The Mystery of Oak Island, Canada Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Mystery of Oak Island, Canada

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Conspiracy theorists have for years talked about the disappearances of Shergar and Lord Lucan. They have dreamed up ideas about who really killed JFK and up until recently they have speculated about the true identity of Deep Throat. There is one world mystery that until recently has been known to a few people but has not gained much recognition. Yet, whatever it is that is down there in the 'pit', for years now treasure-hunters and theorists have been drawn to this quiet corner of Nova Scotia1 and they are still no nearer discovering the truth.

The Beginning

It is all supposed to have started in 1795 when a 16-year-old Nova Scotian named Daniel McGinnis decided to explore the uninhabited Oak Island in Mahone Bay, just south of Halifax, Nova Scotia. He entered a small wood and noticed a large depression about 16 feet across. Standing over the depression was an ancient oak tree that showed all the scars of rope burn2. The depression looked just as if someone refilled a freshly dug hole and McGinnis immediately started to dream of buried pirates' treasure. Without any tools McGinnis could achieve nothing so he returned home and solicited the help of two friends, John Smith (19) and Anthony Vaughan (16). They began digging and four feet down found a layer of flagstones not native to the island's geology. This increased their excitement and they continued digging as the days and then weeks progressed. Ten feet down they found a platform of oak logs, closely set together and embedded in the walls of the shaft. Now, even more excited, they removed the logs and found yet more loosely-compacted soil. A further 20 feet down they discovered another timber platform and then yet another at 30 feet, however by now they were getting tired from the weeks of fruitless digging. They abandoned the site but didn't completely forget about it.

In 1803, the boys returned to the island with Simeon Lynds, a wealthy businessman who had secured enough capital to form a company with the purpose of carrying out some proper excavations. The Onslow Company quickly dug past 30 feet and oak platforms spaced every ten feet. Some of the platforms seemed to be with clay-based putty and coconut fibres. At 90 feet they found a large flat stone with a message engraved upon it, apparently in a cipher. The stone was removed and it wasn't until 1866 that a Halifax University professor appeared to decipher the text.

The workers removed the stone and kept digging when all of a sudden the dry soil started to become wet. Very soon the shaft started to fill with water. Bailing started immediately and seemed to have some effect so they continued to dig, removing one bucket of water for every two of soil excavated. The morning after the day of the floods the team returned to the site to discover that the pit up to ten metres from the surface was full of water. They swiftly discovered it was impossible to drain the water and stop it refilling. This put a major halt on their excavations - so much so that the Onlsow Company lost heart in the expedition and abandoned Oak Island.

The stone itself appears to be a simple substitution cipher which when the words were spelled out read 'Forty feet below two million pounds are buried.' A second tablet was found on the island in Smith Cove near to the pit; this stone appeared to be a fragment of a larger stone and unfortunately does not make much sense. It was engraved with a similar style of inscription as the first one and using the same cipher this appeared to read EUES or SEUE (it can be looked at from either way up) then the next line contains an 'A' and an indecipherable inscription. The stone does raise some points that are interesting if the cipher is correct: first, the text is English and secondly, the figure is given as pounds. Two million pounds was an almost unimaginably large amount of money to the average person in the early 19th Century and is still a large amount today.

Vaults and Traps

In 1849 another group arrived, the Truro Company swiftly decided that straight digging down would not work. Instead they decided to take bore hole samples and a drill platform was set up to drill into the pit which had by now become known as the 'Money Pit.' At 98 feet down they struck another wooden platform. This one was made of spruce and measured some five inches thick, drilling through the platform they discovered an air pocket of about 12 inches. Drilling through the air gap, they hit some oak this time before finally striking metal. The metal appeared to be made of loose pieces; this immediately caused great excitement as the loose pieces could easily have been coins inside a wooden box. With no way of knowing if they had struck money or not they continued boring and the auger finally struck another eight inches of oak. Not expecting much more, they drilled through the oak only to find another 22 inches of metal pieces and yet more oak and spruce, before finally hitting clay. When the auger was brought to the surface, it contained three small linked pieces of metal, described by a person present as 'resembling an ancient watch chain.' These results were promising, for they seemed to indicate the presence of two chests, one on top of the other, filled with coins or other loose metal.

