When lists of Great Canadian Mysteries are made, usually the Oak Island Mystery is at the top of the list.
If you’re not familiar, Oak Island is a tiny rock off the east coast of Nova Scotia. It’s been inhabited by Europeans since roughly 1750, and by Native people for a lot longer than that.
The mystery revolves around this myth: that in about 1795 a group of three young men or teenage boys, depending on which version of the story you believe, saw evidence of a treasure shaft on the east end of the island. The three boys dug down about 30 feet, finding, at 10 foot intervals, sections of logs that appeared similar to mine shaft reinforcements.
Even if the story about the three boys was true (there is no physical evidence to support it), what would suggest to them that a treasure shaft was there? What does a treasure shaft look like, especially that would be recognized by three boys?
The suggestion they dug down 30 feet also concerns me. Before I went to college I worked for a construction company, and we did some backhoe work. I helped dig trenches by hand, I know how difficult it is to dig deep by hand. If you’ve ever been to a funeral service at a gravesite, you know how deep that hole looks. It’s only roughly six feet. How did the three boys dig 30 feet down with spades? How did they get out of the 30 foot hole after they dug it?
Around 1807 it’s said that another treasure hunter dug in the same spot (how he knew the proper spot, I couldn’t say) and found a piece of stone inscribed with strange symbols. It’s claimed this stone somehow found its way to a respected American university, where it was translated to say “Two million pounds lay some feet below.” No photographs or etchings of the stone were ever taken (although university researchers typically do copy what they examine) and the stone, rather than being donated to a museum or the government, was said to have been used in a fireplace, then lost to history. How convenient.
Treasure hunting on the island continued right into the 20th Century. Sadly, a number of tragedies were linked to Oak Island. For example, the Restall family investigated the island, convinced that pirate treasure, in essence, was there somewhere. In 1965, four members of their group were killed by poison gas.
Some believers in the myth of Oak Island claim a complex shaft system, with treasure at the bottom, and an intricate flood trap linked to the beach area were constructed on the island at some time in the past. The system is said to include six, eight or more shafts which are hundreds of feet long. No evidence of these shafts have ever been found, and construction of them would have taken months at least, if not years. There’s no evidence ever found that a major work of engineering was ever undertaken on the island.
The word “evidence” has other meaning for Oak Island as well. As in, there has never been so much as a single coin taken off Oak Island as evidence that any kind of treasure lies there, other than material dropped down shafts, innocently or otherwise, by the treasure hunters themselves.
It seems to me the Mystery of Oak Island attracts fools motivated by pride and greed when a practical person should set aside fiction, look at the evidence and come to the proper answer:
There is nothing on that island. Or under it, for that matter.
Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.