-fourth of an acre or more, and were made by placing two flat stones on their edges, open at the bottom and enclosed at the top; against the ends of these, two more were placed in like manner, and so on for the whole three hundred and thirty feet; wherever there was a joint in the stones, one was laid across, protecting the joint, and the whole was covered over with a foreign grass, like the inside of a cocoa nut [sic] husk.”

Later, the Oak Island crew congregates at the Mug & Anchor Pub in Mahone Bay. Doug Crowell relates the recent discovery of the 1863 newspaper article, whereupon Marty Lagina affirms that the article’s description of the finger drains being 66 feet apart corresponds with the dimensions of the U-shaped structure, which measures “20 metres [65.6 feet] across the leading edge”. Crowell then relates the article’s description of the finger drains, and suggests that if they find an abundance of flat stones at Smith’s Cove, they may constitute the remains of finger drains which were dismantled by previous searchers. The treasure hunters agree that further excavation is required at Smith’s Cove.

The next morning, Craig Tester meets with gyroscopic technology expert Tory Martin at the Money Pit area. Martin inserts a downhole gyroscope into DPC-1 (one of the exploratory drillholes which was intended to intersect the Shaft 6 tunnel) in order to determine how straight it is. “When they’re putting these shafts down,” explains Tester in a later interview, “they do deviate quite a bit. [Oil and gas] wells deviate like crazy, and the smaller the pipe is, like they used many years ago, the more it will deviate.”

Following the operation, Martin explains that DPC-1 deviated 8.7 feet east and 4 feet north”. At the 100-foot depth, where Tester anticipated the presence of the Shaft 6 tunnel, the hole deviated 5.3 feet east and 2.5 feet north. Tester expresses some surprise at the degree of deviation and tasks Martin with conducting tests on the rest of the holes.

Later, Charles Barkhouse and Doug Crowell head to Smith’s Cove, where they begin to drain a pool of water which has collected beside the wooden wall. When Crowell voices his curiosity as to the structure’s purpose, Barkhouse suggests that it might have been created in an attempt to block the drains which fed the flood tunnel.

While Barkhouse mans the pump, Crowell observes a triangle-shaped opening between two stones from which seawater appears to be steadily trickling. The historian suggests that this triangular gap evokes the Yarmouth Herald’s description of the finger drains being “open at the top and closed and the bottom”. Crowell calls up Rick Lagina and informs him of the find. Rick comes to Smith’s Cove, examines the rocks, and concurs with Crowell’s suggestion that they might indeed comprise a section of the legendary box drains.

The rest of the team is called over, whereupon the rocks are cleaned off with water. Laird Niven then examines to formation in order to determine whether or not it is manmade. While Niven works, Charles Barkhouse discovers a handful of what appears to be coconut fibre in the depression near the base of the wooden wall. “There’s a whole bunch of it right in here,” he explains. “Like, a level of it”. The treasure hunters agree that the proximity of coconut fibre bolsters the notion that these rocks are indeed part of the finger drains and decide that further investigation is in order.

Later that day, Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Dan Henskee accompany gyroscope operator Tory Martin to a copse near the Money Pit area and the Old Well (the “Old Well” being a feature introduced by Fred Nolan in Season 3, Episode 8), where Martin happened to spy a strange stone in the grass. The stone has a flat face pocked with shallow markings and a long groove which Martin suggests might be weathered carvings. Rick Lagina splashes some water on the depressions, which indeed appear to be man-made markings.

That evening, Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, Terry Matheson, and Paul Troutman meet at the Oak Island Research Centre to discuss Martin’s new discovery. Matheson explains that the stone is metamorphosed grewacke, the second most common boulder on Oak Island (next to granite), and opines that the long groove on its surface appears to have been cut, while the other markings appear to have been chiselled. He further suggests that the stone may have once served as “a decorative piece at the base of a building block”. The treasure hunters agree that they ought to conduct a laser scan of this stone.

Several days later, Doug Crowell and Paul Troutman meet at the Oak Island Research Centre with Rob Hyslop and Ryan Levangie of Azimuth Consulting Ltd., the men who conducted the LIDAR scan of the supposed 90-foot stone in Season 6, Episode 8. Hyslop and Levangie coat the stone’s surface with a thin layer of talcum powder in order to increase its reflectivity before mapping it with their Trimble CX 3D laser scanner.

Meanwhile, Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Terry Matheson continue the excavation of Smith’s Cove. Using a backhoe, they quickly unearth three wooden boards which had been standing upright alongside each other similar to the wooden wall nearby. The bottoms of these boards have been fashioned into wedges, suggesting that they had been driven into the earth.

 

Analysis

The Smith’s Cove Skid

In this episode, Alex Lagina, Doug Crowell, and Paul Troutman discovered a 1936 letter written by Gilbert Hedden to his lawyer, R.V. Harris, in the Lordly House in Chester, Nova Scotia. In this letter, Hedden described his discovery of a subterranean wooden structure bearing Roman numerals in Smith’s Cove. The treasure hunters suspected that this wooden structure was built by the same people who constructed the U-shaped structure.

Hedden made this discovery, which he believed to be the remains of a wooden skid or pallet, in the late summer of 1936. In his words:

“[Two large timbers] were about four feet apart, roughly parallel, and were buried under about four feet of sand. The timbers were about fifteen inches in diameter at the butt, and were notched for a quarter of the circumference at about every four feet. In each notch was inserted a rather heavy wooden pin. Besides one of them we also found several wooden cross members about four feet long. They had the appearance of having been used as a skid at one time, though nobody at the island had ever heard of them.”

Decades later, Dan Blankenship and David Tobias of Triton Alliance discovered more wooden objects like this which, when put together, appeared to actually be the remains of an ancient cofferdam erected by either the original Money Pit builders or previous searchers.

Contemporary Description of the Finger Drains

In this episode, Doug Crowell unearthed an article in the February 19, 1863 issue of the Yarmouth Herald which appeared to be the earliest written reference to the drains which are believed to have funnelled water into the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel. This article described the stone drains as being “open at the bottom and enclosed at the top”. Doug Crowell interpreted this description as an implication that the drain hole was triangular in shape, and not rectangular, as the term ‘box drain’ (which the structures have often been called) implies. In accordance with this discovery, the narrator referred to the Smith’s Cove ‘box drains’ as “finger drains” throughout much of this episode.

The Finger Drain Discovery

While draining a pool of water at the base of the mysterious wooden wall at Smith’s Cove, Charles Barkhouse and Doug Crowell discovered two large rocks leaning against each other. Beneath the rocks’ intersection was a triangular hole from which water continually leaked. Crowell observed that this hole appeared to correspond with the aforementioned 1863 Yarmouth Herald’s description of the Smith’s Cove finger drains, and proposed that the rocks might indeed comprise a section of these drains. Charles Barkhouse’s discovery of coconut fibre nearby appears to bolster this theory.

Tory Martin’s Stone

Near the end of the episode, gyroscope operator Tory Martin, who was invited to the island to determine the straightness of several drillholes in the Money Pit area, happened upon a strange-looking stone near the Old Well (an Oak Island landmark introduced by Fred Nolan back in Season 3, Episode 8). That flat stone, which Terry Matheson determined to be made of metamorphosed grewacke, bears what appear to be man-made carvings. Specifically, these carvings include a long, deep horizontal line, along with many shorter perpendicular lines carved an inch or two away from the former. Rob Hyslop and Ryan Levangie of Azimuth Consulting Ltd. conducted a laser scan of this stone, the results from which they will likely reveal in the next episode.

