A True Tale of a Hole in the Ground

Pirates, Treasure and Puzzles

Would you believe me if I said, 'there is a hole on an island off the coast of Nova Scotia with treasure at its bottom.'


What if I casually mention that this island in Canada is also once the favoured stomping grounds of pirates?.

Now I have your attention. A small island off the coast of Nova Scotia does indeed have a deep hole with treasure sitting at the bottom. And Nova Scotia is the once favoured stomping grounds, rest and relaxation and 'sandy banks' of pirates. 

Oak Island on the MapCredit: Courtesy Norman EinsteinBut this hole and treasure is just not that simple. Since 1795 people have tried to retrieve this treasure only to fail. Anywhere from two to ten million dollars has been spent, possibly more. Famous men such as John Wayne, Roosevelt and Errol Flynn have all invested or owned companies that were involved in the retrieval of the treasure, it was not just local lore. The hole is nearly 200 feet deep and no man nor machine have conquered it or brought out its secrets. Sadly, six people have lost their lives in this hunt.

It still has not been recovered.

This is the story of one of Canada's more fascinating and complex puzzles that have only been compounded into more complexity by the actions of men who have hunted for its wealth.

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

How it all got started

Or as the story goes

In 1795, on his way to a popular fishing hole, a young male named Daniel McGinnis stumbled upon a depression in the ground. He noticed nearby a tree with an overhanging branch that bore the scars of a rope and pulley system. Intrigued he returned the next day with friends and supplies to dig into the area. As they started they noted that the ground was freshly packed, the earth was soft and pick axe marks along the wall could be seen.

The boys knew something good laid below as they came across some unnaturally placed stones, roughly every 10ft they found logs of wood and by 30ft they had to abandoned the hole. Presumably they could dig no deeper without better tools.

In 1795, on his way to a popular fishing hole, a young male named Daniel McGinnis stumbled upon a depression in the ground. He noticed nearby a tree with an overhanging branch that bore the scars of a rope and pulley system. Intrigued he returned the next day with friends and supplies to dig into the area. As they started they noted that the ground was freshly packed, the earth was soft and pick axe marks along the wall could be seen.

The boys knew something good laid below as they came across some unnaturally placed stones, roughly every 10ft they found logs of wood and by 30ft they had to abandoned the hole. Presumably they could dig no deeper without better tools. 

The DiscoveryCredit: oakislandmoneypitNine years passed before Daniel and his friends could find the financial backing needed to explore their discovery made years before. The site was exactly as they had left it and the quickly set to work easily and quickly digging back to that earlier dug up 30ft. Around the 40ft level they found a layer of charcoal, at 50ft a layer of soft putty and at 60ft a layer of coconut fiber, near the 90ft level they found an inscribed stone with symbols and they found layers of wood at roughly every 10ft. 

The hole was now nearly a 100ft deep and the intrepid diggers rested for the evening to return tomorrow. When they returned to the hole the next day they found it filled with water to roughly the 10ft mark. No amount of bailing helped, they tried to dig a second hole beside the original and tunnelled it over. They were lucky to escape alive when it not only did not work and empty the original hole, but collapsed as well. Running out of money and feeling the treasure was forever just outta reach, they bailed the entire project.

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

The Attempts

There was many ... many attempts

There were many attempts by many other people to retrieve the treasure. Each group discovering something new about, what was to become a complex puzzle. It was nearly forty years after Daniel McGinnis' that the next attempt by a company of investors who formed a company called The Truro Company.

While they were excavating the hole back to its previously dug depth of nearly 100ft it flooded once again at about 86ft. Drilling samples were also being taken and once the drill sunk past 86ft it's said that they brought up the following:

A spruce platform, at 98 feet a 12 inch head space, followed by 22 inches of what was only described as metal pieces, this was followed by 8 inches of oak, another 22 inches of metal and 4 more inches of oak before a second layer of spruce was found and finally sunk into clay or a putty for 7 feet without striking anything else.

This one sample confirmed that there was a treasure down there ... wood to metal to wood to metal, can very easily be a treasure chest in some sort of waterproof (clay/putty) chamber or layer.

But this was a child's play discovery compared to this company's next discovery.

It was 1850 and it was noticed that the beach was acting like some sort of drain system, that resembled fingers of a hand spread out over 145 feet of beach. It revealed that each finger was actually a man made channel with layers of coconut fibers, rocks and eel grass, which makes a effective filtering system keeping it free of sand and silt and to allow water to flow freely.

Meeting at a point inland they feed sea water into a sloping channel which in turn feeds it to the hole causing the flooding.

The answer was right there in front of them: Block the flow of water to the hole with a dam and dig out the treasure. This they did, but a stormed ruined their dam right before exposing the remnants of a older dam. Like the attempts before them, they bowed out from a treasure that they felt, was right there, just out of reach.

Next in line to tackle this growing problem was the The Oak Island Association. They only managed to collapsed the bottom of the pit and send the treasure deeper down the hole into what some believed was a natural cavern or another booby trap. This company went broke in 1864. Many companies and investors continued to try to crack the puzzle, they sunk more holes, drilled all over the island and watched them fill with water. It wasn't until 1893 that a man named Fred Blair and the Oak Island Treasure Company began their search.

Unlike those before them, they did not attempt to remove the water from the original hole, which at this time had earned the name 'The Money Pit'. They approached the puzzle from a different angle. In 1878 a woman plowing her field nearly fell into a hole when the ground beneath her and her oxen caved in. They believed it to be a ventilation shaft for the original builders. You'll never guess what happened, it flooded at 55 feet. They abandoned that hole.

