Oak Island: One of The Greatest Canadian Mysteries Near Chester, Nova Scotia
Across Mahone Bay from Chester, Nova Scotia, you can spot an island that is filled with secrets: Oak Island. This place has been mystifying people since the 1790s and, while it is now privately owned, this hasn’t stopped the stories, myths, and legends from travelling around. The widely popular show, Curse of Oak Island, has revitalized interest in the mystery of Oak Island. Chester, Nova Scotia is the closest town to Oak Island and the starting point for tours of the mysterious site.
First inhabited by indigenous Mi’kmaq several thousand years ago, Oak Island had its first confirmed European residents in the 1750s. These were French fishermen who had built a few places in Chester, which was officially founded in 1759. From 1761-1762, the island was surveyed and divided into 32 lots between settlers. During the late 1770’s, the locally used name “Oak Island” became official. Since then, the Island has been intermittently owned by treasure hunters who are digging for its alleged treasures.
The Curse & Captain Kidd’s Treasure
“Alleged” is really the proper term for anything you hear about Oak Island. There are a number of rumours about its treasures, none of which have been positively confirmed. There’s even a curse; the curse of Oak Island stated that seven men will die during the search for the treasure before it is found. No one is attributed to the curse but is said that it originated more than a century ago. To date, six men have died in their efforts to find the treasure.
Beginning in the 1700s, the first mystery has been the one surrounding the infamous Captain Kidd and buried treasure. First brought up by settlers in the region, the story goes that a dying sailor, a part of Captain Kidd’s crew, told people that there was approximately £2 million worth of treasure buried somewhere on the island. In today’s money, it would be around £367,175,277.66, which is around $635,242,373.79 Canadian.
The most widely believed account with some mildly concrete evidence was in 1799. A man by the name of Daniel McGinnis found a depression in the ground while he was out looking for a location for a farm. He believed this was consistent with the story of Captain Kidd’s treasure, so he and two other men started to dig. With the depression dug out, there was a layer of flagstones 2 feet below. Oak platforms were then discovered every 10 feet, with marks on the walls of the pit that looked like they could have been made with tools. The three men then abandoned the hole around 30 feet down due to what some called “superstitious dread”. This ditch became known as the Money Pit.
Around 1802, another group came to the Money Pit and continued the excavation further downwards. Near the 90 foot mark (with the marks still at every 10 feet), they found several layers of peculiar substances; charcoal, putty, and coconut fibres, as well as a large stone with mysterious markings on it. The pit soon flooded with 60 feet of water but no one knows how or why. This group tried to dig another tunnel for the supposed treasure but that also flooded.
From then, companies came and went, re-excavating in and around the Money Pit. Some holes turned up bits of wood, coconut fibre, soft clay, and blue mud. A sample from 1896 was taken and a tiny piece of sheepskin parchment was found. It had two letters written in India ink. In 1913, a man named William Chappell came and excavated the pit and a number of artifacts were found: an axe, a fluke anchor, and a Cornish miner’s pick.
Between 1967 and the 1990s, a syndicate of explorers was formed called the Triton Alliance. According to two members, cameras were lowered into the pit and recorded “possible chests, human remains, wooden cribs, and tools”. Due to the unclear images, none of the claims have been confirmed. The most recent explorations have been documented by History’s channel reality show The Curse of Oak Island.
One persistent rumour is that Marie Antionnette’s jewels may be hidden on the island. It’s said that Marie told one of her maids to flee with her jewels as an angry mob marched to the Palace. The maid was (allegedly) able to flee to London and then to Nova Scotia. A book by Penn Leary tells that the pit was used to hide manuscripts that would indicate Francis Bacon was the real author of William Shakespeare’s works.
Another book, this time written by Mark Finnan, told that many Masonic markings were found throughout the island and that the mysterious contents of the pit seemed to replicate a Masonic initiation rite, involving a hidden vault with sacred treasure.
Start Looking – from a distance
While tours of the mysterious Oak Island are currently closed due to the pandemic (and may be closed for some time according to the tour company’s website), you can still see and sail around the island from the Aspotogan Peninsula in Chester about 45 minutes from downtown Halifax. Keep in mind that it is a private island and trespassers are not allowed.