 

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The Great Canadian Myth

The Great Canadian Myth

From Fox News to CNN, mainstream media outlets across North America are abuzz with the story of a tense encounter between a MAGA hat-wearing high school student and a drum-wielding Native American veteran which took place outside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., last Friday (January 18, 2019). The 17-year-old student, who attends Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, had travelled to Washington with his class in order to attend the March for Life, an annual pro-life rally. The 64-year-old Native American veteran, on the other hand, had come to the U.S. capital to attend the very first Indigenous People’s March, a political demonstration intended to draw attention to injustices perpetrated against indigenous peoples around the world. The two groups came into contact with each other, whereupon the two main characters of this story engaged in an awkward standoff in which the veteran sang and beat a hand drum close to the student’s face while the 17-year-old field-tripper stared at him, grinning.

Early reports of the incident were quick to denounce the student’s smirking as an example of the sort of disrespect which the Indigenous People’s March was intended to address, alleging that the student and his classmates had surrounded the veteran and his fellow Native American protestors before rudely mocking them and their traditional culture. Newly-released videos, however, clearly show that the veteran and his fellow protestors were the instigators of the encounter. During the strange stalemate that ensued, one of the protestors began hurling insults at the predominantly white high school students, shouting “this is not your land” and “go back to Europe”. The teenage students responded to these taunts by reciting their own high school spirit chant.

According to an introductory paragraph on this website’s homepage, MysteriesOfCanada.com was created back in 1998 in order to “help Canadians better understand the history, geography, myths and legends of their own country.” As such, I try to focus my articles on Canadian history and folklore, and often find myself referencing the mythology of various Canadian ethnic groups. Although the following piece may seem thematically incongruous with the articles that I usually post, I submit that it is not entirely out of place, as it addresses that which the official purpose of the Indigenous People’s March, the racially-charged invectives of the Native American protestor, and the mainstream media’s kneejerk reaction to the aforementioned story all evoke: a popular Canadian narrative which also happens to be one of Canada’s greatest myths.

 

The Great Canadian Myth

The truths that I will lay out in this article are uncomfortable, and I take no pleasure in writing them. I would much rather spend my time resurrecting an old Sasquatch story buried in some bygone men’s magazine or cobbling together a biography of a long-forgotten Canadian gunslinger. However, the perpetual reiteration of this Great Canadian Myth by the mainstream media and various provincial curricula, along with the negative consequences of the myth’s proliferation, has convinced me that history nerds like myself have a civic duty to at least attempt to set the record straight. So here goes!

The Great Canadian Myth that I will outline in this article can be distilled into five main points:

  1. Before the coming of the white man, Canada’s First Nations lived in peace and harmony with nature and with each other. The concept of personal property was foreign to them, and thus they shared the land and its resources freely with one another, devoid of any semblance of greed or jealousy.
  2. In the dim recesses of Canada’s past, European explorers appeared on Canada’s eastern shores and claimed the land they “discovered” for their respective monarchs. In the centuries that ensued, evil European colonists, consumed by greed, stole the land from the natives by force.
  3. In the 1880s, the Canadian government passed a law which decreed that all First Nations children be hauled from their families and thrown into residential schools, where they were forced to abandon their traditional cultures and assimilate into a European one. The horrors these native children endured at these residential schools, from brutal beatings to sexual abuse, were so traumatic that they prevented that entire generation, and all their succeeding generations, from getting back on their feet and enjoying happy, fulfilling lives in this new Europeanized Canada so different from the wild land that their ancestors knew. To this very day, First Nations communities across the country are rife with alcohol addiction, drug abuse, and suicide- all of these things after-effects of the residential schools and the callous brutality of the racist white colonizers who ran them.
  4. All white Canadians today are personally responsible for the current issues faced by various indigenous communities across the country, and are morally obliged to continually and eternally pay the First Nations reparations for their grievances via taxes.
  5. The aforementioned reparations will help Canada’s First Nations communities climb out of the slump in which they currently find themselves.

I will address each of these myths in the order in which I introduced them.

 

1. The Myth of the ‘Noble Savage’

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to flip through one of Alberta’s current elementary school Social Studies textbooks. In this book, I came across a three-page article detailing the Iroquois legend of the Great Peacemaker- a 15th Century prophet who united the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, and Cayuga Nations to form the mighty Iroquois Confederacy. The article was written in such a way that, to the Albertan elementary school student unfamiliar with the history of New France, it would likely convey the idea that the Iroquois were model peacemakers, and that the European colonists who ran roughshod over Canada’s First Nations throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries would have done well by taking a page or two from their book.

In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. The Iroquois were a ferocious and warlike people who constantly battled with their hereditary foes, the various Algonquin tribes that lived north of the St. Lawrence River. When New France was but a fantasy in the mind of Samuel de Champlain, the Iroquois were busy wiping out the Neutral Nation, an enemy tribe that lived between Lakes Huron, Erie, and Ontario. When Jesuit missionaries attempted to evangelize them in the 1600s, Iroquois braves tortured these men of cloth to death, burning them with red-hot tomahawk blades, stripping the flesh from their limbs to the bone, and mocking the sacrament of baptism by pouring boiling water over their heads. And when pregnant French women fell into their clutches following the 1689 Massacre of Lachine, they cut their unborn babies from their wombs, roasted them over a fire, and ate them before their very eyes. The idea that the Iroquois were champions of peace because a 15th Century medicine man brokered a powerful alliance between their five tribes is akin to the suggestion that the 13th Century Monglian warlord Genghis Khan ought to be accorded the same honour for uniting the tribes of Northeast Asia and establishing the Pax Mongolica in the wake of his bloody conquests.

While trivial, the little Social Studies lesson that I came across serves to illustrate the pervasiveness of the notion that Canada’s First Peoples lived an idyllic, harmonious existence prior to the arrival of the white man- a concept that is so fanciful as to border on absurd. Like nearly every society in the history of our species, the various cultures that constitute Canada’s pre-Columbian First Nations were riddled with practices and beliefs which would appall our modern Western sensibilities.

As an avid student of First Nations history and culture, and as a proud card-carrying member of the Metis Nation of Alberta, it is not at all my intention to malign Canada’s First Nations, some of whom were my ancestors. As such, I will dedicate no more words to this topic than are necessary, despite that frontier accounts of First Nations atrocities are sufficiently numerous to fill a book. To give a few more examples that illustrate my point: the Haida of the Pacific Northwest were notorious raiders and slavers; the Dene nations of the Canadian North treated their women like beasts of burden; and the Blackfoot of the Canadian prairies gloried in warfare and thievery. Suffice to say that Canada’s First Nations, prior to the settlement of the Canadian frontier, were no angels.

 

2. The Myth of the European Conquest

One popular facet of the Great Canadian Myth contends that evil European colonists stole the land from the indigenous peoples of the Americas- a belief epitomized by the Native American protester who shouted “this is not your land” and “go back to Europe” at the students of Covington Catholic High School. In order to determine the veracity of this notion, we must first examine the historic relationship between the indigenous people of the Americas and the continent which some modern aboriginals claim as their birthright.

Native Americans, of course, are not truly native to the Americas. The ancestors of most Amerindians are believed to have crossed an ancient bridge of land and ice, called Beringia, from Siberia to Alaska somewhere around 11,500 B.C. They were followed by the ancestors of the Dene Nations, who are believed to have made the same trans-Pacific journey between 10,000 and 8,000 B.C. The Dene, in turn, were followed by the ancestors of the modern Inuit, who migrated from Siberia to the Americas around 3,000 B.C.

Like every human civilization to walk the earth, the North American Indians have spent the past few thousand years engaged in endless intertribal warfare, violently displacing each other in a never-ending bid for greener pastures. In a sense, the French, English, and Spanish colonists who arrived on the eastern shores of the Americas several centuries ago were simply new tribes engaged in the same pursuit, their efforts aided by superior technology and the benefit of imperial support.

