Oak Island, Nova Scotia … Island of Mystery

‘The money pit’

oak island mapOne summer day in 1795 Daniel McGinnis, then a teenager, was wandering about Oak Island, Nova Scotia (see Geography) when he came across a curious circular depression in the ground. Standing over this depression was a tree whose branches had been cut in a way which looked like it had been used as a pulley. Having heard tales of pirates in the area he decided to return home to get friends and return later to investigate the hole.

Over the next several days McGinnis, along with friends John Smith and Anthony Vaughan, worked the hole. What they found astonished them. Two feet below the surface they came across of layer of flagstones covering the pit. At 10 feet down they ran into a layer of oak logs spanning the pit. Again at 20 feet and 30 feet they found the same thing, a layer of logs. Not being able to continue alone from here, they went home, but with plans of returning to search more.

A topographical surbey photo of Oak Island.
A topographical surbey photo of Oak Island.

It took the three discoverers 8 years, but they did return. Along with The Onslow Company, formed for the purpose of the search, they began digging again. They quickly got back to 30 foot point that had been reached 8 years ago. They continued down to 90 feet, finding a layer of oak logs at every 10 foot interval. Besides the boards, at 40 feet a layer of charcoal was found, at 50 feet a layer of putty, and at 60 feet a layer of coconut fiber.

At 90 feet one of the most puzzling clues was found – a stone inscribed with mysterious writing.

Note: For more information about the stone inscription and to try your hand at translating the stone’s inscription go here.

After pulling up the layer of oak at 90 feet and continuing on, water began to seep into the pit. By the next day the pit was filled with water up to the 33 foot level. Pumping didn’t work, so the next year a new pit was dug parallel to the original down to 100 feet. From there a tunnel was run over to The Money Pit. Again the water flooded in and the search was abandoned for 45 years.

The Booby Trap

Another  aerial photo showing the location  of the dig.
Another aerial photo showing the location of the dig.

As it turns out, an ingenious booby trap had been sprung. The Onslow Company had inadvertently unplugged a 500 foot waterway that had been dug from the pit to nearby Smith’s Cove by the pit’s designers. As quickly as the water could be pumped out it was refilled by the sea.

This discovery however is only a small part of the intricate plan by the unknown designers to keep people away from the cache.

In 1849 the next company to attempt to extract the treasure, The Truro Company, was founded and the search began again. They quickly dug down to 86 feet only to be flooded. Deciding to try to figure out what was buried before attempting to extract it, Truro switched to drilling core samples. The drilling produced some encouraging results.

First Hints of Treasure

7th century Spanish coins  found at one time or another at the Money Pit.
7th century Spanish coins found at one time or another at the Money Pit.

At 98 feet the drill went through a spruce platform. Then it encountered 4 inches of oak and then 22 inches of what was characterized as “metal in pieces””; Next 8 inches of oak, another 22 inches of metal, 4 inches of oak and another layer of spruce. The conclusion was that they had drilled through 2 casks or chests filled will coins. Upon pulling out the drill they found splinters of oak and strands of what looked like coconut husk.

One account of the drilling also mentions that three small gold links, as from a chain, were brought up. Unfortunately no one knows where they have gone.

Interestingly, the earth encountered beneath the bottom spruce platform was loose indicating that the pit may have gone even deeper. A later group of searchers would find out how much deeper.

The Truro Company returned in 1850 with plans to dig another parallel hole and then tunnel over to the Money Pit. Just like before, as they tunneled over, water began to rush in. They brought in pumps to try to get rid of the water but it was impossible to keep the water out. During the pumping someone noticed that at Smith’s Cove during low tide there was water coming OUT of the beach.

This find lead to an amazing discovery – the beach was artificial.

Artificial Beach

It turns out that the pit designers had created a drain system, spread over a 145 foot length of beach, which resembled the fingers of a hand. Each finger was a channel dug into the clay under the beach and lined by rocks. The channels were then filled with beach rocks, covered with several inches of eel grass, and then covered by several more inches of coconut fiber. The effect of this filtering system was that the channels remained clear of silt and sand while water was still allowed to flow along them. The fingers met at a point inland where they fed sea water into a sloping channel which eventually joined the Money Pit some 500 feet away. Later investigations showed this underground channel to have been 4 feet wide, 2 1/2 feet high, lined with stone, and meeting the Money Pit between the depths of 95 to 110 feet.

To the Truro Company, the answer was now simple – just block off the water flow from the beach and dig out the treasure. Their first attempt was to build a dam just off the beach at Smith’s Cove, drain the water, and then dismantle the drain channels. Unfortunately a storm blew up and destroyed the dam before they could finish.

An interesting note: the remains of an older dam were found when building the new one.

The next plan was to dig a pit 100 feet or so inland in the hopes of meeting with the water channel underground at which point they could plug the channel. This scheme too failed. And this was the last attempt by the Truro company to uncover the secrets of Oak Island.

