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A Very Expensive Hole in Nova Scotia, Canada

Oak Island

Aerial View

Aerial View


Meet Oak Island

What if I told you there is fantastical treasure? That the treasure was at the bottom of a hole on an island off the coast of Nova Scotia, the once favoured stomping grounds of pirates. Would you believe me? You might if you knew your history.

What if I told you:

  • that since 1795 there have been countless failed excavations.
  • John Wayne, Errol Flynn and Roosevelt all owned or invested in companies involved with Oak Island Treasure.
  • It is nearly 200ft deep.
  • No man or machine of modern day has conquered it.
  • it has cost 2-10 million dollars to date.
  • 6 people have lost their lives in this hunt for it.

And it still has not been recovered.

Its the story of one of Canadas more fascinating and complex puzzles that have only been compounded into more complexity by the actions of men who have hunted for its wealth. It's a story of greed, controversy and very little humour.

If you have never heard of Oak Island or its story, boy do I have a treat for you ...

Location of Oak Island, Nova Scotia

Location of Oak Island, Nova Scotia

How it Started

In 1795 a young strapping lad of 16 (or 18) named Daniel McGinnis stumbled upon a depression in the ground on his way to a fishing hole. There was an adjacent tree with an overhanging branch that bore the scars or marks of a rope and pulley system. Intrigued he returned the next day with friends, Anthony Vaughan and Samuel Ball (who is also referred to later as John Smith). The ground was freshly packed, earth was soft. There were pick axe marks along the wall. The boys knew something good laid below and kept on digging.

First they found unnaturally placed stones, every 10ft or so they found logs of wood and by 30ft they had abandoned the hole and went home, presumably they could dig no deeper without better tools.

Nine years passed before those boys made it back with the financial backing of another, the site was just as they left it and they set to work digging. They easily and quickly dug back to the 30ft level and from there found the following

  • At 40ft, a layer of charcoal.
  • At 50ft, a layer of soft putty
  • At 60ft, a layer of coconut fiber
  • In between these at every 10 feet were the logs.
  • In around the 80-90ft range, a inscribed stone was found, with symbols.

A hard days work, they rested for the evening and returned on the morrow. The near 100ft deep hole, was filled with water to roughly the 10ft mark. No amount of bailing the water helped, they dug a second hole beside the original and tunnelled it over. They were lucky to escape alive when it not only didn't work and empty the original hole, but collapsed as well.

Running out of money and feeling the treasure was forever just outta reach, he bailed the entire project.

He would not be the only one to ever do so.

Diagram of Drilling Results in a pretty and easy understand way.

Diagram of Drilling Results in a pretty and easy understand way.

The Attempts

Truro Company

In 1849, nearly 40 years from the last attempt did a company of investors form The Truro Company and re-excavated the shaft back to 86ft, where it flooded again. The Truro Company was also drilling samples and this is what they brought up after sinking the drill past the 86ft level:

  • First was a spruce platform just past the 86ft mark
  • At 98ft a 12inch head space,
  • followed by 22inches of what was described as pieces of metal,
  • Another 8inches of oak wood
  • then 22inches of metal,
  • 4inches more of oak
  • A layer of spruce
  • Finally into clay for 7ft without striking anything
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Artificial Beaches

This company also discovered that the beach nearby was an artificial beach in 1850, acting as a drain system. Whoever designed this pit and beach, was bloody brilliant!. This drain system resembled the fingers of a hand and was spread out over 145ft of beach. Each finger was a man made channel with layers of rocks, eel grass and coconut fibers, an excellent filtration system to keep silt and sand out and allow water to flow freely. These fingers meet at a point inland, where they feed sea water into a sloping channel which then feeds into the money pit hole, at 95ft to 110ft.

The answer was simple now, right. Build a dam, block the flow of water and dig out your pirates bootie. This they did, but mother nature spanked them for such an attempt and ruined their dam, but did reveal, an older dam. Like the boys before them, they bowed out from a treasure that is right there, just out of reach.

The Oak Island Association was the next to attempt to tackle the money pit, that attempt collapsed the bottom of the hole and the treasure feel even further down into either a natural cavern or an other booby trap underneath. This company went broke in 1864.

Over the next few years, many companies tried and failed to crack the puzzle, dug more shafts and watch them fill with water. In 1893 though a man named Fred Blair and Oak Island Treasure Company (OITC) began their search.