The notion that European colonists, upon establishing a foothold in the Americas, proceeded to steal native land by force has some merit in the United States, where the U.S. Army spent decades engaged in brutal Indian Wars with tribes opposed to their encroachment upon their hunting grounds. The same notion holds no water in Canada, however. The only First Nations to be truly conquered by the sword are the native allies of New France, who were finally subdued by the English at the end of the Seven Years’ War. Aside from the short-lived and relatively small-scale North-West Rebellion, there were no Indian Wars in Western Canada as there were in America’s Wild West; in the late 19th Century, after befriending the officers of the North West Mounted Police, the chiefs of the Blackfoot, the Plains Cree, and other western tribes peacefully settled onto Reserves, their traditional way of life having ended with the disappearance of the buffalo, a tragedy for which they were partly culpable.

 

3. The Legacy of Residential Schools

By the late 1800s, indigenous people all throughout Canada found themselves unable to make a living. Furs no longer fetched the prices they once did, and natives of Central Canada could no longer survive on trapping, the trade of their ancestors. Similarly, with the buffalo gone from the prairies, the natives of the Canadian Plains were forced to live off government handouts. The situation was grim for both the First Nations and the Canadian government.

In an effort to get the First Nations back on their feet and set them up for success in this new Canada, the Canadian government stipulated that the children of certain tribes attend church-run boarding schools, known today as residential schools. Unfortunately, these institutions largely failed in their mission to equip First Nations children for life in Canadian society. To make matters worse, native accounts of residential school life are filled with horror stories of child abuse- crimes which tragically seem to infiltrate even the highest-minded of institutions, from sports academies to Sunday schools.

Today, many First Nations communities across the country face serious problems. Among the most prominent of these is a lack of education. According to a study conducted by Statistics Canada in 2011, only 22.8% of Canada’s aboriginal peoples have completed high school and received some level of post-secondary education. To give this some context, a 2014 study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development concluded that 53% of Canadians aged 25-64 had received some level of “tertiary education”.

First Nations communities are also plagued by substance abuse and mental health issues. According to a 2009 report by Health Canada, the proportion of First Nations populations to report heavy drinking on a weekly basis is double that of general Canadian population, and according BC’s Mental Health and Substance Use Journal, First Nations members are twice as likely to commit suicide as the average Canadian.

Some other problems that disproportionately affect First Nations communities include drug abuse, obesity, domestic abuse, and unemployment.

According to the Great Canadian Myth, all of these problems are attributable to the childhood trauma experienced at residential schools, which had adverse effects on the mental and emotional development of generations of native students. A closer look at Canadian history, however, reveals several potential problems with this theory.

Native Americans were not the only Canadian ethnic groups to suffer widespread childhood trauma. During the so-called “Yellow Terror” of the late 19th Century, Chinese Canadians were treated horrendously by the Canadian government, being forced to live in abject poverty on account of steep head taxes and pitifully-low wages. During the Second World War, the Canadian government forcibly relocated Japanese Canadians to internment camps with atrocious living conditions, where children were frequently separated from their families. Perhaps the most traumatized racial group in history, through no fault of the Canadian government, were Ashkenazi Jews, who were killed by the millions in Nazi death camps during the Holocaust. After WWII, many Holocaust survivors immigrated to Canada.

Despite that Chinese, Japanese, and Jewish Canadians all suffered a considerable degree of childhood trauma at one time or another, these racial groups are now among the most successful ethnicities in the entire country. Could it be that Indian residential schools were so much more traumatic than the early Chinese-Canadian experience, Japanese internment camps, and the Holocaust? Or is it possible that there are other factors at play?

 

4. The ‘Sins of the Father’ Fallacy

The words “this is not your land” and “go back to Europe”, which one of the Native American protestors addressed to the Covington kids, echoes a widely held yet seldom spoken tenet of the Great Canadian Myth: that all white Canadians, by dint of their skin colour, are in some way responsible for and morally obliged to remedy the injustices perpetrated by their 17th, 18th, and 19th Century ancestors. In addition to being nonsensical, this argument fails to consider the facts that many 17th, 18th, and 19th Century Irish and French-Canadian settlers were themselves powerless victims of imperial oppression, and that the ancestors of a great number of Caucasian Canadians immigrated to the New World in the 20th Century, long after said injustices were committed.

 

5. The Reparations Fallacy

Perhaps the most destructive facet of the Great Canadian Myth is the idea that Canada’s suffering First Nations communities will somehow benefit from additional reparations, courtesy of the Canadian tax payer. This notion ignores what I believe to be the real reasons behind the suffering of Canada’s aboriginal people, namely a lack of incentive and cultural self-esteem, for which the Canadian government is entirely responsible.

In the late 1800s, when many Canadian First Nations lost the ability to make their own living, the Canadian government shuffled the last of them onto Reserves and hauled their children off to residential schools. In accordance with human nature, the natives whose needs the Canadian government provided for had little incentive to work. Even if some of them had retained a desire for productive exercise, they lacked the ability to engage in it; unable to hunt due to a scarcity of game and forbidden from warfare and certain religious ceremonies by Canadian law, these people lost their capacity to cultivate virtue in the manner with which they were accustomed. Forced into a life of purposeless indolence, many of them naturally fell into depression and vice- traps from which many of their descendants today have yet to escape.

 

Why the Myth Needs to End

Despite the good intentions which might have led to its creation, the Great Canadian Myth has some devastating consequences for both native and white Canadians.

The myth’s obvious adverse effects on white Canucks are illustrated perfectly by the case of the Covington boys. Although the Covington kids were neither the instigators of the confrontation for which they have become infamous nor the perpetrators of the racist acts with which they were initially accused, the media was quick to demonize them solely on the basis of their skin colour. They have since become the target of merciless name-calling by hordes of ill-informed social media users whose opinion of them was formed by the erroneous first reports. They have received death threats, some of them terrifyingly graphic in nature, and have had their names undeservedly tarnished. A cloud for which they were in no way responsible will hang over their heads for the rest of their lives.

As terrible as they are, the negative consequences of the Great Canadian Myth on white Canucks pale in comparison to the devastation that this popular fantasy wreaks upon Canada’s First Nations. The twisted logic of the Great Canadian Myth advocates perpetuating the residential system and pouring money into First Nations communities- an approach which will only exacerbate the suffering of Canada’s indigenous peoples for the reasons mentioned in the previous section. Instead of offering a helping hand to Canada’s First Peoples, it only succeeds in strengthening the bars of the cage in which they are trapped.

It’s high time that we expose this massive misconception for what it really is and make Canada a better place for both natives and whites.

 

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The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 9- As Above, So Below

The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 9- As Above, So Below

The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 6, Episode 9 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!]

 

 

Plot Summary

The Oak Island crew continues their massive excavation at Smith’s Cove, uncovering more of the U-shaped structure rediscovered the previous episode. Charles Barkhouse discovers the Roman numerals ‘XI’ and ‘XII’ carved into one of the structure’s arms.

Terry Matheson observes that the U-shaped structure appears to be ensconced in “clay-rich till”, evoking the blue clay allegedly found in the Money Pit by the Onslow Company in the early 1800s.

Just before the U-shaped structure is completely uncovered, Gary Drayton examines it with his metal detector and finds it to be completely absent of metal. This finding accords with Dan Blankenship’s discovery that the structure appeared to be fastened together with wooden pegs. Rick Lagina, in a later interview, suggests that the absence of metal is perhaps an indication that the U-shaped structure is “very old”.

Upon fully uncovering the structure, the treasure hunters ponder whether the artifact constitutes the leavings the Truro Company or the original depositors. They agree that they ought to dig deeper in the area which the structure encloses.

