Oak Island treasure: the search renews

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Photo: Archives of Nova Scotia This 1938 photo shows one of the treasure dig pits on Oak Island, off Nova Scotia’s south shore. A group is using technology on the island to locate secret underground tunnels that may lead to fabled pirate’s treasure.

In a renewed bid to uncover the elusive and mystical treasure believed by man to be buried deep within Oak Island off Nova Scotia’s south shore, a group of treasure hunters is using electrical currents to detect secret underground tunnels

For the past six years, Rick Lagina and four others – including Dan Blankenship, whose lifetime dedication to the island is almost as legendary as the place itself – have been searching for the hidden treasure.

This summer, they put their hopes in technology.

On a hot, cloudless day in early July, they placed a device in the middle of the island that miners, archeologists and environmentalists often use to map underground structures.

Powered by a car battery, the square, greyish-green box zapped 800-volt bursts of energy through attached cords to various points on the island, to depths sometimes the length of a football field.

The method, called electrical resistivity, pulsed electric currents through the earth and recorded how much each area repelled the charge.

Lagina said he hoped to pinpoint spots that were particularly resistant or unexpectedly conductive compared to their surroundings – anything out of the ordinary.

Lagina has been dreaming about the fabled Nova Scotia island ever since he was an 11-year-old living in Michigan. He read a magazine article about the 200-year-old search for the fabled money pit some believe was buried on Oak Island by pirates.

Now 59 years old, Lagina is still dreaming.

After two weeks of gathering data, the team sent the numbers to a geological analyst in Montreal. Lagina said he got the results back three weeks ago.

When asked if there was anything interesting, he paused.

“There are interesting anomalies, yes,” he said. He later added, “There are more than several sites that we are very excited about.”

But the island has a well-documented history of thwarting discovery efforts, Lagina said.

While they were cutting through the brush to make way for their line grid, everything that could go wrong did, he said. The truck’s engine blew, tools went missing, and the resistivity device itself stopped working more than once.

When they phoned the manufacturer in France, the woman on the line said, “‘Can’t happen, never happened, not in the history of the instrument. The unit is incapable of shutting down.’

“Five times it shut down,” Lagina said.

Legend has it that the Oak Island treasure will not be found until seven humans have died trying to find it and all the oak trees on the island are gone. So far the island’s native umbrella oaks have all wilted away, and the treasure hunt has claimed six lives – none of them from Lagina’s crew.

For the rest of the summer, Lagina said he and the others will assess which anomalies show the most promise and warrant further investigation with drilling. They have to be selective because wherever they drill needs to be worth the cash, he said.

They’ve already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, exploring Oak Island (Lagina’s brother Marty – who’s also in on the search – did well in the oil and gas industry). Each new drilling venture costs about the same as a water well, foot for foot.

However, they must do the drilling soon, though; their government-granted treasure trove licence expires in December.

“I wish I had an X-marks-the-spot, but alas, I have no ‘X’.”

While Lagina acknowledged they might not find anything, he said they’re excited about their chances.

“I believe that it will be a fairly rich, to use the word, story of what happened there.”

However, not everyone is so sure.

Alex Storm got into the Nova Scotian treasure hunting business in the 1960s and has had substantial success, finding famous wrecks, such as the French treasure ship Le Chameau. He said he bases all his searching on documentation and verifiable data – something he said Oak Island lacks.

“I don’t think it will work out to anything. It’s just people keeping busy and trying to keep a dream alive.”

But that hasn’t stopped people from trying. Ever since a teenaged Daniel McGinnis came across a curious depression in the ground in 1795, there have been many excavations of the Money Pit – all of which have been fruitless except for the discovery of various booby traps and suggestive bits of metal.

Theories abound as to what might be hidden there, from pirate booty to knights Templar treasure to Shakespeare’s manuscripts.

But Lagina said that for him, it’s more about filling in the blanks of the story and solving the mystery.

“What really happened on Oak Island?”


Previously published in the Telegraph-Journal, Aug 22, 2011

New Brunswick star attraction needs repairs

The big water wheel on the iconic lumber mill at King’s Landing Historical Settlement has ground to a halt and the devastating rainstorms that hit New Brunswick in December are to blame.

Officials at the site say the mill can’t be repaired in time for this summer’s tourist season, but there are plans to fix the wheel and the dam.

Alain Boisvert, executive director at King’s Landing Historical Settlement, said the lumber mill was due for reconstruction under a three-year infrastructure plan.

But when the wintery floodwaters continued to rise until they spilled over the dam, the infrastructure became even more damaged.

The damage isn’t necessarily visible to the untrained eye, Boisvert said.

But an engineer or heritage maintenance officer could detect the warped planks or little pieces of lumber that affect the curve of the all-wooden structure, and the safety issues therein.

Because of these instabilities, the bridge crossing the dam will be closed for the summer, but visitors will still be able to poke around the old grist mill and sawmill, Boisvert said.

He said the many stakeholders involved – the settlement’s board of directors and federal partners among them – are looking for engineering solutions and sources of funding.

Boisvert said while it’s too early to say what the reconstruction will end up costing, at least $500,000 was estimated in the initial planning.

“Here at King’s Landing, we stretch a dollar like no one does,” he said.

However, others have argued that the total will be much more. In the end it will depend a lot on what type of partnership is made, Boisvert said.

“This is why we will knock at many doors, including Engineers Without Borders and partners at UNB.”

Some engineers and maintenance crews have already visited the site to assess the situation.

He said many factors will need to be considered during the reconstruction, including environmental concerns surrounding the health of the pond beside the dam.

Boisvert said he can’t say when the big wheel will start churning water again.

He said the grist and lumber mills are icons.

The rustic setting is one of the most photographed scenes in the province and region, and it has graced the face of stamps.

The reconstructions will be exact replicas of their typical 19th-century forebear, Boisvert said.

The dam – which is crucial to the operation of the mills – is a cribwork, earthen, rolling dam.

The last time the dam was reconstructed was in 1973, from notched cedar logs, clay and rocks.

“We have the blueprints in hand for the way it has to be … this is the beauty of it, the authenticity of it.”

Previously published June 15, 2011; Telegraph-Journal, the Daily Gleaner