Treasure hunting in the outports

Brodie Thomas
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It may not be Spanish doubloons or a secret stash of gold, but Paul Peddle is finding some amazing treasures along Newfoundland's south coast.

The Burgeo man and his son Dylan have been scouring resettled communities for years, looking for interesting historical artifacts - placed like Dog cove, Fox Island, Coppet and Our Harbour.

Burgeo is a good launching point for Peddle, as he is able to reach so many resettled communities by boat within about 40 kilometres. Usually he goes east of Burgeo.

Peddle's interest started with bottles. He noticed they were easy to find underwater in the coves where people once lived.

"It would be nice if you could find a dump - but usually everything would go in the cove," he said.

He uses a long mussel picker to get the bottles off the bottom. As he finds the bottles, he tries to identify them through websites and books. He's always happy when the brand name is embossed right in the glass.

His most recent find was an oil bottle.

"It was battery oil - it had Thomas A. Edison on it."

The cork was still in the bottle. Peddle assumes they pushed the cork in since they probably didn't have a corkscrew small enough to extract it.

Many embossed bottles also have the location of origin, like the pickle bottle he found from Glasgow, Scotland.

But some of his finds are much older, including hand-made bottles he dates to sometime in the 1700s. He is sure these have been handmade by the way the neck was made separately and attached.

When the bottles come up they are often covered in dirt and growth. He uses CLR to get the bottles looking clean again.

In the past few weeks, Peddle has taken his search from the water to the land. His family got him a metal detector for Father's Day.

Peddle had a cheap one years ago, but his newest toy has reignited his passion for treasure hunting.

Most of what he and his son find isn't buried very deep. As Peddle notes, there isn't much topsoil to be had along the rocky south coast.

Nails are the red herring of metal detecting. The metal detector distinguishes iron from other metals, and so much of what they find is iron.

"My young fellow will say, 'Oh its just a nail,' but you've got to dig."

Sometimes they find old "square nails" or copper nails for boatbuilding, but they're rarely worth keeping.

More interesting finds include old silverware, a clothes iron, hinges and part from woodstoves.

Recently he and Dylan found a pair of rusty cap guns on a trip to Red Island. He knows they're worthless, but for him it's about the thrill of finding something.

They have found exactly one coin so far - a Canadian penny dated from 1905.

"I've never found a Newfoundland coin, but there wasn't a lot of money back then."

Probably the most valuable thing Peddle has brought back is information about the families who once lived there. He has taken to photographing headstones in the various outports. Those images also get shared back to Facebook. Many in Burgeo get to see the names of their grandparents or great-grandparents who lived and died in the outports.

And in hunting for treasure, he's found being out in the old communities is the greatest reward.

"There are some really beautiful spots down there. Where those people lived, its unreal. The scenery is crazy. I don't know if I have a favourite but they're all pretty nice."

Geographic location: Burgeo, Glasgow, Red Island Newfoundland

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  • Don II
    July 07, 2014 - 21:36

    It appears that Mr. Peddle should be careful about publicizing his treasure hunting if he does not have a permit to do so issued by the Government of Newfoundland. In the many of the States of the United States and in Great Britain private property artifacts which have been lost or intentionally buried on privately owned land or in water are not considered to be the property of the State and can be found and kept or sold for profit compensation by private persons. If the United States or Britain want to obtain the found artifacts the State must have the value of the items appraised and must negotiate a fair price for the purchase of the items from the private owner or finder. That is not the case in Newfoundland and Labrador where the Crown claims total ownership of privately owned artifacts buried on privately owned land or in privately owned water. It appears that pursuant to the Historic Resources Act of Newfoundland and Labrador all artifacts which are found in, on, under or attached to privately owned land or water that are or were privately owned now belong to the Crown by legislative fiat. The Government of Newfoundland does not recognize that items such as dishes, forks, cups, nails, spent bullets, gold, silver, copper coins, guns, powder horns or other items which are lost or buried on privately owned land or water remain private property regardless of whether the private owner is known or not. It appears that the Government of Newfoundland claims ownership of all privately owned artifacts found on privately owned land or water property and will not pay any compensation to obtain the items. It appears that failure of a private owner or finder to notify the Government and surrender the artifact items to the Crown is considered an offense under the Historic Resources Act and is punishable on conviction by a fine of $50, 000 and/or 6 months in jail. If the private owner refuses to hand over the artifacts to the Crown or asks for financial compensation for the item, the Government of Newfoundland can and will expropriate the privately owned land that the artifacts are found in, can and will seize the artifacts without compensation and can and will prosecute the private land owner or finder in Court. It appears that a treasure hunting or amateur archaeology hobby in Newfoundland and Labrador is potentially a legally risky and can be a very costly if the Government thinks that what you have found on privately owned land or water property is a protected Crown artifact.

  • Robert
    July 07, 2014 - 19:39

    It's great to see interest in local history and the recording of headstones and a photographic record of the state of the resettled communities is important. However, a lot of information is lost when historic sites are dug into looking for artifacts without proper care to record things properly. Archaeologists are trained professionals who can tell a more complete story of the communities by using proper techniques. Going out and digging up artifacts will rob future generations of this history. If you have an interest in searching for material I suggest that a proper archaeologist be contacted. MUN has a great program and someone there would be happy to lend advice.

    • Don II
      July 09, 2014 - 09:46

      My point is that the Government of Newfoundland should have no right to arbitrarily take ownership of privately owned artifacts found on privately owned land without the owners permission and without paying any financial compensation to the private owners. The majority of these artifacts are privately owned and buried on private property. Archaeologists have a vested financial and academic interest in getting access to artifacts on privately owned land where most of these objects are located. It appears that the Archaeologists have a powerful lobby within the Government of Newfoundland and have apparently been behind these arbitrary and draconian laws contained in the Historic Resources Act. The Government of Newfoundland went so far as to expropriate privately owned land in Cupids based on unproven claims that John Guy had established the Cupids Cove Plantation there. It appears that artifacts and headstones found on the Cupids property had no proven connection to John Guy and his colonists. It appears that the Cupids headstones contained inscriptions and were dated 1720 and 1780 which meant that the persons buried beneath those headstones could not have been a colonist of John Guy in 1610! It also appears that no place named the Cupids Cove Plantation is mentioned in the entire historical record of Newfoundland and Labrador! A place called the Cupids Cove Plantation was never mentioned by John Guy or Henry Crout in their letters. The abuse of private property rights is enabled by the draconian Historic Resources Act. The Historic Resources Act should be repealed and private ownership of buried artifacts recognized in a properly constructed and fair law. Archaeologists who have vested financial and academic interests must be required to negotiate with private land owners to access their land and purchase their artifacts. The Crown can own and dispose of artifacts buried on Crown land but should not be permitted to arbitrarily take ownership of privately owned artifacts without permission and compensation by legislative fiat. How does the Government of Newfoundland justify taking ownership of a private artifact worth $150,000 found on privately owned land without negotiating a purchase of the artifact and being required to pay financial compensation to the private owner?