The following day, Marty Lagina meets with Laird Niven at Smith’s Cove. Using a measuring tape, the two men ascertain the length of the three sides of the U-shaped structure and determine the dimensions of the area which the structure encloses. We learn that the eastern arm of the structure measures 65’5’’ in length.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Oak Island team meet with Rob Hyslop and Ryan Levangie of Azimuth Consulting Ltd. in the War Room. There, Hyslop and Levangie present the findings of the 3D scan of the supposed 90-foot stone which they conducted in the previous episode. First, they suggest that the ‘N’ carved onto the rock’s surface might actually be an upside-down ‘A’. Then they inform the crew that they were unable to make out any additional inscriptions on the stone’s surface, but suggest that more advanced technology may be able to reveal these inscriptions if they indeed exist.

Later, Jack Begley and Gary Drayton meet with diver Tony Sampson at a nearby marina. Begley and Drayton board Sampson’s boat and have him ferry them to Apple Island, an area of interest on Travis Taylor’s star map, introduced on Season 6, Episode 7. At the coordinates indicated on Taylor’s map, the treasure hunters discover three large boulders.

Following that discovery, the treasure hunters push on into the island’s interior. Gary Drayton pulls out his metal detector and quickly identifies a number of metallic targets, one of which is non-ferrous. The treasure hunters agree that they ought to apply for a permit which will allow them to dig for these targets.

Meanwhile, Rick Lagina, Dave Blankenship, Charles Barkhouse, and Doug Crowell head to the Money Pit. There, they watch as Choice Drilling sinks another hole, labelled K5.5, in an attempt to follow the supposed Shaft 6 tunnel to the location of the original Money Pit.

Core samples are brought up from the depths of 98-108 and 108-118 feet. The first sample contains what appears to be worked earth, but is devoid of wood. “Maybe they put the supports sporadically,” suggests Charles Barkhouse, referring to the men of the Oak Island Association who built the Shaft 6 tunnel in the mid-1800s. “[Maybe] it’s not a solid roof”.

The second sample, on the other hand, is packed with wood from 118-124 feet, prompting the treasure hunters to congratulate themselves on successfully pinpointing the Shaft 6 tunnel. As the wood is located slightly deeper than expected, the narrator suggests that some of it might comprise timber from the collapsed Money Pit.

Later, Jack Begley and Gary Drayton sift through spoils from the Smith’s Cove operation, which have been washed and shaken by the wash plant. They quickly discover a coin dated 1963.

Meanwhile, Laird Niven, Terry Matheson, and Billy Gerhardt continue the excavation of the U-shaped structure. The bucket of Gerhardt’s backhoe bites into the top of a vertically-aligned timber, which Niven declares to be the third of its kind found that day. A subsequent examination reveals the timber to be a segment of a longer wooden wall composed of similar vertically-aligned planks. “This is totally undiscovered,” says Marty Lagina, having recently arrived on the scene with the other treasure hunters. In a later interview, Marty suggests that this newly-discovered wall might constitutes original workings.

 

Analysis

Secrets of the U-Shaped Structure

In this episode, the men of Oak Island Tours Inc. finally fully uncover the mysterious U-shaped structure first discovered by Dan Blankenship in 1971. The structure is entombed in what geologist Terry Matheson describes as “clay-rich till”, which Jack Begley suggests evokes the “blue clay” discovered in the Money Pit in the early 1800s by members of the Onslow Company.

If the till surrounding the U-shaped structure is indeed the same ‘blue clay’ found in the Money Pit, then two possibilities seem to present themselves:

  1. The structure constitutes the remains of the Truro Company cofferdam built in the summer of 1850 or the Halifax Company cofferdam built in 1866, the “clay-rich till” being either blue clay extracted from the Money Pit itself half a century prior by the Onslow Company or fresh clay taken from the source which supplied the original depositors with their own material. This theory corresponds with the findings of Dan Bankenship’s old partner, David Tobias, and engineer Les MacPhie, who, in the year 2000, carbon dated a piece of the U-shaped structure to 1860, plus or minus thirty years.
  2. A second possibility is that the structure is a relic of the original depositors, who employed the same blue clay they used in the Money Pit in its construction.
  3. In her 2015 book Oak Island Mystery Solved, Canadian author Joy Steele proposed a third theory which holds that the U-shaped structure was constructed by the original builders and was related to naval stores.

The Wall at Smith’s Cove

Near the end of the episode, Laird Niven, Terry Matheson, and Billy Gerhardt discover a wooden wall composed of vertically-aligned timbers buried beneath Smith’s Cove. Although the treasure hunters claimed that there were no records of previous searchers having discovered or constructed these walls, a chapter in Lee Lamb’s 2006 book Oak Island Obsession: The Restall Story, which is an excerpt from an article written by Oak Island treasure hunter Bobby Restall, includes the following passage:

“In Smith’s Cove we found bits of coconut fibre and evidence of earlier searchers’ work that is unrecorded. It took the form of old plank walls buried under the sands of the beach, also five vertical board boxes built to protect drill holes of past years.”

Photos which Lee Lamb sent this author show that at least one of these walls was composed of horizontally-aligned planks, not of vertically-aligned planks like those which comprise the wall discovered in this episode.

This underground wall at Smith’s Cove, which Terry Matheson suggested might have been used to “hold back water from entering the flood tunnels”, also evokes the wooden wall that Fred Nolan claimed to have discovered in the Oak Island swamp, for which the crew fruitlessly searched in Season 3, Episode 8. Nolan had described this structure as a 12-foot-tall, 12-foot-long wooden wall made of square, sawn timbers, and claimed that he had discovered it in the southern part of the swamp, a short distance from the beach, in 1969. In that episode, the narrator suggested that the swamp wall might be evidence that the swamp is man-made.

 

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The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 8- Unearthed

The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 8- Unearthed

The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 6, Episode 8 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!]

 

 

Plot Summary

The episode begins at Smith’s Cove, where the Lagina brothers and Craig Tester watch heavy equipment operator Billy Gerhardt excavate the cofferdammed area with a backhoe. Gerhardt quickly unearths a log, which Tester suspects is a component of the cofferdam that Dan Blankenship built around Smith’s Cove in the 1970s.

While Gerhardt works, Gary Drayton sifts through some of the Smith’s Cove spoils he has excavated, which have been rinsed and shaken by the wash plant acquired the previous episode. He discovers a piece of broken pottery among the rocks.

Later, Laird Niven meets with Jack Begley, Charles Barkhouse, Doug Crowell, and Paul Troutman at the Oak Island Research Centre. There, the treasure hunters show the archaeologist the suspected 90-foot stone discovered the previous episode. Niven opines that the letters ‘L’ and ‘N’, with which the stone was inscribed, appear to have been carved with a knife, and ventures that the stone’s smooth faces may have been polished. He then suggests that the team use LIDAR scanning technology (LIDAR being an acronym for “light detecting and ranging”) to make a 3D model of the stone’s surface in order to make out any other inscriptions that are invisible to the naked eye.

Later, Rick Lagina, Dave Blankenship, Charles Barkhouse, and Doug Crowell head to the Money Pit area, where Choice Drilling is in the process of attempting to determine the orientation of the suspected Shaft 6 Tunnel discovered in Season 6, Episode 5, via exploration drilling. The drillers bring up a core sample from the depths of 108-118 feet and find that it does not contain any wood. This discovery indicates that the hole beside which this new hole was drilled probably failed to intersect the Shaft 6 Tunnel as hoped. As the team prepares the wrap up the operation, Terry Matheson suddenly discovers a piece of wood which appears to be vertically aligned- perhaps the westernmost edge of the Shaft 6 tunnel. The team decides that they ought to drill another hole to the east, hoping to follow the suspected tunnel to the original Money Pit.