A problem remained, however: could the investigators get to the chests if every time they tried to dig the tunnel would flood? Someone had a fairly simple idea. Where was the water coming from? Oak Island sits within Mahone Bay so there is plenty of surrounding water, but the question was how the water was getting from the bay to the pit 500 feet inland. Considering the large volume of water required to flood the excavation in a single night, something strange had to be going on. The workers then noticed that at low tide water appeared to be bubbling out of the sand at Smith's Cove on the eastern edge of the island a considerable distance from the pit. They decided to excavate the beach...and found it to be artificial!

Whoever had built the pit had laid out a series of five drains shaped like the fingers of a hand spread out. The fingers converged at a funnel-shaped sump where the palm of the hand would be. From here they followed a stone-lined sloping 'arm' channel four feet wide and two-and-a-half feet high that fed water to the Money Pit. Each 145-feet-long finger was made by digging a channel into the clay soil and then filling it with boulders and stones. The ingenious part of these channels was that they were lined with eel grass and coconut fibres. These materials acted like a filter to prevent the channels filling with silt. This enabled the channels to feed water at a rate of 600 gallons per minute. Just like one of the fiendish devices in the movie the Goonies, the Money Pit contained a simple but effective trap. The wood platforms acted as a stopper making the bottom of the pit airtight, in the same way as when you hold a bottle upside down into water the air is trapped and no water can rush in. If, however, you puncture a hole in the bottom of the bottle the air can escape and the water rushes in. When the diggers broke through the stopper platform in the pit, air rushed out and the pit flooded. The Truro Company tried to stop the water entering the system many times but nothing worked and in the end they left Oak Island.

In 1893, Fred Blair and the Oak Island Treasure suspended a drilling rig over the main pit and this was quite productive. At 126 feet the drill passed through the previous drilling's limit and hit an iron object. This was probably the remains of a pit collapse during investigations in 1861, so they drilled deeper and then at 154 feet deep they hit another cement vault. Although they couldn't see it the bore showed the vault to be about seven feet high with seven-inch-thick walls. After punching through the cement they hit two inches of oak then another two-inch air gap before striking soft 'metal'. The shape of the metal meant that it could possibly be ingots. Obviously excited, they continued and two hours later passed through the ingots into more loose metal pieces just like in the earlier chests. When the drill was removed attached to the auger was a scrap of sheepskin parchment with the letters 'VI' on it (or possibly 'UI' or 'WI'). These results indicated a vault made of cement containing a wooden box packed full of loose metal pieces and ingot; it certainly sounds like treasure. Frustratingly, though, nobody was able to get access to the chest due to the water, especially after a second flood tunnel was discovered in 1899.

The Mystery Deepens

The 20th Century saw the emergence of many more treasure-hunters including the future US president Franklin Roosevelt. The most prominent was Gilbert Hedden. Working with Fred Blair, he found a fragment of stone outside the pit similar to the one found in it back in 1803. He also firmly believed a link between Oak Island and a treasure map supposedly drawn by the famous pirate William Kidd. The map was very crude and didn't mention Oak Island in particular but it did have a set of directions.

18 W and by 7 E on Rock 30 SW 14 N Tree 7 by 8 by 4

Hedden found a boulder with a quarter-inch diameter and two-inch-deep hole in it and Fred Blair informed Hedden he'd found an identical boulder at Smiths Cove years before. The distance between the boulders was measured to be 412 feet or 25 Rods3. 18 plus seven is 25 so they realised the unit used on the map was rods. One worker then walked 30 rods in a south-westerly direction and to his shock found himself standing among some overgrown bushes which covered an obviously man-made formation of boulders in the shape of a large triangle. The triangle pointed towards true north (not magnetic north) which just happened to be towards the Money Pit 14 rods away! The final part of the directions is still a mystery today.

Over the following years various people continued the work at Oak Island. George Greene drilled down to 140 feet where he hit limestone. After punching through the rock he hit a 40-feet-high empty space and then bedrock at 180 foot. This 40-feet-high cavern was a new discovery. Greene pumped 100,000 gallons of water into it which promptly drained away to somewhere that was never discovered. The pit finally claimed four people's lives in August 1965 when an ex-stuntman called Bob Restall passed out and fell into the water at the bottom of a shaft. In an attempt to reach him his son Bobbie and two workers also passed out and fell into the water. All four men drowned - although it's not known for certain, it's thought they passed out due to inhaling fumes from a nearby generator. After the Restalls left the island an American geologist arrived. Bob Dunfield built a causeway linking the island to the mainland and drove a 70 ton crane onto it. His diggings found the remains of a filled in tunnel that may have been another flood tunnel that the designers stopped for unknown reason only 45 feet down. After digging another big hole 140 feet deep and 100 feet wide near to the pit and not finding much, Dunfield ran out of money and left.