The Pit’s Collapse

The next attempt at securing the treasure was made in 1861 by the Oak Island Association. First they cleared out the Money Pit down to 88 feet. Then they ran a new hole to the east of the pit hoping to intercept the channel from the sea. The new shaft was dug out to120 feet without hitting the channel and then abandoned.

A second shaft was run, this one to west, down to 118 feet. They then attempted to tunnel over to the Money Pit. Again the water started to enter this pit as well as the Money Pit. Bailing was attempted and appeared to work. And then


The bottom fell out. Water rushed into the shafts and the bottom of the Money Pit dropped over 15 feet. Everything in the Money Pit had fallen farther down the hole. The big questions were why and how far?

Over the next several years different companies tried to crack the mystery unsuccessfully. They dug more shafts, tried to fill in the drain on the beach, built a new dam (which was destroyed by a storm), and drilled for more core samples. They met with little success.

The Cave-in Pit

In 1893 a man named Fred Blair along with a group called The Oak Island Treasure Company began their search. Their first task was to investigate the “Cave-in Pit”. Discovered in 1878 about 350 feet east of the Money Pit, the cave-in pit appears to have been a shaft dug out by the designers of the Money Pit perhaps as a ventilation shaft for the digging of the flood tunnel. It apparently intersected or closely passed the flood tunnel. While it was being cleared by the Treasure Company it started to flood at a depth of 55 feet and was abandoned.

Over the next several years The Oak Island Treasure Company would dig more shafts, pump more water, and still get nowhere. In 1897 they did manage to clear out the Money Pit down to 111 feet where they actually saw the entrance of the flood tunnel temporarily stopped up with rocks. However, the water worked its way through again and filled the pit.

The treasure company then decided that they would attempt to seal off the flow of water from Smith’s Cove by dynamiting the flood tunnel. Five charges were set off in holes drilled near the flood tunnel. They didn’t work. The water flowed into the Money Pit as rapidly as ever.

At the same time a new set of core samples were drilled at the pit itself. The results were surprising.

Cement Vault

At 126 feet, wood was struck and then iron. This material is probably part of the material that fell during the crash of the Pit. On other drillings the wood was encountered at 122 feet and the iron was missed completely indicating that the material may be laying in a haphazard way due to the fall.

Between 130 and 151 feet and also between 160 and 171 feet a blue clay was found which consisted of clay, sand, and water. This clay can be used to form a watertight seal and is probably the same “putty”; that was found at the 50 foot level of the Pit.

The major find was in the gap between the putty layers. A cement vault was discovered. The vault itself was 7 feet high with 7 inch thick walls. Inside the vault the drill first struck wood, then a void several inches high and an unknown substance. Next a layer of soft metal was reached, then almost 3 feet of metal pieces, and then more soft metal.

When the drill was brought back up another twist was added to the whole mystery. Attached to the auger was a small piece of sheepskin parchment with the letters “vi”; “ui”; or “wi”; What the parchment is a part of is still in question.

More convinced than ever that a great treasure was beneath the island, The Treasure Company began sinking more shafts in the attempts to get to the cement vault. They all met with failure due to flooding.

2nd Flood Tunnel

In May of 1899, yet another startling discovery was made. There was a second flood tunnel! This one was located in the South Shore Cove. The designers had been more ingenious and had done more work than previously thought. Though this find certainly strengthened the case that something valuable was buried below it didn’t bring anyone closer to actually finding the treasure.

Blair and The Oak Island Treasure Company continued to sink new shafts and drill more core samples, but no progress was made and no new information obtained.

Between 1900 and 1936 several attempts were made to obtain the treasure. All met with no success.

Stone Fragment

In 1936 Gilbert Hadden, in conjunction with Fred Blair, began a new investigation of the island. Hadden cleared some of the earlier shafts near the Pit and made plans for exploratory drilling the next summer. However, he made two discoveries away from the Pit.

The first was a fragment of a stone bearing inscriptions similar to those found on the inscribed stone discovered at the 90 foot level of the Money Pit. The second discovery was of several old timbers in Smith’s Cove. These timbers seem to have been from the original designers due to the fact that they were joined using wooden pins rather than metal. As will be seen later these timbers were only a small part of a much larger construction.

Mystery Deepens

The next treasure hunter was Erwin Hamilton. He began his search in 1938 by clearing out previous shafts and doing some exploratory drilling. In 1939 during drilling two more discoveries were made. The first was the finding of rocks and gravel at 190 feet. According to Hamilton they were foreign and therefore placed there by someone. The second finding came after clearing out an earlier shaft down to 176 feet. At this point a layer of limestone was encountered and drilled through. The drilling brought up oak splinters. Apparently there was wood BELOW the natural limestone.