The next day, Rob Hyslop and Ryan Levangie of Halifax-based 3D scanning company Azimuth Consulting Ltd. meet with members of the Oak Island team in the Oak Island Research Centre. After some pleasantries, Hyslop and Levangie unpack their Trimble CX 3D laser scanner and proceed to scan the stone. The scan is a success, and Hyslop and Levangie leave the Research Centre with a promise to return with their findings.

Later that day, Rick and Marty Lagina and Laird Niven head to the area on Lot 24 at which Gary Drayton discovered a number of interesting artifacts the previous episode. Although Rick immediately leaves to attend to other business, Marty watches as Niven forms an archaeological-style grid and begins to excavate the stone-covered area with a trowel. In the same water-filled hole in which Drayton found his artifacts, Niven fishes out a fragment of broken earthenware and a piece of a clay pipe stem. When Niven estimates the latter artifact to date from 1750-1840, Marty says, “I think that we’re looking at something that has to do with Mr. Samuel Ball.” Niven appears to agree, stating that bed of stones which carpet the area “still [have] potential as a cellar”.

Later that day, the Oak Island team throws itself wholeheartedly into the excavation of Smith’s Cove. After searching through some of the spoils extracted by Billy Gerhardt and processed by the wash plant, Gary Drayton discovers an 18th Century iron spike. Shortly thereafter, he digs up what appears to be a gold-plated coin, its faces heavily encrusted with hard-packed dirt. The treasure hunters examine the object and determine that its edges do not appear to be “milled”, whereupon the narrator informs us that, in order to combat the practice of “clipping” (shaving small amounts of precious metal from the edge of coins), the British Royal Mint began to produce coins with ridged edges in the late 17th Century.

That afternoon, Drayton, Craig Tester, and the Lagina brothers head to the Oak Island Research Centre and show their new find to Paul Troutman. Troutman examines the artifact under a microscope. Sure enough, the object appears to be gold-plated. The treasure hunters agree that they ought to carefully remove the sediment that encrusts it so that they might determine the nature of the artifact.

The treasure hunters then proceed with Smith’s Cove and continue with the excavation operation. Using a backhoe, Billy Gerhardt uncovers a wooden beam, which Craig Tester suspects might be an arm of the mysterious U-shaped structure. Rick Lagina and Jack Begley uncover more of this beam with shovels, revealing the Roman numeral “VII” notched into its upper face- an indication that the beam is, indeed, a component of the U-shaped structure.

The Oak Island crew uncovers more of the structure, revealing the Roman numeral “III” and “IV” carved into another beam.

“Is this searcher or depositor?” asks Jack Begley.

“Trying to figure it out,” replies Craig Tester.

 

Analysis

LIDAR Technology

In this episode, Rob Hyslop and Ryan Levangie of Azimuth Consulting Ltd. use LIDAR technology to create a three-dimensional map of the suspected 90-foot stone discovered in Season 6, Episode 7. In this procedure, they used a Trimble CX 3D scanner to shoot pulses of laser light at the stone and measure the speed and wavelengths of the light that reflected back to the device. Using the data from this survey, they created a 3D model of the stone, the findings from which have yet to be revealed.

Milled Coins

In this episode, Gary Drayton discovered a gold-plated, sediment encrusted coin in Smith’s Cove. The Lagina brothers observed that this object does not appear to bear the markings of a milled coin, which Drayton explained was an indication that the object, if it is indeed a coin, is probably very old.

Until the mid-1500s, most European coins were hammered. In this procedure, blank metal discs were placed between two dies, the upper one bearing the image of the monarch under whose authority the coins were minted and the lower one anchored in a sturdy surface. That accomplished, the upper die was struck with a hammer, impressing both images into the coin.

Coins struck in this manner could be easily “clipped”, clipping being the unscrupulous practice of shaving small portions of precious metal from the edge of the coin and then using the lighter coin as if it retained the same value as the original.

In the mid-16th Century, various royal mints throughout Europe began to machine their coins rather than hammer them. By the end of the 1700s, mints around the world began using machines to “mill” or “reed” their coins, creating adornments along their edges in order to discourage clipping, as an absence of these adornments in milled coins instantly identified them as having been clipped, and therefore worth less than their face value.

Since the coin found in Smith’s Cove does not appear to have been milled, it seems likely that it was struck prior to the late 1700s, when milled coins became the norm throughout much of the Western world.

 

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The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 7- Rock Solid

The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 7- Rock Solid

The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 6, Episode 7 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!]

 

 

Plot Summary

In the War Room, Rick Lagina phones up his brother, Marty, and informs him that the Smith’s Cove cofferdam is nearly complete. Marty expresses some concern regarding the logistics of the upcoming excavation of Smith’s Cove, reminding his elder brother that a tremendous amount of time and labour was required to sift through the spoils from Borehole H8- a relatively minor operation in comparison. Rick addresses Marty concern by revealing that he and Oak Island boys are considering purchasing a wash plant that a local quarry has put up for sale- a piece of equipment which will allow them to sift through spoils more quickly and efficiently.

Rick then heads to Smith’s Cove, where he meets with Dave Blankenship, Charles Barkhouse, Dan Henskee, and Mike Jardine of Irving Equipment Ltd. As the last section of the cofferdam is hammered into the earth, Jardine informs the treasure hunters that they will need to constantly pump the water out of dammed area in order to accomplish their upcoming excavation.

Later that day, Charles Barkhouse, Jack Begley, and Doug Crowell move a large stone into the Oak Island Interpretive Centre. In a later interview, Crowell explains that the late Fred Nolan discovered the stone on his Oak Island property and concluded that it once served as some sort of boundary marker “or perhaps a pointer stone that pointed into the swamp”. In the Interpretive Centre, this boundary marker is placed next to a three-dimensional replica of the 90-foot stone.

The narrator then reminds us of the legend of the 90-foot stone, which has been lost for decades. Doug Crowell expresses a desire to re-explore the old Halifax bookbindery that he, Charles Barkhouse, Alex Lagina, and Kel Hancock explored in Season 4, Episode 4 (the last known location of the 90-foot stone), opining that the search they made for the stone there was less than thorough.

Later, Rick Lagina, Dave Blankenship, and geophysical engineer John Wonnacott drive to a quarry near the town of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. There, Greg Mailman of Dexter Construction shows the treasure hunters the industrial wash plant that the company is selling. After a demonstration, Rick suggests that the crew “pull the trigger” and purchase the machine.

Later that day, Alex Lagina and Peter Fornetti accompany Gary Drayton on a metal detecting excursion on Oak Island’s Lot 24, once the site of the residence of Samuel Ball. Drayton quickly uncovers what he identifies as a ramrod- a tool used to tamp shot and powder down the barrel of a muzzle-loading musket. When pressed, he specifies that this particular ramrod was probably an accessory to a Brown Bess musket- a flintlock long gun used by British soldiers in the late 18th and 19th Centuries.

Shortly thereafter, Drayton gets another hit on his metal detector and begins to dig. Before reaching the mysterious metal object, he unearths a fragment of bone. Below that, he finds a shard of blue-glazed pottery, which he believes to be an early 18th Century artifact. Below that, he finds another shard of pottery, this one unglazed. Finally, below the second pottery fragment, he finds the metallic object indicated by his metal detector, which proves to be an old door latch. In a later interview, Alex Lagina suggests that these new finds might be proof that Oak Island was the site of a British military encampment during the American Revolution, and might even constitute the leavings of the original Money Pit builders.

The three treasure hunters call up Rick Lagina and inform him of their discoveries. Rick visits the site and examines the artifacts before declaring that they ought to suspend their mini excavation and allow Laird Niven to appraise the situation.