Fred and OITC

First they explored a cave-in pit found in 1878 when a women was plowing and her oxen nearly fell in it is either 100ft or 350ft east of the Money Pit. It appears to be a ventilation shaft for the flood shaft builders. It flooded at 55ft. Abandoned that hole.

In 1897 they did manage to dig to 111ft and seen the flood tunnel opening and stopped it up. But water is water and water does as water do and it does leak and seep. The hole filled with ... yes, how did you guess? water. They then tried to blow up the source of the flow of water from Smiths Cove by using dynamite, 5 charges were let off in holes near the flood tunnels. When they went to see what they had done, yes, water was flowing into the hole as freely as ever.

While they were pumping, bailing, digging and blowing things up, they were also drilling. They came at 136ft to a crooked wood and metal, most presumably the earlier fallen treasure.

Between 130ft and 151ft as well as between 160ft to 171ft layers of a water sealing type of blue clay was found. The big find was the gap between these putty layers. First the drill struck wood, space, several inches of an unknown material or substance, a soft metal layer, 3ft of metal pieces and more metal. When the drill was brought up there was a piece of sheepskin on it with either 'ui', 'vi' or 'wi'.

More convinced than ever of pirate or valuable treasure, they keep sinking holes in the island and the island kept filling them up (almost sounds like a LOST preview). In 1899, they found a second flood tunnel on the South Shore, though this did nothing to bring anyone closer, it did confirm for those vested in this hunt, that valuable treasure was there.

The drills revealed nothing new, and eventually this company went under too. Other companies stood up to the plate but all meet with the same miserable failure of water in the hole and the treasure still out of reach. The excavations in 1909, 1931, 1935, 1936 and 1959 were not successful and this trend of build a shaft, fill with water, give up .. goes on till even today.


Borehole 10X

Borehole 10X is a 237ft tub of steel sunk to a depth of 180ft, Northeast of the Money Pit. It was into this hole that a camera was sent down and brought up some interesting pictures. It showed 3 chests, various tools, a severed hand and finally the body to said hand. Divers were sent in, but a very low to nil visibility and strong currents forced them to quit that idea.

The hole collapsed soon after the diving attempt.

What's the Treasure

Well, its never been brought up, there is no evidence of who or what put it down there, so all we have are theories. Some are pretty good creative wise, some may make your eyeballs roll right out of your head.

  1. The most popular theory is it is the treasure of Captain Kidd, the famous pirate who was known for some R and R on the scenic shores of Nova Scotia as well as a penchant for burying part of his loot around various places.
  2. Another theory claims it is Marie Antoinette's jewels that are historically missing. Its said a handmaid with the help of the last remains of Marie's army got her to London, then to Lunenburg in Nova Scotia. The English and French were warring something fierce in this time period, so it has been theorized that the jewels are at the bottom of the pit, naval engineers built it. I will point out here that some say it could have been Spanish naval from a wrecked galleon hiding their treasure or even the English.
  3. There are a few supporters for a theory that it is the missing Knights Templar treasures, as Nova Scotia has a masonic history. Even may be the Covenant of the Ark.
  4. Some say it is Francis Bacon also known as Shakespeare who has buried treasure down there. I am not a fan of this one at all, its linked to the scrap of paper brought up.
  5. Sink holes, natural phenomena of and or on the island. I am a huge fan of this one, once I l learned more about sink holes and this particular piece of the world. More in my thoughts near the end of article.


The thoughts of a mild skeptic

After 200 years of drilling, digging shafts and collapsing shafts, regardless its storied past or hidden treasures or secrets, the digging, pumping and blowing up the various areas of the Oak Island have resulted in confusion and the loss of much of the original information, such as the exact location of the first money pit that was dug in 1795.

There were a few small things I didn't mention such as rocks acting like rosetta stones, lost gold chains and found artifacts. The Island has had occupants living on it since the time the hole was discovered. Trinkets and tools dug up to act as proof of previous work are null and voided by the fact the island had previous inhabitants that lived there full time and for generations, not to mention the numerous crews and workers who have been stomping through the holes 200 year history.

When I was a kid and even up until the time of the writing of this article, I was a huge fan of the Oak Island Mystery, I remember some show in the 80's doing a special on it, and it has been since then a favourite mystery of mine. I tried to look at the story with older, more skeptical eyes and these are my thoughts on the mystery and the writing of it.