Tragedy Strikes

In 1959 Bob Restall and his family began their attack on the island which ultimately proved tragic.

His one discovery was made on the Smith’s Cove beach while attempting to stop the drain system. He found a rock with “1704” inscribed on it. Though others believed it was prank left by a previous search team, Restall believed it was from the time of the original construction.

In 1965 tragedy struck. While excavating a shaft Bob passed out and fell into the water at the bottom. His son, Bobbie, attempted to rescue him as did two of the workers. All four apparently were overcome by some sort of gas, perhaps carbon monoxide from a generator, passed out and drowned.

Heavy Machines

Bob Dunfield was the next to take on the island. In 1965 he attempted to solve the problem with heavy machinery – bulldozers and cranes. He attempted to block the inflow of water at Smith’s Cove, and may have succeeded. Then on the south side of the island an trench was dug in the hope of intercepting the other water tunnel and blocking it off. The flood tunnel wasn’t found, but an unknown refilled shaft was found, possible one dug by the designers of the Pit. The shaft apparently went down to 45 and stopped, its purpose is unknown.

Dunfield’s other findings were based on drilling. It was determined that at 140 feet there was a 2 foot thick layer of limestone and then a forty foot void. At the bottom of the void was bedrock. This information matched with a drilling done back in 1955. There seemed to a large, natural underground cavern, something apparently common with limestone around the world.

Recent Discoveries

Daniel Blankenship, the current searcher, began his quest in 1965. In 1966 he dug out more of the original shaft found by Bob Dunfield in 1965. It turned out that the shaft did go beyond 45 feet. Blankenship found a hand-wrought nail and a washer at 60 feet. At 90 feet he met a layer of rocks in stagnant water. He assumed this was part of the south water tunnel but couldn’t explore further because the shaft could not be stopped from caving in.

A pair of wrought-iron scissors were discovered in 1967 buried below the drains at Smith’s Cove. It was determined that the scissors were Spanish-American, probably made in Mexico, and they were up to 300 years old. Also found was a heart shaped stone.

Smith’s Cove revealed some more secrets in 1970 to Triton Alliance, a group formed by Blankenship to continue the search. While Triton was building a new cofferdam they discovered the remains of what appeared to be the original builders’ cofferdam. The findings included several logs 2 feet thick and up to 65 feet long. They were marked every four feet with Roman numerals carved in them and some contained wooden pins or nails. The wood has been carbon dated to 250 years ago.

The western end of the island has also revealed several items. Two wooden structures, along with wrought-iron nails and metal straps were found at the western beach. Nine feet below the beach a pair of leather shoes were unearthed.

Borehole 10-X

The next major discoveries came in 1976 when Triton dug what is known as Borehole 10-X, a 237 foot tube of steel sunk 180 feet northeast of the Money Pit. During the digging several apparently artificial cavities were found down to 230 feet (see: drilling results).

A camera lowered down to a bedrock cavity at 230 feet returned some amazing images. At first a severed hand could be seen floating in the water. Later three chests (of the treasure type I would presume) and various tools could be made out. Finally a human body was detected.

After seeing the images, the decision was made to send divers down for a look. Several attempts were made but strong current and poor visibility made it impossible to see anything.

Soon after the hole itself collapsed and has not been reopened.


Blankenship and Triton still continue the quest.

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Click on the logo to discover my novels. Thank you.

Source: ‘Mysterious and Unexplained.’

Save the Bala Falls!

Save Bala Falls! Click on the picture of Bala Falls to sign the petitions. Thank you.
Save Bala Falls! Click on the picture of Bala Falls to sign the petitions. Thank you.

The Bala falls is the one and only iconic heritage of the charming, historic town of Bala, Ontario. It has been used as a portage by Native voyagers on their way to Lake Couchiching and back, as well as fur traders, and explorers. Its significance lies in its connection to both the past and present, and once gone it cannot be replicated or replaced.

However, now the province of Ontario, together with a ‘for-profit’ outfit, is pushing through a plan to destroy Bala Falls as we know it. Why? For the purpose of making more money.

So how much is heritage worth? To a cynical, uncaring, avaricious government, apparently not much. But to the people of Bala it is priceless.

Please sign this petition and pass it on. Thank You.

Click here to sign the petition to save Bala Falls



The Canadian tragedy.

In 1962 a black cloud fell over Canadian children -- The tragedy called "Thalidomide."
In 1962 a black cloud fell over Canadian children — The tragedy called “Thalidomide.”

Thalidomide was synthesized in West Germany in 19541 by Chemie Grünenthal. It was marketed (available to patients) from October 1, 1957 (West Germany) into the early 1960’s. Thalidomide was present in at least 46 countries under many different brand names. (See The many faces of Thalidomide for a partial list of those names.)