The following morning, Rick Lagina and Craig Tester supervise the transportation of the newly-purchased wash plant to Smith’s Cove. Meanwhile, Jack Begley, Charles Barkhouse, and Doug Crowell drive to the old Halifax bookbindery the crew first visited in Season 4, Episode 4, which is now the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD). There, the treasure hunters meet with book binding expert Joe Landry, who leads them to a basement beneath the building. After looking around for some time, the treasure hunters find an entrance to another room that they did not explore during their previous visit.

“That building seems to be ever changing,” says Doug Crowell of the old book bindery in a later interview. “We’ve been looking through the basement, and… there’s new additions, new partitions… It really is like a maze.”

After a good deal of searching, Crowell discovers an object in a corner which matches the description of the 90-foot stone. He clears away a thick layer of dust from the stone’s surface, revealing a simple inscription carved into the rock: the letters ‘L’ and ‘N’. Charles Barkhouse suggests that this artifact might indeed be the legendary 90-foot stone.

The treasure hunters haul the stone back to Oak Island, where they present it to their fellow crew members in the War Room. Marty Lagina examines the surface of the stone and finds it smooth and bare. “It’s a smooth rock,” he observes. “What am I supposed to be seeing?”

“Well, gentlemen,” Doug Crowell explains, “this particular stone came from the book bindery in Halifax. It was in a crawlspace in the NSCAD building- right where it was supposed to be, in my opinion, because I do think that this is the stone that Bowdoin saw in the book bindery… the supposed 90-foot stone.”

When Marty Lagina remarks that this stone, unlike the 90-foot stone of legend, does not appear to bear any inscriptions on its surface, Crowell reminds him that the 90-foot stone’s cryptic inscription was allegedly worn away as a result of its employment as a beating stone in the book bindery. This defacement was said to be complete by 1909, when Oak Island treasure hunter Henry (or perhaps Harry) L. Bowdoin examined the stone and found no evidence of any inscription. Crowell then points out the letters ‘L’ and ‘N’- the only characters that appear to have survived the erosion.

Marty Lagina then informs the crew that, back in 2002, Wessex Archaeology, in conjunction with 3D laser scanning company Archaeoptics, used laser scanners to reveal ancient carvings on the menhirs of Stonehenge (a mysterious Bronze Age monument in southwest England), which are invisible to the naked eye. He suggests that they might be able to conduct a similar scan on the 90-foot stone and reveal the rest of the faded inscription.

The next morning, Rick Lagina and Craig Tester head to Smith’s Cove to assess the results of a draining operation that has been taking place there. Unfortunately, a significant amount of water remains in the dammed area. To make matters worse, Rick spots three major leaks in the cofferdam. “That’s not going to work,” he says. In an interview, Rick explains that the crew will not be able to proceed with the Smith’s Cove excavation before the leaks are fixed.

Rick and Craig proceed to the War Room, where they phone up Mike Jardine of Irving Equipment Ltd. and inform him of the setback. Jardine suggests that they might be able to stem the leaks with silicon caulking applied on the cofferdam’s seaside face.

The following morning, Rick Lagina, Alex Lagina, Peter Fornetti, and Gary Drayton bring Laird Niven to the site of their latest discoveries on Lot 24. The treasure hunters apprise the archaeologist of the manner in which the discoveries were made and show him the artifacts. Niven identifies the piece of glazed pottery as a shard of hand-painted pearlware from the 1780s, and suggests that the hole from which the objects were retrieved might be the remains of an old well. He further recommends a procedure by which they might excavate the potential structure in an archaeological manner, whereupon Rick tasks him with initiating this procedure.

Later, the Oak Island team meets in the War Room, where they call up astrophysicist and aerospace engineer Dr. Travis Taylor. Taylor tells the crew that he would like to perform an exercise called “data fusion”, in which he would compile the data from the seismic surveys conducted in the Season 6 premiere and analyze this data amalgamation in the hope of revealing “something that you don’t realize is there”. The Fellowship of the Dig takes Taylor up on his offer and invite him to try his hand at wresting some new information from the seismic survey data.

Later, Rick Lagina and Peter Fornetti check on Laird Niven’s progress on Lot 24. The archaeologist, the treasure hunters learn, has uncovered a bed of rocks immediately below the surface. Niven explains that the artifacts discovered in the area indicate that the place was probably inhabited at some point in the past, and suggests that that the larger rocks might be structural, while the smaller rocks might be fill. “It could be a shaft or a tunnel that was filled in,” he concludes, before informing the treasure hunters that they will need to apply for a permit before they can excavate the potential structure further.

After the Oak Island crew celebrates the new discovery at the Mug & Anchor Pub in nearby Mahone Bay, Alex Lagina and Peter Fornetti begin applying silicone caulking to the outer wall of the Smith’s Cove cofferdam in accordance with Mike Jardine’s advice.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew meet in the War Room, where they welcome Dr. Travis Taylor to the island. Taylor, who had already conducted his “data fusion” exercise, presents the results of his work on his laptop. His analysis reveals the presence of vertical anomalies in the Money Pit area between 20-30 metres (65-98 feet).

Next, Taylor suggests a novel method by which underground anomalies might be located. He explains that uranium, which can be found in deposits throughout Nova Scotia, naturally decays into a number of products, one of which is radioactive radon gas. He further explains that radon gas accumulates over time in underground caverns devoid of ventilation, and suggests that the crew might be able to locate these radium-rich caverns using Geiger counters (devices used to measure radiation).

Finally, Taylor presents his own Oak Island theory. Due to the striking number of Oak Island treasure hunters who were Freemasons, Taylor believes that members of some sort of Freemasonic fraternity were behind the Oak Island mystery. Taylor shows the treasure hunters an image of a First Degree Masonic Tracing Board- an illustration depicting a number of Freemasonic symbols which represents the blueprint of Hiram Abiff, the legendary chief architect of Solomon’s Temple. In the top-right corner of the board is a cluster of seven stars, which Taylor suggests represents Pleiades, a cluster of stars belonging to the constellation Taurus. Taylor proceeds to show the crew a map of Oak Island on which the constellation Taurus has been overlaid. He goes on to compare this image with one of the Bedford Barrens petroglyphs (Mi’kmaq rock carvings located just outside Halifax; first introduced in Season 2, Episode 2), which most Mi’kmaq historians believe to be a symbol of reproduction or regeneration, and suggests that the glyph is really a star map created by the Freemasonic Money Pit builders. Ultimately, Taylor urges the treasure hunters to investigate the points on Oak Island which correspond with the stars on his star map.

After Taylor’s presentation, Marty Lagina, Jack Begley, and Gary Drayton take the scientist to one of the targets indicated on his star map, which lies on the border of Oak Island’s Lots 1 and 2. Near this location, Taylor spies a large boulder through the underbrush. The four men then proceed to the second location on Taylor’s map, which lies south of the Money Pit area. This area was once the site of the stone triangle. The men then head to Lot 13, where a third point indicated on Taylor’s map is located. Sure enough, they find another large boulder.

Later, Rick Lagina and Dave Blankenship meet with Mike and Scott Jardine at Smith’s Cove. Rick shows Mike one of the cofferdam leaks which still remains following Alex Lagina and Peter Fornetti’s largely successful caulking job, as well as several small pools of water which formed in Smith’s Cove since the draining operation. Mike observes that the pattern made by these pools appears to indicate that more water is seeping into Smith’s Cove from the interior of the island than from the sea. To remedy this problem, he suggests that the team dig a trench close to the shore in which the groundwater will collect, allowing for its easy extraction.

