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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, 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.






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.



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.






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.



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.






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.



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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Ghostly Tales of the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton, Alberta

Ghostly Tales of the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton, Alberta

If you take the Alberta Highway 6 south from the town of Pincher Creek, you’ll find yourself leaving the prairie-like Porcupine Hills for the forests and mountains of Waterton Lakes National Park. This jewel in the Rocky Mountains, tucked away in the southwest corner of Alberta across the border from its American sister, Glacier National Park, is currently recovering from the devastating effects of the Kenow Wildfire, which consumed over 19,000 hectares of Waterton wilderness in the summer of 2017. This hiccup notwithstanding, Waterton Lakes is a popular tourist destination which has hosted thousands of sportsmen and outdoor adventurers since the days of its first ranger, Kootenai Brown.

On a high windswept hill overlooking the Park’s eponymous lakes stands the magnificent Prince of Wales Hotel, the last of the grand railway hotels to be built on Canadian soil. In the summer months, this historic Swiss chalet-style landmark houses guest from all over the world, come to hike the perilous Crypt Lake Trail, cruise the Lakes by boat, or simply enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the Rockies’ smallest park.

In the fall and winter, the Prince of Wales lies desolate and abandoned, its windows dark, its doors boarded up, and the wind howling through gaps in its wooden exterior. In this eerie condition, the hotel appears more congruous with its many ghost stories- an attribute which all of Canada’s grand railway hotels seem to share.


The Prince of Wales hotel was built in 1926/27 at the behest of Louis W. Hill, president of the Great Northern Railway (an American company). At that time, alcohol was outlawed in the United States, and many thirsty Americans made pilgrimages to the Great White North to indulge in their favourite beverages (Alberta ended its own Prohibition in 1923). Hill, who had built several grand railway hotels in neighbouring Glacier National Park, Montana, hoped that a similar hotel in Waterton might entice American liquor tourists to visit Southwestern Alberta, utilizing his railway and U.S. hotels on the journey north. It is somewhat ironic that Hill’s Waterton hotel, built for the express purpose of attracting liquor tourism, is located right beside the Mormon-heavy counties of Cardston and Warner- the only districts in Alberta where alcohol is still outlawed.

The Ghosts

Named after the (future, short-reigning) King Edward VIII in a vain attempt to entice him to stay there during his 1927 royal tour of Canada, the Prince of Wales Hotel is said to house a number of permanent residents. One of these is the ghost of the unfaithful wife of a former hotel chef who lived with her husband on the premises. According to local legend, the chef and his wife disappeared from the hotel one night without notice. The chef reappeared sometime later in British Columbia, alone. Some say that the chef murdered his wife in Room 608 of the Prince of Wales Hotel on the night of his departure. Although he managed to dispose of his wife’s body, the spirit of the murdered woman remained in the room; every once in a while, patrons staying in Room 608 report being tucked into bed by unseen hands.

Although there is no historical basis for the tale of the ghost of the chef’s wife, another hotel ghost story may have some merit to it. The most frequently reported unexplained phenomenon to take place at the Prince of Wales Hotel is the inexplicable aroma of tobacco smoke which occasionally wafts through the Royal Stewart Dining Room. This phantom smell is said to be associated with the ghost of a well-dressed top hat-wearing gentleman who haunts the dining room and the basement, appearing to unsuspecting guests and staff as a reflection in windows and mirrors. Although some writers have attempted to connect this spectre with a construction worker who allegedly fell from some scaffolding to his death during the hotel’s construction, the image of a well-dressed tobacco smoker corresponds quite well with that of Captain Rodden S. Harrison, the hotel’s first manager- a pipe smoker who frequently affected a tweed suit. Captain Harrison is said to have taken great pride in his work, and had his staff furnish the tables in the Royal Stewart Dining Room with freshly picked wildflowers every morning. Perhaps the Captain’s spirit resides in the hotel to this day, enjoying the occasional after-dinner smoke and checking in on his guests from time to time.