Thalidomide became available in “sample tablet form” in Canada in late 1959. It was licensed for prescription use on April 1, 1961. Although thalidomide was withdrawn from the West German and United Kingdom markets by December 2, 1961, it remained legally available in Canada until March 2, 1962, a full three months later. Incredulously thalidomide was still available in some Canadian pharmacies until mid-May 1962.

Thalidomide, was hailed as a “wonder drug” that provided a “safe, sound sleep”.

Thalidomide was a sedative that was found to be effective when given to pregnant women to combat many of the symptoms associated with morning sickness. It was not realized that thalidomide molecules could cross the placental wall affecting the foetus until it was too late.

Because Thalidomide had been so widely prescribed, the tragedy was widespread and varied.
Because Thalidomide had been so widely prescribed, the tragedy was widespread and varied.

Thalidomide was a catastrophic drug with tragic side effects. Not only did a percentage of the population experience the effects of peripheral neuritis, a devastating and sometimes irreversible side effect, but thalidomide became notorious as the killer and disabler of thousands of babies.

When thalidomide was taken during pregnancy (particularly during a specific window of time in the first trimester), it caused startling birth malformations, and death to babies. Any part of the foetus that was in development at the time of ingestion could be affected.

For those babies who survived, birth defects included: deafness, blindness, disfigurement, cleft palate, many other internal disabilities, and of course the disabilities most associated with thalidomide: phocomelia (see FAQ).

The numbers vary from source to source as no proper census was ever taken, but it has been claimed that there were between ten and twenty thousand babies born disabled as a consequence of the drug thalidomide. There are approximately 5,000 survivors alive today, around the world. Never counted and never to be known, are the numbers of babies miscarried, or stillborn, let alone the number of family members and parents who have suffered over the years.

Around the world, in the late 1960’s and into the early 1970’s, the victims of the drug thalidomide and their families entered into class action legal suits, or threatened actions, against the various drug companies who manufactured and/or distributed the drug, and they were eventually awarded settlements. In most countries, these settlements included monthly or annual payments based on the level of disability of the individual.

What made Thalidomide particularly tragic was the it was a lifelong tragedy, for which there was no cure.
What made Thalidomide particularly tragic was the it was a lifelong tragedy, for which there was no cure.

In Canada, the story was quite different. Canadian victims of the drug were forced to go it alone, family by family. No case ever reached a trial verdict. Rather, families were forced to settle out-of-court with gag orders imposed on them not to discuss the amounts of their settlements. This resulted in wide disparity in the compensation amounts, with settlements for individuals with the same levels of disability varying by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In 1987, the War Amputations of Canada established The Thalidomide Task Force to seek compensation for Canadian-born thalidomide victims from the government of Canada. As Canada had allowed the drug onto the Canadian market when many warnings were already available about side effects associated with thalidomide, and as Canada left the drug on the market a full three months after the majority of the world had withdrawn the drug, it was felt and argued that the government of Canada had a moral responsibility to ensure that thalidomide victims were properly compensated.

In 1991, the Ministry of National Health and Welfare (now Health Canada), through an “Extraordinary Assistance Plan” awarded small compassionate lump-sum financial assistance grants to Canadian-born thalidomiders. These payments were quickly used by individuals to cover some of the extraordinary costs of their disabilities, and for most victims, these monies are long gone.

Thalidomiders are now in their early fifties and they are experiencing physical deterioration due to stress placed on their different body structures, further limiting their abilities, often resulting in new disabilities (see degeneration) , and therefore compounding the tragedy. The needs and problems of this unique population are many and overwhelming.

Source: The Canadian Thalidomide Association.


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Click on the logo to discover my novels. Thank you.

Fort “Whoop-Up”

Canada’s bad ole days…

The exterior of Fort "Whoop-Up" around 1873-4. Notice the trade flag flying above the turret.;
The exterior of Fort “Whoop-Up” around 1873-4. Notice the trade flag flying above the turret.;

Established by Montana fur traders in 1869, Fort Whoop-Up was a whiskey post founded  by a group of unscrupulous traders bringing the proud Blackfoot Indians to a state of degeneration, taking their furs and guns in exchange for a potent drink called “Whoop-Up bug juice.”  This was made by mixing a quart of whisky, a pound of chewing tobacco, a handful of red pepper, a bottle of Jamaica ginger and a quart of molasses; the mixture was then diluted with water and heated to make “fire water.”

fort Whoop-Up" reconstruction.
fort Whoop-Up” reconstruction.

There were terrible massacres among the Indians and the white traders.  One of the worst was a battle at Cypress Hills, in May 1873, between a party of “wolfer” and a tribe led by Chief Little Soldier.  The “wolfers” were men who killed animals for their furs by spreading strychnine poison over the ground.  They were hated by the Indians and the other white fur traders.