The next day, Rick and Marty Lagina drive to Smith’s Cove, which has been completely drained and dried. There, they meet with Craig Tester, Dave Blankenship, Charles Barkhouse, Peter Fornetti, and heavy equipment operator Billy Gerhardt. The treasure hunters stand by as Gerhardt begins to dig in Smith’s Cove with a backhoe, expressing their desire to uncover the mysterious U-shaped structure discovered by Dan Blankenship in the early 1970s.

 

Analysis

The Discovery of the 90-Foot Stone

In this episode, Jack Begley, Charles Barkhouse, and Doug Crowell made a trip to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax (NSCAD), where Charles Barkhouse, Alex Lagina, and Kel Hancock searched for the 90-foot stone in Season 4, Episode 4, and where Alex Lagina and Jack Begley had book binding expert Joe Landry appraise the scrap of leather from H8 in Season 5, Episode 12. During this latest visit, the treasure hunters received permission from Joe Landry to conduct a second search in the building’s basement for the 90-foot stone, knowing that the NSCAD building once housed a bookbindery called Creighton & Marshall Stationers, the last known location of the 90-foot stone.

Sure enough, the treasure hunters discovered an object in a dusty, cobweb-choked corner of a basement room (that they apparently overlooked during their previous investigation) which corresponds perfectly with old descriptions of the 90-foot stone. Specifically, the stone appears to weigh around 200 pounds, is flat on two sides, has rounded corners, and measures approximately 24’’x15’’x10’’.

Although the 90-foot stone of legend was said to be inscribed with strange symbols, the upper face of this new stone is bare save for the letters ‘L’ and ‘N’, which have been carved into it. It is possible that these letters are Roman numerals, ‘L’ representing the number ’50’, and ‘N’ being either the medieval Roman numeral for ’90’ (which is the depth, in feet, at which the stone was found) or an abbreviation of the Latin word nulla (zero).

The lack of a strange code on the stone’s face is consistent with the notion, published in the April 29, 1909 issue of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner (of Fairbanks, Alaska), that “the inscriptions were erased long ago after the stone had endured the blows from a bookbinder’s mallet”. The carvings of the Latin letters ‘L’ and ‘N’, on the other hand, injure the credibility of the Kempton symbols- the only supposed copy of the old inscription on the 90-foot stone, which surfaced in April 1949, in a letter written by Nova Scotian Reverend A.T. Kempton to Oak Island treasure hunter Frederick Blair. These symbols, which Kempton purportedly obtained from an “old Irish School Master” from Mahone Bay, who recorded them prior to the stone’s defacement, did not include the letters ‘L’ or ‘N’. If the stone found in the basement of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design is truly the 90-foot stone, then the ‘L’ and ‘N’ inscribed on its face seem to suggest four possibilities:

  • The old Irish schoolmaster who recorded the symbols on the 90-foot stone neglected to include the letters ‘L’ and ‘N’ in his recording.
  • The letters ‘L’ and ‘N’ were carved after the old Irish schoolmaster made his recording.
  • The letters ‘L’ and ‘N’ were carved on the face of the stone opposite from that which contained the legendary inscription.
  • The Kempton symbols are a hoax.

If the Kempton symbols are indeed fabrications, then the handful of theories which hinge upon them are baseless. These theories include:

  • The notion that the inscription on the 90-foot stone was a simple substitution cipher which, when decoded, read: “Forty Feet Below, Two Million Pounds Are Buried”.
    • Daniel Ronnstam’s derivative theory, presented in Season 2, Episode 5, which holds that the inscription is a dual cipher which also contains the message: “A Ochenta Guia Mija Ria Sumidero F”.
  • The various theories based on La Formule.
  • Dr. Barry Fell’s hypothesis that the inscription on the 90-foot stone spelled a Libyan-Arabic message using a late Tifinagh script.
    • George Young’s derivative theory, which holds that the Money Pit is a tomb for a 5th Century Coptic Christian leader from North Africa.

After Crowell and company presented this new stone to the rest of the Oak Island crew, Marty Lagina suggested that they attempt to reveal the faded inscription using terrestrial laser scanning- a technology which enabled archaeologists to read faded Bronze Age glyphs on the standing stones of Stonehenge. Perhaps this technology will reveal, once and for all, the truth behind the fabled inscription on Oak Island’s mysterious 90-foot stone.

Terrestrial Laser Scanning

In this episode, Marty Lagina suggested that the team use terrestrial laser scanning technology to read the faded inscription on the supposed 90-foot stone found in the basement of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax.

The most famous application of this scanning technology took place in 2002, when Wessex Archaeology (a provider of “archaeological and heritage services”), in conjunction with 3D laser scanning company Archaeoptics, used a triangulating laser scanner called the “Minolta Vivid 900” to examine ancient, faded carvings on the sandstone menhirs of Stonehenge. According to Wessex Archaeology, “the carvings themselves are only a fraction of a millimetre deep in places so any scanner used must be able to record with a suitably high degree of precision”. The scanner ultimately succeeded in revealing Bronze Age carvings of ancient axes and daggers.

The Tunnel on Lot 24

In this episode, Gary Drayton got a hit on his metal detector while treasure hunting on Oak Island’s Lot 24, the lot on which Samuel Ball’s house once stood. While digging for this metallic object, which proved to be a rusted iron door latch, Drayton unearthed a fragment of late 18th Century pearlware, a shard of unglazed pottery, and a piece of bone.

Later, Laird Niven discovered a bed of rocks beneath the site of the discoveries, which he suggested might be the remains of a “shaft or tunnel that was filled in”. He then informed the crew that they would need to apply for a permit in order to excavate the potential structure.

Radon Prospecting

In this episode, astrophysicist and aerospace engineer Dr. Travis Taylor suggested a novel method by which the Oak Island crew might search for underground cavities in the Money Pit area. Specifically, he suggested that the crew use Geiger counters to search for areas of high radioactivity. Taylor reasoned that, since Nova Scotian soil contains relatively high concentrations of naturally-occurring uranium, and since one of the natural by-products of uranium decay is radioactive radon gas, underground cavities on Oak Island might trap and accumulate radon gas, resulting in their possessing higher levels of radioactivity compared to the surrounding earth. Oil and gas prospecting companies sometimes use this method as a cheaper alternative to seismic exploration.

Travis Taylor’s Theory

After sharing his radon prospecting idea with the Oak Island crew, Dr. Travis Taylor presented his own unique Oak Island theory. Taylor, who subscribes to the Freemason Theory (described below), observed that a cluster of seven stars is depicted in the First Degree Masonic Tracing Board- an illustration representing the blueprints of Solomon’s Temple drawn up by Hiram Abiff, the Temple’s legendary Chief Architect. Taylor suggested that this star cluster represented Pleiades, a sub-section of the constellation Taurus.

For Taylor, the inclusion of the image of the Holy Grail in the Tracing Board somehow evoked the Hermetic maxim, “as above, so below”, a paraphrase of “on Earth as it is in Heaven” (a line from the Lord’s Prayer) coopted by Freemasons. This prompted Taylor to superimpose the constellation Taurus on a map of Oak Island so that the star Nu Tauri rested on Apple Island, a small isle east of Oak Island and south of nearby Frog Island. Taylor theorized that each star on the map corresponds with some sort of surface marker on Oak Island. Sure enough, an investigation of three of the nine places of interest indicated on the map revealed potential surface markers at each location, two of them being large boulders and the third being the mysterious stone triangle that once lay on the South Shore Cove.

The Freemason Theory

Some Oak Island researchers believe that the treasure of the Knights Templar was brought to Oak Island not in the early 1300’s by outlawed Templars, nor in the late 1300’s by Henry Sinclair, nor in the 1600’s by the Rosicrucians, but rather sometime in the 1700’s by the Knights Templar’s supposed successors, the Freemasons.