Another of the Prince of Wales’ spirits is said to haunt the lobby, where hotel staff sometimes report hearing the heavy disembodied footsteps of a man in the middle of the night. One former staff member, in an internet chatroom, confessed that he broke into the hotel in the offseason in order to spend the night there. His intrusion apparently offended this invisible resident, who raced down the stairs from the fifth or sixth floor and across the lobby towards him, effectively chasing him from the premises.

The most famous phantom of the Prince of Wales Hotel is the “Lady in White”, a spectre of a young woman in a white gown said to haunt the Rooms 510 and 516. This feminine phantasm makes her presence known by locking windows left open overnight, running the taps, tapping on doors, turning the lights on, and blowing her icy breath down the necks of hapless guests. Some hotel patrons have reported hearing disembodied footsteps in the hallways or on the balconies. Others claim to have been locked out of their own rooms, finding that someone, or something, had locked the door from the inside in their absence. One guest staying in Room 516 even maintained that the apparition of a young woman slipped into bed with him and his wife in the dead of the night… before vanishing into thin air.

Popular legend attributes this phantom to the spirit of a young chambermaid named Sarah, who started working at the hotel shortly after its grand opening in 1927. Sarah was in love with a member of the hotel staff. When the man rejected her advances, Sarah lapsed into despair and threw herself from a window on the fourth floor (in some versions, she jumped from the fifth or six floor). Her ghost remains in the hotel to this very day, haunting the site of her suicide.

It is likely that the legend of Sarah’s ghost is based on a tragic event that took place in 1977- a particularly dark year for the Prince of Wales Hotel. In April that year, a beloved hotel handyman named Johnny Haslam died in a car accident. Later that fall, the hotel was invaded by a hoard of government inspectors sent to investigate claims of poor working conditions and allegations that the antiquated building was not up to code.

Perhaps the most tragic event to take place that year was the suicide of a 20-year-old seasonal employee from Dorval, Quebec, who worked in the hotel’s giftshop. This employee, named Lorraine, had fallen in love with Clifford Hummel, the handsome and athletic manager of the Prince of Wales Hotel. When Hummel, who was already in a relationship at that time, failed to reciprocate her affections, Lorraine was heartbroken. On Sunday, September 29th, 1977, the grief-stricken woman stripped naked and ran throughout the hotel before leaping to her death from the balcony on the hotel’s sixth floor. Her broken body was discovered on the flagstone patio that overlooks the Waterton Lakes.

“[The suicide] did affect a lot of people,” said Lorraine’s co-worker, 18-year-old Marilyn Illerdrun, to a reporter for the Lethbridge Herald. “It left a bad feeling to the hotel, to the whole staff… I think it started a whole new feeling.”

Although the tale of Sarah’s ghost is almost certainly based on Lorraine’s suicide, a woman named Sarah was involved in a tragic accident that took place near the Prince of Wales early in the hotel’s history. On Friday, August 10, 1928, two cars collided at the foot of the hill on which the Prince of Wales stands. One of the vehicles was occupied by four passengers, one of whom was named Sarah Ann Bennett. Although Sarah walked away from the wreck with little more than a broken collar bone, the sole occupant of the other vehicle was not so fortunate; Mrs. Hiram Maughm was taken to the hospital in Cardston, Alberta, where her arm was amputated.

Whatever their origins, the ghost stories of the Prince of Wales Hotel imbue Waterton Lakes with an aura of mystery and intrigue- an essential concomitant to all great Canadian national parks.