In 1897, they managed to see the flood tunnel opening in the original hole and they stopped it up to prevent the flow of water into the hole, even just slow it down. But it did not work, the water did as it likes to do and flowed freely. Next idea was to blow up the source of the water flow from those fingers on the artificial beach. A stick of dynamite was placed near each finger on the beach and set off. The water flowed as freely as ever.

The Hole in Oak IslandCredit: Courtesy JuJu Oak Island Researcher.While they were busy with the above tasks, they were also drilling and taking samples. They too came across wood and metal similar to the one earlier found but this was at 136 feet, it's presumed to be the same treasure that had collapsed further down.

The big discovery was the gap between the 130 feet and 151 feet level as well as at 160 feet and 171 feet of a blue water sealing clay not natural to the area. In this gap the drill brought up wood, space, unknown material or substance, a soft metal layer, a harder metal and finally a piece of sheepskin with the letters 'ui', 'vi' or wi' written on it.

This drill sample reinvigorated the company and they were more convinced than ever of something valuable below. They kept sinking holes and the island returned the gesture by filling them up with water. While a discovery of a second flood tunnel in 1899 did nothing to bring the treasure closer to being retrieved it did confirm for those who had their money and lives tied in with this treasure that the treasure was valuable ... considering all the work that was done to keep it secure at the bottom of the hole.

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.

Eventually this company went under too. The excavations by many other companies in 1909, 1931, 1935, 1936 and 1959 were not successful and a trend of build a shaft, fill it with water, give up ... goes on till even today.

It was in 1965 that tragedy struck and 4 members of the Restall family, who were presently digging on the island, died after becoming overcome by fumes in a tunnel near the beach.

In 1970 that another attempt was made and it is known as bore hole 10x. Comprising of 237 feet of steel it sunk to the 187 foot mark. It was into this hole that modern technology in the form of a camera was sent down. It brought back images of three chests, a severed hand and finally a body, presumably the one the hand belonged to. This prompted a dive attempt and due to harsh currents, nil visibility the dive was called off and the hole collapsed soon after.

Today the site is sometimes open (seasonally) to visitors and there have been no new attempts to retrieve the treasure, though a company of investors do own the area. 

What is in the Hole

Some theories and guesses

All we have are theories as no one has ever brought the treasure up, there is no evidence of who put it down there or why ...

One theory uses the history of Nova Scotia to prove their claims that the treasure is that of the famous pirate Captain Kidd, who was known for a little rest and relaxation on Nova Scotia's scenic shores. He is also known for burying his loot in more than one site. Some have bantered around the idea that it is a collective pirates bank and each chest would belong to a different pirate.TreasureCredit: kookytales

A hand maiden of Marie Antoinette, it is said to have escaped with Marie Antoinette and using the remains of her army made her way to London, then to Lunenburg Nova Scotia. The English and the French were warring during this period of Nova Scotias history, and the fighting was fierce. It has been suggested that the treasure is Marie Antoinettes jewels, which are historically missing. The complexity of the tunnel and the skill needed to build it implies that the builders are skilled and many countries naval engineers had the required skills to see it built. Some agree that it was built by naval engineers, but not necessarily France's, some argue it could have been Spain or even English, maybe hiding a wrecked galleon and their treasure.

There are a few supporters for a theory that it is the missing Knights Templar treasures, as Nova Scotia has a masonic history. Even the Covenant of the Ark.

Another popular theory, most likely based on the scrap of sheepskin that was brought up, claim that is Francis Bacon, AKA Shakespeare who has buried treasure mayhap an unwritten manuscript down there.

Natural phenomena of the island, sink holes and natural caverns is another theory that is gaining in popularity and is starting to have some science back it up. 

The Thoughts of a Mild Sceptic

That would be me

There is little doubt that after all these years of digging, collapsing shafts, drilling, blowing up and pumping have resulted in much confusion. As it stands today much if not all the original information gleaned from drilling samples are lost, the exact location of the first money pit that was dug in 1795 is in dispute, the coded stone and various tools and other artifacts brought up are gone as well. The fact that it passed through so many hands and was a treasure story with wild riches, information was not openly shared among parties and a fair amount of guessing went one.

The island, one of about 360 islands, had previous inhabitants that lived there for generations and year round as well as a large number of workers who have stomped their way around and can easily be the reason for some of the artifacts found at the site. Interestingly the majority of these artifacts including the rock with symbols on it that supposedly stated 'forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried', is gone. One of the original discovers, thought it would look great in his fireplace.

The neat layout of various materials in the original accounts is in hot dispute as one of the later treasure hunters, James McNutt, reported a much different arrangement of materials. The arrangement is believed to have been created to build interest and intrigue. It also needs to be mentioned that many other holes with a similar description to that of the money pit have been found both on the island and off.

Oak Island TodayCredit: shoutitforlifeWith all the original information and notes either gone, fudged or out right unprovable, more and more engineers came to the island to try their hand at the puzzle. It was generally agreed that there are many of these natural caverns due to the unique geology of the 'island' which is really a peninsula. It was in 1911 that a geologist Rudolph Faribault confirmed that there were many of these of these 'sinkholes' on the mainland and regularly found a similar arrangement of layers. Basically the geological make up is that of a holey island which water flows freely through.

The east end of the island, after nearly 200 years of digging is a mess of shafts with tunnels running in every direction it has not only complicated the picture, but dimmed the hopes of ever being able to bring up the treasure or know what happened. The questions of the original holes site, the natural geology of Oak Island and the lack of evidence all mean that Oak Island and her secrets may be hers a while longer, if not forever. 


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Oak Island Money Pit The Last Great Unsolved Mystery. (n.d.). Retrieved August 23, 2014.

The Money Pit of Oak Island. (n.d.).