The man currently searching and running excavation at Oak Island is Daniel Blankenship. His expedition began in 1966. Below the drains at Smiths Cove he found a pair of scissors that were probably 300 years old and made in Mexico during the Spanish conquest, but the most startling find was by his Triton Company in 1971. Borehole 10-X was drilled north of the original pit and brought up fragments of brass china and wood but the shock came from when they lowered a television camera down the hole into another cavern full of dark murky stagnant water at 212 feet deep. Blakenship and several others were watching the monitor when they saw what appeared to be a human hand severed at the wrist just floating past some wooden chests. The photos from the monitor certainly seemed to agree with this so 10-X was enlarged and divers sent down. Unfortunately, the current proved to be too strong and the divers had to be pulled out. Shortly afterwards 10-X collapsed, almost killing Blakenship.

Modern Day

Oak Island today is the site of an exclusive health spa but Blakenship's company Titon still run excavations at the Money Pit site although they do seem to be tied up in legal wrangles at the moment. They certainly have added to the mystery as they paid $100,000 for a geological survey, the results of which they have refused to publish. Perhaps one day they will discover everything that the pit has to hold but not for a while. The legend states that the oaks of the island will hide the treasure until they are all dead. There are now only two trees left…

Mysteries and Theories

Pirates' Gold

One of the commonest theories about Oak Island is to do with pirates' and buried treasure. The famous rogue Edward Teach - aka Black Beard - is said to have buried his treasure:

where none but Satan and myself can find it

This has prompted people to speculate that this was on Oak Island; however, the pirate most commonly linked to the Money Pit is Captain William Kidd. Kidd was a Scotsman born in around 1645 who sort of drifted into piracy having first been a privateer. When he was eventually caught in New York and transported to England to be hanged, some of his loot was discovered buried on Gardener's Island near to Long Island Sound. However the majority of the fabulous amount of treasure he'd stolen during his career was missing. With the missing money, a known predilection to bury treasure and a map that seems to show Oak Island, a finger pointed straight at Kidd.

The Knight's Templar and the Freemasons

The story of Oak Island becomes much more like a conspiracy theory with the introduction of the Templar and their successors Freemasons. The Templars' link to Oak Island comes from the Sinclair4 family of Scottish nobles. The Sinclairs were descended from Norman Knights and have long been linked with the Poor Knights, it is thought that Henry Sinclair5 the 1st Earl of Orkney, Baron of Roslyn and Lord of Shetland may have sailed to the Americas in 1398 some 94 years before Columbus. It is speculated that it was Henry who transported the secret wealth of the Templars to the New World rather than the founding fathers, as shown in the film National Treasure, and it was hidden on Oak Island instead of Trinity Church New York. The evidence that points at Henry becomes stronger when we consider that Henry's grandson William Sinclair (1410 - 1484) designed and built Rosslyn Chapel in 1440. The chapel is a stunning piece of architecture that boasts a carving of a plant unknown in Europe before Columbus's voyages and many pieces of Masonic and Templar imagery.

Oak Island itself actually boasts evidence of Masonic and Templars influences, an example of which is the granite boulder that was discovered in 1967. This huge rock had obviously sat unmoved for many years before it was overturned by a bulldozer working on the site. To the amazement of onlookers, the underside was inscribed with a clear letter 'G' inside a rectangle. The G in a rectangle denotes the Masonic Grand Geometer of the Universal God, one of the most public of all Masonic symbols after the compass and square6. A yet more intriguing link to Nova Scotia was the discovery of a number of large geometric patterns scattered across the landscape much like the leylines in the UK. These lines appear to intersect only at sites that contained the word 'Cross' in some part of their current or historical name. This fact occurs irrespective of whether the place is or was named in English, French or Mi'kmaq7. Where the lines formed a hexagon, the centre of the hexagon would always contain a strange monument showing a cross and a serpent. These monuments appear in some unlikely places such as bang in the centre of a road or in old churchyards and even in a dedicated Freemason hall.

