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Published 29th March 2014 by

In 1795 a young boy paddled his canoe from the mainland of Nova Scotia to an offshore island, where he stumbled upon the Money Pit. For almost 200 years since treasure hunters have been trying to unlock its secret.

Oak Island lies in Mahone Bay, off the coast of Nova Scotia. It is called Oak Island because of the luxuriant growth of oak trees which once flourished upon it.

The story of the Money Pit began one day in 1795, when Daniel McGinnis gently paddled his canoe across the bay. Little did he know that Oak Island conceals one of the strangest mysteries on earth.

For close to 200 years prospectors have sought buried treasure in what is known as the Money Pit. Many have sunk their life savings into the venture; others have paid with their lives.

Daniel McGinnis wandered the beach and stumbled upon a circular depression in the ground, about 4.8m in diameter. Having grown up with tales of swashbuckling pirates, Daniel was convinced he had stumbled upon buried treasure. He set sail and returned home for the night, but returned the next day with his friends, picks and shovels.

As they began to dig, it became evident that they were in some kind of man made pit as it still bore pick marks on its clay walls. As they dug deeper, they hit a layer of flagstones at 1.2 metres deep. As they dug deeper, they hit further layers of logs at 3 metres, 6 metres and 9 metres. Realising that they needed more equipment, they returned to the mainland.

Oak Island

Oak Island


It was to be 9 years before they returned, but this time they had financed a full scale excavation. As the shaft was sunk deeper, more platforms were discovered at 12m, 15.2m and 18.2m. At 24.4 metres they hit an oak platform and at 27.4 metres at stone bearing an inscription. After wedging the stone out, the they discovered yet another layer of logs. They were convinced that the treasure was buried below this layer. Night fell, and water was becoming a problem, so they stopped to rest for the night. When they returned on the Monday morning, they found the shaft flooded.

They bailed out the water as fast as they could with an old pump, but the water level did not move. They abandoned the workings for the year, returning to their farms until the following spring. The following year when they returned, they were able to dig down to 33 metres, but the shaft walls cave in and it flooded once again. They were lucky to escape with their lives.

It was not until 1849 that a second expedition was launched. They re-dug the original shaft down to a depth of 26.2 metres without problems. They called a halt on Saturday night, attended church on Sunday and returned after service to find the shaft flooded again. After trying various pumping and bailing methods, they were unable to reduce the water level and were back at square one.

The next day, they employed a drill and pod auger, which was driven by a horse. It could drill into the ground and bring up materials and soil samples. The drilling foreman, James Pitblado, was accused of scooping up something shiny as he inspected the material from the auger. The workmen demanded that he produced the item, but refused, stating that he would present the item at the next meeting of the people funding the operation. He later tried to buy the entire eastern end of Oak Island, but he soon vanished and never seen again.

In 1850 a new shaft was sunk, and after what looked like success, was once again flooded. After this mishap, they set about solving the problem. From the samples taken, they found that the pit was being flooded by seawater, and on the nearby beach, the treasure seekers discovered an amazing secret of the Money Pit.

The Money Pit

The Money Pit

Oak Island Money Pit

They noticed that as the tide receded, the sand seemed to suck the water down. One digger described that it "seemed as if the earth was thirsty". Whoever had dug the Money Pit had also constructed an ingenious drainage system. If the shaft were ever breached to a certain depth, it would be flooded. They tried many different methods for defeating this system, all of which failed. They built dams, sunken drainage shafts and used dynamite. None of them worked. They did manage to drill down deeper, and came across a layer of iron, followed by soft stone then oak. They retrieved a piece of parchment with the letters V.I written on it. After they retrieved the sample, the shaft once again flooded.

Eventually, they discovered that there were yet more defensive structures protecting the treasure. By now, the diggers were bankrupt, and funding dried up.

Several more expeditions were launched by private ventures in 1909, 1930, 1936 and again in 1963. It was on this latest venture that the pit claimed its next casualties. On the 17th August, Robert Restall was overcome by the exhaust fumes from his water pump, and both he and his son and two other men who tried to rescue them died.

In 1971 the Triton Alliance Company with the assistance of modern mining technology, submarine television cameras and diving equipment have failed to find any treasure

The modern day site of the Money Pit

The modern day site of the Money Pit

Oak Island Drive

To this day, nobody has ever found any treasure, and nobody knows who dug this feat of engineering. Some believe that it was the hiding place for Captain Kidd's treasure trove, while others believe that it is a secret gold cache buried by British Army engineers during the American Civil War.

Whatever is down there, the secret lies in the mud, along with the bodies, sweat and money that have been lost trying to find the secret of the Money Pit.

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