The battle was started when a “wolfer” accused Little Soldier’s band of stealing his horse.  Later it was found grazing on a hillside, having just strayed away.  The “wolfers” rushed the Indian camp, killed Little Soldier and cut off his head, which they mounted on a pole.   They then murdered the women and their children.

The 778-mile "Great March" undertaken by the North West Mounted Police in 1874.
The 778-mile “Great March” undertaken by the North West Mounted Police in 1874.

This prompted the fledgling Canadian government to pass a Bill in May, 1873, that sought to bring order to the frontier, encourage settlement, and to establish Canadian authority through the creation of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP). One of the NWMP’s first goals was to control the trade at Fort Whoop-Up, but after a arduous march from Fort Gary, Manitoba, to Alberta (778 miles, and including Samuel Steele)  they found that it had been essentially abandoned. After unsuccessfully trying to buy it, the NWMP rented accommodations at the fort until 1888, when fire destroyed a large portion of the structure. By the early 1900s, the fort had become uninhabitable, with many of the early buildings removed or destroyed by flood or human salvage. In 1946, a commemorative cairn and plaque were placed at the fort, and in 1967 a replica was built in Indian Battle Park, nine kilometres to the northwest of the original location.

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Joseph Howe (1804 – 1873)

Nova Scotian par excellence, and Champion of a free press in Canada.


Joseph Howe (1804 - 1873) .The Nova Scotian patriot par excellence, Howe could use his oratorical powers to influence his compatriots as no other man has ever done
Joseph Howe (1804 – 1873) .The Nova Scotian patriot par excellence, Howe could use his oratorical powers to influence his compatriots as no other man has ever done

“When I sit down in solitude to the labours of my profession, the only questions I ask myself are, What is right? What is Just? What is for the public good?” ~ Joseph Howe.

Joseph Howe, journalist, politician, premier and lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia (b at Halifax 13 Dec 1804; d there 1 June 1873). Taking over the Novascotian in 1828, Howe quickly made it the leading provincial newspaper. Originally defending the political status quo, he gradually became convinced through personal experience that serious ills abounded throughout the government. Charged with criminal libel in 1835 for criticizing local government officials, he was acquitted in the province’s most celebrated trial. He entered politics in 1836 and was primarily responsible for the election of a majority of Reformers (Liberals). A conservative Reformer, he entered a coalition with the Tories in 1840, hoping to achieve his aims step-by-step. Having failed, he prepared the way for the Reformers’ success in the election of 1847. As a result, Nova Scotia securred responsible government by 1848, the first colony to do so, and Howe could boast that it had been done without “a blow struck or a pane of glass broken.”

Seeking to rise above “the muddy pool of politics,” he tried unsuccessfully to arrange the building of the Halifax-to-Québec Railway. As chief commissioner, he began the Nova Scotia Railway in 1854, however, and saw completion of the lines from Halifax to Windsor and Truro. Devoted to Britain, he recruited forces in the US in 1855 for the Crimean War, one outcome of which was a rupture with the Catholics and the defeat of the Reformers in 1857. Following the Liberal victory of 1859, he was premier 1860-63 and imperial fishery commissioner 1863-66 under the ReciprocityTreaty of 1854. Between 1866 and 1868 he led the movement against Confederationon the grounds that it was being effected without popular consent and that it conflicted with his plans for the organization of the British Empire. Although overwhelmingly successful in the provincial elections of 1867, as a delegate to Britain in 1866-67 he could not prevent passage of the British North America Act, or, a year later, secure its repeal. Having no further means of opposition he entered the federal Cabinet in January 1869. In a celebrated midwinter by-election from which his health was so impaired that he never fully recovered. As a federal minister, he played a prominent role in bringing Manitoba into the union. Becoming lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia in 1873, he served only 3 weeks before his death.

Despite his failings, many consider Howe to have been the greatest of all Nova Scotians. The Nova Scotian patriot par excellence, he could use his oratorical powers to influence his compatriots as no other man has ever done. He sought, in his own words, to elevate them to “something more en[n]obling, exacting and inspiring, calculated to enlarge the borders of their intelligence, and increase the extent and area of their prosperity.”

Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia


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CC1 and CC2 — British Columbia’s Submarine Fleet

In commemoration of the start of WWI, August 4, 1914.

By Starr J. Sinton, Museum volunteer, CFB Esquimalt Museum.

Just days before the outbreak of World War One, in the summer of 1914, British Columbia was offered a unique chance to make a substantial contribution to the defence of Canada’s vulnerable West Coast.

CC1 and CC2 in port at Esquimalt, British Columbia.
CC1 and CC2 in port at Esquimalt, British Columbia.

On the same day war was declared – 4 August, 1914 – Sir Richard McBride, Premier of BC, gambled his political future on a daring plan. The scheme was to spirit away two newly constructed submarines, originally intended for the Chilean Navy, in complete secrecy and under cover of darkness from Seattle, Washington.