Let's start at the start of the tale

  • There is no proof, other than some men in 1804 - 1805 stating they found the hole and dug it up in 1795. The first newspaper article on it was in 1846. ITs very likely the earlier story was invented to generate more interest and thus funds.
  • The claim of a scarred and marked up branch with a pulley system over it (conveniently). I am sure those who put all this effort into protecting their treasure would leave so clear a clue that something was down below.
  • The stone with inscriptions on it is gone, Mr Smith felt it would look great in his fireplace, not to mention there is a hubbub on where the stones symbols came from, as a book or such was published with them in it. The inscription is said to read - 40ft below 2 million pounds.
  • To date, there have been a number of 'similar' holes found around the island and on the mainland. Most having the same characteristics as the money pit.
  • The notion of logs every 9, 10 or 11ft came along later, it appears to have been picked and chosen from earlier ones to create a neat composite of layers and build intrigue. An early account mentions the original digger found flagstone at 2ft and mentions a tier of logs at 12ft and continued some 15ft down. A James McNutt, treasure seeker, describes a much different arrangement. The borehole is gone, as are all notes for it.
  • Because of all the questionable 'treasure hints' that were found and now are gone with nary proof of their existence other than word of mouth, more and more engineers came to crack the puzzle of Oak Island. In engineer circles, it is highly believed due to the geology of the entire area and the fact that the 'Island' is actually a peninsula (water is 45ft higher today).
  • In geology circles, it is believed and understood that there are many sink holes not only around the world, but in Nova Scotia herself. Geologist Rudolph Faribault (sp?) found numerous sink holes on the mainland opposite Oak Island, and sink holes are regularly found in the area consisting of the same layers/arrangement. In 1911 a report concluded that there is strong evidence to support natural caverns.

More? Ok.

  • In 1975 a sewage disposal system was being put in on the mainland, roughly 3000ft North of Oak Island, workmen excavating with heavy machinery broke through a layer of rocks to discover a 52ft deep cavern (crocker, 1993)
  • In 1969 the Triton Oak Island Hunters Group while drilling in 1969 discovered and broke into such a cavern at 165ft. Owners figure it was man made, geologists say its natural. Particularly with the proof of the neat layers missing.
  • In 1949 over on the shores of Mahone Bay, 5 miles south of Oak Island. Yet another money pit was found when workers were digging a well. The site was chosen for the softer unpacked earth. It's said "At 2ft down a layer of fieldstone was struck, then logs of spruce and oak were unearthed at semi regular intervals, some charred".
  • A geologist writing on Oak Islands unique geological make up, stated that naturally formed caverns in the islands bedrock, are what is causing the flooding, a natural flow of water through a holey island, basically.

After 200 years, the east end of the island, is a mess of shafts and cross cutting, drilling and blowing up, with tunnels running in every direction has completely complicated the picture and dimmed the hopes of ever knowing for sure, what the heck happened. With the lack of evidence, the unsurity of the original holes location and the natural geology of the island, Oak Island and her secrets, may never be captured.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Demas W Jasper from Today's America and The World Beyond on March 27, 2012:

Metal, sheepskins, coconut fibers, oak...the mystery is a good one, and your tale recounted it well with great photos and sustained interest. Now will you turn to writing fictional mysteries? I think you would do well. Up and Interesting.

LyttleTwoTwo (author) from Canada on January 06, 2012:

Thank you Movie Master ... sometimes writing about something you knew of as a kid brings a whole new light and angle to it. I was a gullible kid I suspect, I fell for this one hook line and sinker!.

Movie Master from United Kingdom on January 06, 2012:

What a read, I was completely immersed in your words! Living in the UK I had never heard of the 'money pit' and found the whole story fascinating.

Well researched and written, thank you so much for sharing and voted up.

LyttleTwoTwo (author) from Canada on January 05, 2012:

Very true, and that was actually one idea, I never came across.

Many geologists speculate that all of the island and these 'money pits' are nothing but natural formations put into a pattern by the human mind seeking ways to connect dots.

The description given to the artificial beach, could have been as easily layered out like the shafts and their materials to give the impression of something more, to gain or garner more funding.

Honestly I think in the beginning it was a crazy mans hope and so many are invested its hard to let go. Interestingly, they do tours on the island now.

Thanks for the comment and the excellent speculations!

Sustainable Sue from Altadena CA, USA on January 05, 2012:

Ok, this is a great article talking about a really stupid endeavor. Why have all these people automatically been assuming treasure??? What if this was a simple system set up to convert sea water into fresh water for drinking? It's a small island, the people living there could have dug a deep, deep well to store lots of water and then put different types of locally available filtration media in it. Sounds like they wouldn't even have needed a pump. (I'm just speculating.)

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