Francis Bacon

One of the strangest theories surrounding Oak Island concerns the philosopher, statesman, freemason, essayist and spy Sir Francis Bacon. Francis Bacon was born in York House on the Strand in London on the 22 January, 1561. His father was Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal for Elizabeth I. There are many mysteries surrounding Sir Francis, the biggest of which being that it was actually him who authored the plays and sonnets that we acknowledge to be written by William Shakespeare. The connection to Oak Island comes from his fascination with codes and cryptography;8 this could link him to the inscribed stone tablet found in the Money Pit. His connection to Canada comes from 1610 when King James I granted Bacon land in Newfoundland near to Oak Island. He possibly had Masonic connections and also has a tie to the strange inscription that is linked to the Arcadian9 treasure at Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire. This inscription which is possibly a cipher

D . U . . S . V . A . V . V M . found on the Sheppard's Monument in the grounds of Shugborough Hall and depicts a scene based on the French artist Nicholas Poussin's work called Et in Arcadia ego ('I am also in Arcadia'). We're back to the Greek fantasy paradise of Arcadia again. Interestingly, the phrase is an anagram of the Latin I! Tego arcana Dei, meaning 'Begone! I keep God's Secrets'. A phrase that has been found inscribed on gravestones in Nova Scotia and a possible reference to a hidden religious secret such as the Holy Grail or the Arc of the Covenant.

A Natural Formation

Many sceptics have said that the whole Money Pit is a fake and that the hole is a natural formation. The geology of Oak Island is certainly Limestone which does often form sinkholes and given that the whole island is very low lying it is possible for water to seep through the bedrock to fill the shafts. In fact a sink hole did appear on Oak Island in 1878 when a local woman was ploughing the earth east of the pit. The ground suddenly opened up under her Oxen forming what became known as the 'cave in pit.' This 'cave in pit' was then excavated by Fred Blair10 who found the connection to the arm of the water channel. Support for the natural formation theory comes from the history of the early excavations. Oak Island's mysteries were not mentioned in a documented, historically proven way until an article about the excavation appeared in an 1857 copy of the Liverpool Transcript Newspaper. As there were no documents detailing the original discovery excavations it could well all be myth and legend. The later excavations have all been documented but they’ve never proven the existence manmade tunnel. This was especially true after Robert Dunfields excavations left serious doubts about the exact location of the original pit. The sceptics also have problems with ideas of pirates or 14th-Century knights digging such technically complex excavations on such a massive scale.

Other Theories

There are many other theories about who made the pit, ranging from Mayan Indians to Vikings to the British. In fact this British claim to the treasure was sort of reinforced in the late 1930s. One day a young girl named Peggy Adams who lived on Oak Island was playing near the pit when she saw men in what she described as redcoats and funny hats. She ran back to tell her mother and when the pair retraced their steps the men had vanished. Years later on a trip to the Citadel Castle in nearby Halifax Peggy mentioned how the waxworks of the British Soldiers on display looked exactly like the men she had seen at Oak Island, yet the uniforms the mannequins wore dated from 1754 - 1783.

1a province of Canada; the name means 'New Scotland'2In fact, some accounts of McGinnis's first foray onto the island actually state a mouldy old block and tackle were still swinging from the tree.3A rod is unit of measurement - 16.5 feet or 5.5 yards. It is also known as a pole or - especially in the USA - a perch. The rod was one of an important set of measures that were subdivisions of the mile. Four rods equal one chain (22 yards — still the length of a cricket pitch), 40 rods make one furlong and 320 rods equal one mile. The name comes from the use of a rod as a measuring stick (although a 16.5 foot one is a bit big!). It's first recorded in the 15th Century; 'pole' dates from about the same period.4Alternatively known as the St Clair51345 – 14006A small metal square was also found at Smiths Cove during the excavations7 The Mi'kmaq are the local Native American tribe in Nova Scotia8The process or skill of communicating in or deciphering secret writings or ciphers.9 The Arcadian treasure gets its name from the land of Arcadia. This was an idea in Greek mythology that there was utopian a land untouched by human civilisation, free of war and a place of outstanding natural beauty. Interestingly, there is also a region in the Peloponnesus area of Greece called Arcadia although perhaps of more significance is the fact that when the French ruled Nova Scotia in the 17th Century it was known as Acadie.10Who strangely happens to have been a prominent Freemason

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