  • Glacier Ghost Stories (2013), by Karen Stevens
  • A Historical Handbook for the Employees of the Prince of Wales Hotel (May 2016), by the Glacier Park Foundation
  • “Woman Loses Arm in Wreck at Waterton: Cars Collide Near Hotel- Drive Has Three Ribs Broken”, in the August 10, 1928 issue of the Lethbridge Herald
  • “Aging Prince of Wales Buildings Under Inspectors’ Scrutiny”, in the August 7, 1977 issue of the Lethbridge Herald
  • “Labour Dept. Probing Waterton Park Hotel”, in the August 7, 1977 issue of the Lethbridge Herald
  • “Hotel Worker Dead Following Waterton Jump,” in the September 15, 1977 issue of the Lethbridge Herald


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The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 6- Precious Metal

The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 6- Precious Metal

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






Plot Summary

Rick Lagina and Craig Tester meet with Mike Jardine of Irving Equipment Ltd. at Smith’s Cove, where the cofferdam is under construction. Jardine explains that his crew is having some difficulty piling the cofferdam’s sheets through a particularly hard section of earth.

Later, the Oak Island crew meets in the War Room, where they call up Tobias Skowronek- a geochemist from the German Mining Museum in Bochum, Germany. Rick Lagina asks Skowronek whether he can help them identify the origin of the lead cross found on Smith’s Cove, to which the geochemist replies that he will only need the results of the laser ablation test conducted in the Season 6 premiere to determine where the lead for the cross was quarried. The Oak Island boys agree to send him the data.

Later, Craig Tester and Charles Barkhouse head to the Mega Bin area to oversee an exploration drilling operation. The narrator then informs us that, in the 1970s, Dan Blankenship discovered what he believed to be an ancient latrine hole in this area. Rick and Marty Lagina elaborate on this potential discovery in an interview, explaining that Dan believed the Latrine Hole to be an underground chamber connected to a network of tunnels beneath Oak Island, which the original Money Pit builders used for sanitation purposes. The narrator further explains that Blankenship’s theory corresponds with the results of the seismic survey revealed in Season 6, Episode 2, which indicated the presence of a 50-foot-deep underground cavern in the Latrine Hole area.

While the operation in the Mega Bin area is underway, Rick Lagina, Dan Blankenship, and Dave Blankenship drive to Smith’s Cove.

“My God,” remarks Dan Blankenship as their vehicle approaches the construction site, “you’ve made a 4-lane highway down here.”

“Well, when you see the crane, you’ll know why,” replies Rick.

Dan indeed marvels at the 300-ton crane and remarks that, once the cofferdam is complete, the crew should have a “relatively easy time” unearthing the U-shaped structure that he first discovered on Smith’s Cove in the early 1970s.

Back at the Mega Bin area, a core sample is taken from the Latrine Hole anomaly. The lower five feet of this sample, taken from 148-158 feet, is composed of what geologist Terry Matheson describes as “sandy till”. This soft, loose substance contrasts with the hard clay of which the remainder of the sample is comprised.

“To me, from a seismic standpoint,” says Craig Tester, “this may be the anomaly they were seeing.” Despite this setback, the crew decides to drill to a depth of 120 feet.

Later, the Oak Island crew meets with in the War Room with Judy Rudebusch, a friend and research partner of the late Zena Halpern. Rudebusch informs the crew that she has been in correspondence with writer Gretchen Cornwall, author of the 2015 book The Secret Dossier of a Knight Templar of the Sangreal, and that Cornwall has some interesting information regarding a potential Templar voyage to the New World.

The crew proceeds to call up Gretchen Cornwall and John Temple, the latter being Cornwall’s research partner who also, according to Rudebusch, also happens to be a “hereditary descendant” of a Templar knight. While Cornwall and Temple acquaint themselves with the Oak Island crew, the narrator tells us that Gretchen’s book, The Secret Dossier, tells of a “secret record which was passed down through generations of John Temple’s family, and which purports to document the survival of the Templar Order following their persecution and disbandment in France during the early 14th Century.”

Following the narrator’s exposition, Cornwall tells the crew her own theory regarding the origin of the Jolly Roger, a black flag bearing a white skull and crossbones, which was used by 18th Century pirates. Cornwall believes that the skull and crossbones was originally used by the Knights Templar, for whom it represented the bones of their patron saint, John the Baptist. Following the suppression of the Templar Order in 1307, many Templars “took to the seas”, settling in Scotland and Northern England. Some of these outlawed Templars became pirates, using their old symbol of John the Baptist as their ensign.