Not only was this a violation of US neutrality, but the Premier risked over a million dollars of provincial funds to obtain the much-needed vessels for defence of the West Coast.

When war broke out, Canada’s West Coast found itself nearly defenceless. Great Britain immediately concentrated its great fleet in European waters for the struggle against Germany, leaving the northern Pacific largely to the protection of its ally Japan. Only one Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) ship lay in harbour at the RCN’s only West Coast base, Esquimalt, BC: the ageing cruiserHMCS Rainbow.

At least one, and probably two, modern German cruisers were off the West Coast of Mexico. The cruisers were in a position to threaten British sea lanes in the Pacific, attack Nanaimo’s coal mines, shell Vancouver or Victoria with their long-range guns, or even destroy BC’s fishing fleet.

With a declaration of war less than a week away, fate took a hand in the person of Mr. J. V. Paterson, president of the Seattle Construction and Drydock Company, who was in Victoria on business. At Victoria’s Union Club, Mr. Paterson mentioned two submarines his company had just finished and the troubles he was having with the Chilean government over payment. Soon he was offering the two submarines to Canada, at an almost 50 per cent increase in price over the previous deal brokered with Chile.

BC’s premier Sir Richard McBride was soon informed. An avalanche of telegrams ensued, involving Victoria, Ottawa, and London, but little could be accomplished in the few days remaining before the imminent outbreak of war and a resulting American embargo on the provision of war materials to combatants. In this crisis, McBride took a courageous decision to use provincial funds to get possession of the much-needed submarines before it was too late. On his own initiative he decided to advance the purchase price demanded, just over $1.1 million. This was an enormous sum, twice the annual budget for the entire RCN for 1913-1914.

On the day war was declared, Captain W. H. Logan, a surveyor for the London Salvage Association, was in Seattle to negotiate a deal, but the price remained firm, and an additional obstacle arose: payment must be cash on delivery. With no time left, Premier McBride by telephone promised a BC Treasury cheque would be waiting at the border at dawn the next day.

CC1 in her slip at Esquimalt, British Columbia
CC1 in her slip at Esquimalt, British Columbia

Accordingly, at 10 pm that night, the two submarines, with both Captain Logan and Mr. Paterson aboard, put off silently through the fog and mist of Seattle harbour for a secret rendezvous off Trial Island at daybreak the next morning. Complete secrecy was essential; both the Chilean and German governments would do all in their power to stop the sale of the submarines to Canada.

BC’s representatives, in the steamer Salvor, were at the rendezvous point at dawn when the two submarines emerged from the mist. No time was wasted in beginning the agreed hour-long inspection of the boats, but since the Chileans had earlier complained about weight and endurance issues, the investigation lasted four hours. Captain Logan spent these hours combing the horizon for US Navy patrol vessels, while Mr. Paterson paced the deck nervously. If intercepted, the Seattle shipyard executive would have had a great deal of explaining to do, since he had taken the submarines out of port without any clearances and delivered them to a combatant power in violation of American neutrality.

After four suspenseful hours, the cheque was handed over to a greatly relieved Mr. Paterson and the White Ensign was raised over British Columbia’s new naval vessels, which proceeded at speed towards Esquimalt.

Even safely within Canadian territorial waters, however, the drama of the day was not yet over. Amidst all the haste and secrecy, only the Navy’s Dockyard was aware that two warships would be arriving in Victoria Harbour. Seeing two submarines approaching Victoria on the second day of war, a picket boat sounded its siren and raced into harbour, under the protective guns of the Army’s Coastal Artillery. Fortunately, the shore batteries contacted the dockyard before giving the order to open fire, and the two submarines proceeded safely to their new home at Esquimalt.

The two vessels were informally christened the McBride and the Paterson. They were taken over by the Government of Canada two days later and renamed, rather more anonymously, CC-1 and CC-2. Premier McBride soon received reimbursement for the provincial funds advanced for the purchase, and Mr. Paterson received a personal commission of $40,000 on the unorthodox sale of the RCN’s first submarines.

In a resulting enquiry into the purchase, Commissioner the Hon. Sir Charles Davidson, in his 1917 report, completely upheld McBride’s decision, and concluded:

What Sir Richard McBride did in those days of great anxiety, even distress, and what he accomplished deserves the commendation of his fellow countrymen. For his motives were those of patriotism; and his conduct that of an honourable man.