Arguably no organization in the modern Western world- excepting, perhaps, the Bavarian Illuminati- has engendered more suspicion and given rise to more conspiracy theories than the various Lodges, Rites and Appendant Bodies which fall under the wide umbrella of Freemasonry. Over the past 300 years, Freemasons have been suspected of everything from performing secret satanic rituals, to fomenting the American and French Revolutions, to producing the notorious 19th Century English serial killer Jack the Ripper, to ultimately trying to take over the world. With so many different legends, theories and myths surrounding Freemasonry, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. Who really are the Freemasons, why do some people think they can trace their origins back to the Knights Templar, and what evidence do we have to suggest they buried the Templar treasure on Oak Island?

In order to come to a better understanding of Freemasonry, we must first understand something of its history. Both professional historians and Freemasons alike generally agree that modern Freemasonry can trace its origins back to medieval Scottish, English, and French stone mason guilds.

Medieval guilds were organizations composed of generally middle class men of a similar trade who banded together for mutual aid and protection. There were two main types of medieval guilds in Europe: merchant guilds and craft guilds. Merchant guilds were formed in order to combat the sometimes-excessive taxes on goods levied by feudal lords, and to ensure protection against bandits and highwaymen who made their living preying on lone travelers. Craft guilds, on the other hand, were formed by tradesmen who specialized in particular industries like carpentry, painting, tailoring, cordwainery, baking, and stone masonry. These craft guilds harboured jealously-guarded trade secrets which ensured their monopolies over whatever industries they specialized in.

Medieval stone masonry guilds, like many other craft guilds at the time, were egalitarian meritocracies in which members were ranked based on their skills and experience as opposed to their birth or class backgrounds. Like modern-day tradesmen and their contemporary guildsmen, medieval stone masons adopted a three-part hierarchy. At the bottom of the hierarchy were the Entered Apprentices- young, inexperienced masons who worked under the supervision of a Master. Next in line were the Fellows of the Craft, or Journeymen- masons who had completed their apprenticeships and were fully educated in the masonic trade, but had yet to become Masters. At the top of the hierarchy were the Master Masons- skilled and seasoned craftsmen who had presented a satisfactory ‘masterpiece’ (ex. a stone gargoyle sculpture), along with a sum of money, to the other Master Masons in the guild. Each strata in the masonic hierarchy had its own secret handshake, which masons used to prove their rank upon entering a new guild.

Members of the masonic guilds of medieval Europe were highly sought after by kings and bishops due to their valuable and carefully-guarded trade secrets. These secrets included a knowledge of mathematics and geometry, as well as practical tried-and-true methods of quarrying, shaping and dressing stone, architecture, engineering, and stone carving. With their secret knowledge and skills, the stone masons of the Middle Ages built towering castles and spectacular Gothic cathedrals- like Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and Westminster Abbey in London- all throughout Europe. Their special skills and knowledge put them in such high demand that they were free to travel throughout Christendom to look for work, thus earning them the name “free masons.”

According to legend, when the Knights Templar were arrested in France on October 13, 1307, on the orders of King Philip IV, a number of French Templars escaped the country and fled to Scotland along with the Order’s most valuable treasures. There, they found refuge in the lodge of one of the local stone mason guilds. Out of gratitude towards their benefactors, the outlawed knights revealed the nature of their treasure to the masons and taught them their secret initiation ceremonies. The Templars eventually assimilated into the guild, and the guild adopted their secret rites as their own.

The question of whether or not the last French Templars were absorbed into a Scottish stone mason guild is hotly contested by historians. However, it is widely accepted that another subgroup of Scottish society slowly began to infiltrate masonic lodges after the Middle Ages, during the Renaissance. Starting in the early 1500’s, open-minded Scottish gentlemen and nobles began to associate with the rough, lowborn tradesmen of the masonic guilds. Many of them were attracted to the guilds’ mystery. With the advent of the printing press, the trade secrets of the masonic guilds gradually became public knowledge. The secret initiation ceremonies for Entered Apprentices, Fellows of the Craft, and Master Masons, however, remained secret, shrouding the masonic guilds in an aura of mystery and romance which many European noblemen found irresistible. These aristocrats wanted to bask in the glory of the prestigious craftsmen known to be privy to secret knowledge, and the masons were more than happy to accept these wealthy and cultured apprentices into their circles. Another aspect of the masonic guilds which was hugely appealing to Scottish gentlemen was the fact that all guild members- regardless of social standing, ethnic background, and (most importantly) political and religious bent- were more or less considered equal. All throughout the Renaissance, the British Isles were plagued by bloody civil wars between Catholics and Protestants. For Scottish gentlemen, it was refreshing to enter into a fraternity in which their political leanings and religious persuasions were not only not scrutinized but also largely ignored.

Hard on the heels of the religious wars of the Renaissance came the Age of Enlightenment, a period characterized by the concept that reason is a legitimate means by which to define and identify truth (in addition to, or sometimes as opposed to, divine revelation and Church doctrine). During this period, freethinking intellectuals, scientists, and artists of aristocratic stock discovered that, inside masonic circles, they could openly share and discuss their various theories and ideas without fear of condemnation. These gentlemen signed up as apprentices to the masonic guilds en-masse, and the old-hand stone masons- relishing in the prestige, cultured conversation, fine food and quality alcohol that followed- happily accepted these new initiates. In time, the gentlemen of the masonic lodges began to outnumber the skilled labourers, and the focus of the lodge meetings gradually shifted from actual masonry work to philosophical discussion. Some of these early gentlemen Masons included artists, scientists and politicians such as Sir Isaac Newton, Voltaire, Mozart, Joseph Hadyn, John Locke, Edward Jenner, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Robbie Burns.

These gentlemen-dominated masonic lodges soon became discontented with the guilds’ casual meetings in alehouses and coffeehouses. They desired more structure, and eventually one of these lodges took action. In 1717, the first Grand Lodge was established in London, England. The Lodge’s founders announced that the Grand Lodge alone claimed the exclusive right to establish new Masonic lodges in England. English masons outside London took umbrage to this decree and established the Grand Lodge of All England in the city of York. In 1736, Scottish masons hopped on the bandwagon by forming the Grand Lodge of Saint John of Scotland. And in 1751, a group of Irish-born Londoners followed suit by forming the Antient Grand Lodge.

Although Freemasonry certainly had its infancy in Scotland and its coming of age in England, it quickly spread to France and to the British colonies in North America. Many of the ideals espoused by Freemasonry, such as freedom of thought, equality, and brotherhood, spilled over into politics. In the Americas, Masonic colonists dissatisfied with British rule were foremost among those who ultimately started the American Revolution. Of the fifty-six American colonists who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine were Freemasons. Some of the most prominent of these American Freemasons- including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Paul Revere- are now considered to be Founding Fathers of the United States of America.

Shortly after the American Revolution, the people of France became dissatisfied with the ruling Capetian regime and similarly deposed it. In the bloody Reign of Terror that ensued, French revolutionaries rallied to the cry of “liberte, egalite, fraternite,” or “freedom, equality and brotherhood”, three core tenets of Freemasonic ideology.

Freemasonry thrived in the 1700’s and expanded throughout most of the 1800’s. A number of books painting Freemasonry in a bad light were published in the 19th Century, however, and soon Anti- Masonic sentiment abounded. During this time, a myriad of conspiracy theories surrounding Freemasonry were born, many of which survive to this day. One of the most enduring theories is that the Freemasons are the successors of the Knights Templar. One offshoot of this theory is that the Freemasons came to Oak Island sometime in the 1700’s, where they buried the legendary Templar treasure.

 

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