Gretchen Cornwall goes on to suggest that the Money Pit was constructed by members of the Knights Templar, and that it contains treasures which the Templars appropriated in the Holy Land during the Crusades. The evidence for this theory, Cornwall claims, is Nolan’s Cross– a feature which she believes represents the skull and crossbones. The “head stone” at the cross’ centre is the skull, while the cross itself constitutes the crossbones.

Next, Cornwall and Temple proceed to outline their theory that Nolan’s Cross “is literally the key” to the Money Pit. In order to unlock the Money Pit, they claim that one must first imagine shrinking Nolan’s Cross to a tenth of its size. This step is related to the medieval practice of tithing, in which 10% of every citizen’s income was given to the Church. That accomplished, one must then visualize picking up this smaller Nolan’s Cross and inserting it, top first, into the Money Pit. At the end of one of the arms is a treasure chamber, which would lie at a depth of about 72 feet, and at a 36-foot distance from the Money Pit.

As soon as Cornwall and Temple finish their presentation, Charles Barkhouse explains that their theory will be difficult to test, as the precise location of the original Money Pit is currently unknown. “It’s an interesting theory,” Rick Lagina concludes in a separate interview, “but you have to be able to take a theory into the field, and unfortunately… we’re not able to do that.”

Later that day, Craig Tester, Gary Drayton, and Terry Matheson oversee the drilling operation at the Mega Bin. The narrator reveals that the crew is currently drilling in the same area as the Triton Shaft, in which Dan Blankenship unearthed pieces of low-carbon steel wire at a depth of 120 feet back in 1973.

At a depth of 99.5 feet, the drill bites into a hard substance which driller Mike Tedford believes to be harder than slate. The narrator suggests that this substance might be the impenetrable object which Dan Blankenship’s drill encountered in 1973, immediately below the area containing the low-carbon steel wire. However, as we mentioned back in our analysis of Season 6, Episode 3, Blankenship encountered this mysterious object somewhere below a depth of 110 feet- more than ten feet deeper than this current obstruction. The drillers take a core sample of the hard substance, which Terry Matheson identifies as granite bedrock.

That evening, the crew gathers in the War Room and calls up Tobias Skowronek. The German geochemist informs them that he “compared the lead isotope data of the [lead cross]” with his own database and found that it was “somehow related to European deposits”, but did not completely match any quarries used from the 15th to 17th Centuries. He proceeded to compare the cross’ isotopic data with that of medieval quarries and found a match with old lead deposits in Southern France. More specifically, Skowronek believes that the lead was mined in an area between the Cevennes and Montagne Noire, two mountain ranges in South-Central France belonging to the larger Massif-Central Range. When prompted by Alex Lagina, the geochemist affirms that this particular quarry is situated in close proximity to the village of Rennes-le-Chateau, which Marty and Alex Lagina visited with Kathleen McGowan in Season 2, Episode 6. He goes on to say that this particular lead mine was used by the Romans, hinting at the possibility that the lead cross might even pre-date the Middle Ages.



The Latrine Hole

In this episode of The Curse of Oak Island, an exploration drilling operation is conducted in the Mega Bin area, where the seismic survey conducted earlier this season indicated the presence of an underground cavern. Specifically, the operation is conducted in a location called the “Latrine Hole”, which we have seen as a label on Eagle Canada’s diagrams of the Mega Bin area, but which was not mentioned verbally prior to this episode.

We learn that Dan Blankenship drilled the Latrine Hole in 1973- the same year in which he drilled the more easterly hole upon which he would sink the Triton Shaft. For some reason not disclosed in the show, Blankenship came to believe that the Hole lay atop an underground chamber connected to a network of tunnels which run beneath Oak Island, and that the labourers who built these underground tunnels (along with the Money Pit) used the chamber as a toilet.

The results of the exploration drilling operation conducted in this episode revealed that vast underground anomaly in the Mega Bin area, the Latrine Hole chamber included, is not a chamber as some had hoped, but rather a pocket of sandy till surrounded by denser earth.