Royal Canadian Navy service

The ship was assigned to the west coast in the home port of Esquimalt, British Columbia, and conducted training operations and patrols for three years. Together with HMCS Rainbow, CC-1 and CC-2 were the only Canadian or British ships defending the west coast of Canada between 1914 and 1917. Britain had tasked the defence of British Columbia to the Imperial Japanese Navy’s North American Task Force. In 1917 the submarine was transferred to the east coast. The

The White Ensign.
The White Ensign.

transfer to the east coast was for both submarines of this class, with their mother ship, the submarine tender HMCS Shearwater. Its transit through the Panama Canal was the first time a Canadian warship transitted the Panama Canal under the White Ensign. It arrived in Halifax for preparation to send the two subs to the Mediterranean and Europe. Deemed unsafe for transatlantic crossing, the submarine was held in Halifax as a Training Assistance Boat.[6] Her veteran crew were highly valued but were not able to conduct any other operations than training. Her continued use was too expensive, and her unseaworthiness resulted in her being paid off, and disposed of in 1920.


Visit my other blog, too: i.e. “Stop the Bull”

It is a lively, no-holds-barred commentary of whatever is current — Ontario’s hydro rates, Auto insurance, Bank and Visa charges, etc. Here’s an example:

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The legend of “Fireaway” – the ‘voyageur’ horse…

An equine pioneer

An excerpt from Grant Macewan’s delight book, Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, Fifth House; Revised edition, 2000.

York Factory, Hudson Bay, Canada. It is located about 600 miles north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, know as Fort Garry in
York Factory, Hudson Bay, Canada. It is located about 600 miles north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, know as Fort Garry in  1830s.

Fur Trader Anthony Henday, after a notable trip through the unknown parts of Western Canada in 1755, returned to York factory, on Hudson Bay, with hard-to-believe tales about his adventures. Having penetrated into what is now Western Alberta, he was the first white man to see the Canadian Rockies and, still more astonishing to his Hudson Bay Company friends, to report seeing the Indians riding horses. Although his listeners had doubts, Henday was reporting truthfully. Natives of the Blackfoot tribes had recently acquired horses, mainly by theft from their more southerly neighbor’s. Hence, the white man had nothing to do directly with the introduction of horses to Western Canada.

The Selkirk Settlers were able to get horses for their immediate requirements from the Natives but, having known the massive and improved breeds of Scotland, England and Ireland, they were unimpressed by the small and broken-colored Indian cayuses. These latter were, however, hardy and sure-footed and, as historian Alexander Ross quite correctly said, “their appearance is not presupposing, but they are faster than they look. Few horses could be better adapted for the cart and the saddle, and none so good for the climate.”

But the local horses were not appreciated. To most people they were ugly and spiritless. Sharing that view, Governor George Simpson wrote: “some plan must soon be fallen upon to increase our stock and improve our breed of horses as they are becoming very scarce and of such small growth as to be quite unfit for our work.

“We should select good mares from the United States and from the stock at our own posts,” the governor added, “and get a superior stallion from England.” The result, he hoped, would be heavier horses for farming, and faster horses for buffalo hunting.

Delivering an English stallion at the Red River Colony would present unusual difficulties. But from York Factory Simpson made formal request to Hudson Bay Company officers in London, and under date of February 23, 1831, came the reply from Deputy Governor Nicolas Garry, “we shall send a stallion of a proper breed by ship to York Factory. We should think the experimental farm at Red River the best place to commence raising horses for service.”


A rendering of Fireaway being brought down the chain of rivers and lakes to the Selkirk Settlement.
A rendering of Fireaway being brought down the chain of rivers and lakes to the Selkirk Settlement.

That stallion was the famous Fireaway. On arrival at York Factory in the summer of 1831 he was transferred immediately to one of the oar-propelled York boats used on the route between Hudson Bay and Fort Garry. Hay and oats were carried but there were the many portages, at each of which the horse had to be unloaded and reloaded. It wasn’t easy and the horse didn’t like it any better than the men who were obliged to sit at the animal’s feet. Once the great horse fell out of the boat and swam to shore where he was caught and reloaded.


fireaway  - york boatNotwithstanding the numerous hazards created by a horse struggling constantly to balance himself in moving boat—call it a freight canoe or York Boat—George Simpson could report, ultimately, to London that the stallion “reached the settlement in perfect safety … and will soon give us a better breed of horses. He is looked upon as one of the wonders of the world by the natives, many of whom have travelled great distances with no other object than to see him.

For the breeding season following, twenty-five selected mares were brought from Athabaska River to Fort Garry and Twenty-five from Fort Carlton—long trail by any standards.

In due course there were foals bearing the clear marks of superiority; and in the years that followed, the maturing Fireaway horses came to be regarded as the swiftness buffalo runners and the most useful road horses in the country. Indeed, for 50 years thereafter the settlers of Red River talked about the speed and endurance of Fireaway stock. A horse know to be a great-grandson or great-granddaughter of Fireaway was likely to command a substantially better price than a horse of equal quality and unknown breeding.


