Buried Treasure! Those very words quicken the heartbeat and ignite the imagination. Images immediately flash through the mind: gold coins, Buccaneers, wooden chests.
Probably Canada’s most intriguing, not to mention most famous, treasure hunt has taken place on Oak Island. A speck of land in Mahone Bay off Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast, the island is thought to be the site of a vast buried treasure supposedly placed there by one of history’s most famous pirates: either Black Beard, Captain Kidd or Henry Morgan.
It was back in 1795 that three young men exploring the island discovered a curious depression in the ground at the base of an old oak tree that showed evidence of having been used as part of a block and tackle operation.
Digging brought to light a filled-in shaft with wooden platforms around every ten feet. After reaching some twenty-five feet, the frustrated excavators gave up. Something, very possibly a treasure of some kind, had been buried there but obviously reaching it was not going to be easy. Since then a number of expeditions have spent vast amounts of money, time and effort to reach the bottom of the pit, all to no avail. A series of tunnels connecting the pit with the nearby ocean has been an issue that has greatly complicated the work.
In 1971, a submarine TV camera was lowered nearly two hundred feet into the shaft. It revealed faint images of three chests, a pick and a severed human hand.
Niagara has had buried treasure tales as well. One such story took place in the small pioneer settlement of White Pigeon. Now all but vanished, this little community is located along Lyons Creek, around the intersection of Montrose Road and Schisler Road in what is now a rural area within the City of Niagara Falls, Ontario. The settlement’s origins go back to the early 1800s, by which time logging had become a large and important business in the area. White Pigeon came into being primarily to serve those involved in this industry. It soon became a stagecoach stop as well. A number of businesses appeared, including an inn, a livery stable and a blacksmith shop.
One story behind the origin of the settlement’s unusual name concerns the first innkeeper’s daughter who, for whatever reason, always dressed in white. The lumberjacks began to call her the white pigeon. The name was soon applied to the inn and then to the community itself.
During the latter part of June 1812, the residents of White Pigeon and all the other citizens in British North America (now Canada) received some shocking news: The United States had declared war on Great Britain. Now known as the War of 1812, this conflict was to have a profound and devastating impact on the Niagara area.
One afternoon during the early months of the war, a stranger arrived at the White Pigeon Inn. Identifying himself as a ship’s captain, he carried a small, heavy chest which he never let out of his sight. After nightfall, he was observed leaving the inn carrying the chest. He was gone some time and when he returned in the morning, he no longer had the chest.
Later that day, the mysterious stranger told the innkeeper he would be back after the war was over. He then boarded a stage coach – and was never seen again.
Around a century later, the owner of the property where the inn had once stood happened to visit a fortune teller. After gazing into her crystal ball, she became very excited, telling the man that there was a box or chest hidden on his property that contained a fortune in gold coin. She explained it was buried “near the bank of a stream in an old orchard near some large elm trees.”
The property owner took all this as nothing more than a good story, until he happened to mention it to an old-timer in the neighbourhood who told him the legend of the captain and his heavy chest. After hearing this, the man started a search along Lyons Creek. However, after several years of effort, during which many holes and pits were dug, no gold was found.
A few years earlier another treasure hunt had taken place in Niagara.
On June 8, 1892, E.J. Crandall , Eugene Van Dusen and a Col. Lockwood, all of Saginaw, Michigan, arrived at a hotel in Queenston, a small Ontario community alongside the Niagara River, some seven miles below the great Falls of Niagara.
From the beginning, their actions were somewhat mysterious. They frequently stopped people on the streets and asked them questions about the area. In addition, they were often seen examining what appeared to be a map.
After a few days, the three men were observed making their way to what is known as the Niagara Glen, a natural paradise of rocks and trees in the Niagara River Gorge, just upstream from Queenston. Further observation showed the men heading into an area of the Glen known as Foster’s Flats. Named for a former mill owner in that area, Foster’s Flats is the lowest and most northerly terrace of the Glen. Even though the spot was difficult to reach and was infested with rattlesnakes at the time, the men made several trips there and seemed delighted with each visit.
Apparently deciding some local help was needed, they then took Jerry O’Leary, the proprietor of the hotel, into their confidence – after first securing his word that he would keep their secret. The story they told O’Leary must have made his jaw drop.
The three Americans said they were searching for $100,000 in gold coin. They claimed it had been sent from England during the War of 1812 as pay for British soldiers stationed in Canada. Just after the ship carrying the valuable cargo reached Queenston, several members of the crew stole the chest containing the gold. Years later a map somehow came to life that showed the hijackers had buried their loot on the first plateau (or terrace) lying upstream from Queenston Heights on the Canadian side. This would be Foster’s Flats.
The old map indicated that the treasure would be found buried thirty feet from a large rock at the foot of an oak tree, the roots of which were like a hen’s foot.
As might be expected, O’Leary eagerly joined in the search in return for a share of the gold. All work took place at night. The noise of their picks and shovels was drowned out by the river’s roar while the dense foliage hid most of the light from their lantern.
Despite efforts of secrecy, their actions continued to create curiosity, especially with a certain U.S. customs officer. After spying on the men for a number of nights from the opposite side of the river, he became convinced that they were opium smugglers. He was also very anxious to discover what was in a large trunk the four men were seen carrying out of the hotel each night and bringing back the following morning.
It was many days before he found out that the trunk contained, not opium, but 50 small canvas sacks in which the treasure seekers expected to carry away the gold when they found it.
But, after three weeks digging at the site, no gold was found.
The visitors then took off for another treasure hunt somewhere in Virginia. Jerry O’Leary continued the quest on his own. While doing so, however, he broke his promise of secrecy and told the story to a newspaper reporter from Niagara Falls, New York. The reporter was convinced the whole business was nonsense and that O’Leary, therefore, was wasting his time, noting that he was seeking for wealth that “is not beneath the soil.”
It was all too true. Just as there was no gold along the banks of Lyons Creek at White Pigeon and no treasure has been found (at least so far) on Oak Island, there was no gold in the Glen.