Gretchen Cornwall’s Theory

In this episode, writer Gretchen Cornwall- assisted by her research partner, John Temple- outlines her own Oak Island theory, which holds that the Money Pit was constructed by 14th Century Templar knights.

Cornwall’s theory is fully outlined in her 2015 book The Secret Dossier of a Knight Templar of the Sangreal. In this book, she claims that John Temple (whose name is an alias) bears the title “Comte de Mattinata de Medici”, and is a descendant of “Henry Mattinson”, the alleged secret twin brother of King Louis XIII of France.

About half-way into her book, Cornwall introduces the reader to the “Matrix Map”- a map of the world dotted with stars and crisscrossed with “magnetic lines”, which John Temple had given her. The writer of this article has not read enough of the book to fully ascertain Cornwall’s interpretation of this document, although the information he gleaned from a lazy skim-through seems to indicate that Cornwall attempts to connect the “Matrix Map” with the legendary lost island of Atlantis. This author is under the impression (although is admittedly far from certain) that the “Matrix Map” is the titular “Secret Dossier” alluded to in the title of Cornwall’s book, and in this episode of The Curse of Oak Island.

The Skull and Crossbones

In this episode, writer Gretchen Cornwall shared her theory that the Jolly Roger- the black pirate flag bearing a white skull and crossbones- was invented by the Knights Templar, for whom it represented the bones of their patron saint, John the Baptist. She further suggested that Nolan’s Cross, with its skull-shaped centre-stone, is a Templar depiction of this symbol.

Cornwall elaborates on this theory in a YouTube video entitled The Secret Behind the Jolly Roger. In this video, she claims that the Jolly Roger was first flown by King Roger II of Sicily (1095-1154), an early patron of the Knights Templar (This claim was first put forth by American writer David Hatcher Childress in his 2003 book Pirates and the Lost Templar Fleet: The Secret Naval War Between the Knights Templar and the Vatican.). Instead of repeating the aforementioned theory involving the bones of John the Baptist, she proposes that the skull and crossbones are based on either the manner in which bones are arranged in ossuaries (receptacles for bones of the deceased) or an alleged early depiction of the Christian cross. This theory conflicts with the accepted history of the Jolly Roger, which holds that this flag is an invention of 18th Century Caribbean pirates.

Cornwall’s hypothesis is not the first Oak Island theory involving the skull and crossbones. Some theorists, observing that the legend of the discovery of the Money Pit appears to be riddled with Freemasonic symbolism, have speculated that members of some sort of Freemasonic fraternity are behind the Oak Island mystery. Some of these theorists believe that Freemasonry is descended in some way from fraternities formed by outlawed Templar knights of the early 14th Century, and suspect that the legendary lost Templar treasure is buried on Oak Island. As evidence for this supposed connection between the Templars and the Freemasons, some of these theorists have cited the appearance of the skull and crossbones- an important Freemasonic symbol- in a legend surrounding the death of Jacques de Molay, the Templars’ last Grand Master, who was burned to death in a Paris square on March 18, 1318, for the heresy of which his Order was accused.

According to this legend, several French Templar knights who had gone into hiding approached de Molay’s pyre long after the embers had cooled. All that remained of their Grand Master was his skull and femurs. From that time on, the underground, outlawed Templars adopted the skull and crossed femurs as one of their symbols.

The Lead Cross Analysis

In this episode of The Curse of Oak Island, German geochemist Tobias Skowronek informs the team that an analysis of the isotopic signature of the lead cross indicates that the artifact is composed of lead mined in the Middle Ages not far from Rennes-le-Chateau, France. This theory accords perfectly with the Knights Templar theory frequently pushed by the show.