As late as 1877, settlers in the Portage la Prairie area revived their affection for the memory of that horse, which was also the first purebred race in all of Western Canada. A stranger driving a fast horse blew into town a day or two before 24 of May and promptly challenged all comers to a matched race. With the honor of the community and the reputation of local horses at stake, townsmen came together for serious discussion. Settlers with swift horses were remembered, and thoughts turned to Farmer John Macdonald at High Bluff who had a nimble great-granddaughter of Fireaway. A message was dispatched: “Bring your mare to town at once. We need her for a race.”

Macdonald was plowing with a two-horse team when the exhausted courier reached him. Reluctantly, he unhitched the good mare and her mate from the walking plow, hitched them to his democrat and drove to Portage. Farmers and townspeople couldn’t honestly expect a homesteader’s plowhorse to win a race against a barnstorming flier from St. Paul but they recalled her breeding and nursed a silenthope. It was a great race; every pioneer who saw it agreed and, sure enough, the blood of Fireaway was still virile if not invincible and Macdonald’s mare, drawing a farm democrat and an exultant Scottish settler, came down the Portage la Prairie Street to leave the professional racer from Minnesota a convincing distance behind.

Men talked again about the greatness of Fireaway forgotten were the heroic men who accepted the nigh frightening task of bringing stallions from Hudson Bay to the as the location of Winnipeg when there was no means of transportation than a freight canoe.

Where did the famous stallion go ultimately? On that point there was speculation. According to one story, he was sold to a United States buyer; another report poll of the horse being stolen and whisked across the boundary, and still another, that his breeding worth he became so well established that he was taken back by way of Hudson Bay to England where he was used to produce steeple chasers.

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John (Giovanni) Cabot

Discovery Day, Newfoundland and Labrador, June 14th, 1497

John Cabot in traditional Venetian garb by Giustino Menescardi (1762). A mural painting in the Sala dello Scudo in the Palazzo Ducale, Venice.
John Cabot in traditional Venetian garb by Giustino Menescardi (1762). A mural painting in the Sala dello Scudo in the Palazzo Ducale, Venice.

John Cabot (Italian: Giovanni Caboto; c. 1450 – c. 1499) was an Italian navigator and explorer whose 1497 discovery of parts of North America under the commission of Henry VII of England is commonly held to have been the first European encounter with the mainland of North America since the Norse Vikings visits to Vinland in the eleventh century. The official position of the Canadian and British governments is that he landed on the island of Newfoundland.

There is very little precise contemporary information about the 1497 voyage. If Cabot kept a log, or made maps of his journey, they have disappeared. What we have as evidence is scanty: a few maps from the first part of the 16th century which appear to contain information obtained from Cabot, and some letters from non-participants reporting second-hand on what had occurred. As a result, there are many conflicting theories and opinions about what actually happened.


Modern-day replica of John Cabot's ship, the Matthew. Although there is no contemporary 15th-century depiction of the Matthew, this historical replica was built for the 'Cabot 500' anniversary celebrations in Newfoundland during the summer of 1997. This photo shows the Matthew during its call at St. John's Harbour.  Reproduced by permission of Wayne Sturge. Photo ©1997.
Modern-day replica of John Cabot’s ship, the Matthew.
Although there is no contemporary 15th-century depiction of the Matthew, this historical replica was built for the ‘Cabot 500’ anniversary celebrations in Newfoundland during the summer of 1997. This photo shows the Matthew during its call at St. John’s Harbour.
Reproduced by permission of Wayne Sturge. Photo ©1997.

Cabot’s ship was named the Matthew, almost certainly after his wife Mattea. It was a navicula, meaning a relatively small vessel, of 50toneles – able to carry 50 tons of wine or other cargo. It was decked, with a high sterncastle and three masts. The two forward masts carried square mainsails to propel the vessel forward. The rear mast was rigged with a lateen sail running in the same direction as the keel, which helped the vessel sail into the wind.

There were about 20 people on board. Cabot, a Genoese barber (surgeon), a Burgundian, two Bristol merchants, and Bristol sailors. Whether any of Cabot’s sons were members of the crew cannot be verified.

The Matthew left Bristol sometime in May, 1497. Some scholars think it was early in the month, others towards the end. It is generally agreed that he would have sailed down the Bristol Channel, across to Ireland, and then north along the west coast of Ireland before turning out to sea.

john cabot's two voyabes - mapBut how far north did he go? Again, it is impossible to be certain. All one can say is that Cabot’s point of departure was somewhere between 51 and 54 degrees north latitude, with most modern scholars favouring a northerly location.

The next point of debate is how far Cabot might have drifted to the south during his crossing. Some scholars have argued that ocean currents and magnetic variations affecting his compass could have pulled Cabot far off course. Others think that Cabot could have held approximately to his latitude. In any event, some 35 days after leaving Bristol he sighted land, probably on 24 June. Where was the landfall?

Cabot was back in Bristol on 6 August, after a 15 day return crossing. This means that he explored the region for about a month. Where did he go?

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My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date).