The metallurgical analysis of the cross, coupled with the questionable archaeological analysis of the alleged pilum tip (presented in Season 6, Episode 4), suggests to the skeptical viewer that the producers of The Curse of Oak Island (COOI) may be engaging in the regrettable practice twisting reality to fit popular theories; if the show’s interpretations of these artifacts are correct, then the lead cross and the pilum tip constitute the first real pieces of evidence that the Knights Templar or the Ancient Romans, respectively, are behind the Oak Island mystery- an unlikely (albeit not impossible) scenario. The ‘pilum’ diagnosis, when considered alongside the many alternative (and far more plausible) identification theories put forth by COOI fans on social media, seems to suggest that Gabriel Vandervoort (the California-based antiquities expert who made the pilum diagnosis) was chosen to appear on the show specifically to bolster the popular ‘Pre-Columbian Voyager’ theory first introduced by J. Hutton

Pulitzer in Season 2, Episode 2. Similarly, the tangible connection between the lead cross and the Templar theory established in this episode, considering its confliction with all of the evidence acquired the previous season pointing to a late 17th/early 18th Century Money Pit, almost suggests that the cross was planted by the show’s producers. This unsettling possibility evokes a revelation from Randall Sullivan’s new book The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World’s Longest Treasure Hunt, which holds that the Lagina brothers threatened COOI producer Kevin Burns that they would terminate the show if they ever proved that he or a member of his crew had planted an artifact on the island.


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Prince Rupert of the Rhine

Prince Rupert of the Rhine

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

The Winter Prince

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

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

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

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

The Eighty Years’ War

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

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

The Palatinate Campaign

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

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

The First English Civil War

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

The Quintessential Cavalier

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

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

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

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

The Battle of Edgehill

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

The Battle of Marston Moor

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

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

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

The Franco-Spanish War

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

The Second and Third English Civil Wars

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

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

The Restoration

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

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

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

The Founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company

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

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

Scientific Exploits

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

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

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



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Famous People Who Canadian Places are Named After

Famous People Who Canadian Places are Named After

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


Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619 – 1682)

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

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


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

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

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


King George III of Great Britain (1738 – 1820)

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

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


Queen Charlotte of Great Britain (1744 – 1818)

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

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


Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (1767 – 1820)

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

  • The Province of Prince Edward Island.


Queen Victoria of Great Britain (1819 – 1901)

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

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


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

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

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


Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona (1820 – 1914)

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

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


Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (1841 – 1910)

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

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


St. Lawrence (225 – 258)

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

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

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


St. Albert of Louvain (1166 – 1192)

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

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


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

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

Today, this Christian martyr is the namesake of:

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


St. Anne (50 B.C. – 12 A.D.)

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

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


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

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

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




Henry Hudson (1565 – 1611)

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

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


George Vancouver (1757 – 1798)

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


Alexander Mackenzie (1764 – 1820)

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

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


Simon Fraser (1776 – 1862)

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

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


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Elves from the North Pole – More than a Fairytale?

Elves from the North Pole – More than a Fairytale?

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

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

Arctic Elves – A Canadian Legend

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

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


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

Erik the Red was a red-bearded Norse farmer who lived in Iceland in the late 10th Century. In 982 A.D., he was banished from Iceland for committing manslaughter. Accompanied by a handful of loyal friends and relatives, he left his longhouse and headed out to sea, bound for a mysterious land to the west which had been spotted by Icelandic sailors blown off course.

Erik the Red and his crew spent three years exploring this new land, and discovered that it had areas which were suitable for farming. In 985, he returned to Iceland and regaled his fellow Vikings with tales of what he attractively dubbed “Groenland”, or “Greenland”. Having convinced a number of Norsemen to help him settle this new territory, Erik the Red returned to Greenland that year and established a colony there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Latin passage, when translated to English, reads:

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

Captain Luke Foxe’s Discovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dwarves of the Mackenzie Mountians

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

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

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

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

Ed Ferrell’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony Roche’s Encounter

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

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

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

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

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

“And there,” said Roche, “was…”

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


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Don’t Whistle at Night! – A Canadian Superstition

Don’t Whistle at Night!

A Canadian Superstition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inuits say don’t whistle

When the Northern Lights are high,

Lest they swoop to earth and carry you

Up to the luminescent sky.

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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