Here in the Ottawa Valley, eastern Ontario, it gets cold early in the fall, and spring comes late. We were well into November when my main hunting partner, Bill Hamilton, got a breakthrough on some ongoing research we both do on old sites.
Two years earlier, while interviewing an old-timer from the area in regards to two treasure tales – one about some gold coins which had been found in a basement, and the other about a settler who allegedly buried her money in her garden – it was mentioned, “…we used to dance back in the field…” What field? Bill didn’t ask.
As fortune would have it, he happened to be in the same area this past summer when another neighbor said, “There were dances held years ago up on the hill.” This time it clicked, and with the aid of late-1800’s maps and a trip back to the first source, he established the location. It was the second gate east of a farmhouse which had been built in 1838, and then straight back to the bush.
We met on the highway early in the morning, about 20 miles west of Ottawa. I was running late, but Bill was waiting patiently with a wave and a cup of hot coffee for both of us. We drove the last few miles in convoy to the old farmstead, to gain search permission from the landowners. Fortunately, Bill had already laid the groundwork, so it was really just a formality. The owners were friendly and accommodating, if a little skeptical, as we donned scarves, gloves, and layers of sweaters and then climbed over the gate, headed for the bush two fields away, swinging our detectors.
As we neared the spot, we slowed down, taking about 20 minutes to walk the last small field, and investigated several readings we were getting. We were running on rather low discrimination, and no coins or jewelry surfaced. This dance area was used around the turn of the century for several years, and our hopes were high enough to completely overcome the cold wind and severe colds we were both nursing. We worked our way into a relatively open area sprinkled with 50-year-old trees, three to five inches in diameter, and an occasional very old maple tree.
As Bill worked over to the right about 100 yards, I tried to picture the site without the new growth of trees and fences which now cut the area into three or four sections. Straight in, there was a steep climb up rocks disturbed by a geological fault which ran along the top of the bluff. I could picture people sitting along this natural bleacher area watching a hoe-down below. This is where I headed.
Just before I got to the fence that I would have to climb to make my ascent, my Tesoro Golden Sabre sounded off loud, clear, and very smooth. I dropped on one knee, took out a generous scoop of fallen leaves and soft earth, and was greeted with a Canadian small “nickel” (which is really silver and very small). There she was, Queen “Vickie”, regally looking back at me. I flipped it over and read…1899. Super!
I called to Bill, but discovered I was shouting into the wind as he had earphones on, and was busy digging signals. He didn’t respond. His targets turned out to be bits of chrome from an area where the old cars and wagons must have been parked. Following my hunch, I went over the fence, up the rock face, and spend half an hour climbing up, down, and along the fault area, only to come up with two brass bullet casings from a .22 rifle.
Back down the hill, over the fence, and BANG! Another small “nickel” – 1901. This was getting more interesting. I had to share my excitement, so I went over to show Bill. We walked back to the productive area and started to search more systematically.
When I turned up my fifth little nickel, I was starting to feel a little embarrassed so I didn’t call out the coin and year as we usually did. Bill didn’t have a single coin to show yet, and it really was his search site.
Pretty soon he was drawn again even further off to the right. All of a sudden he was shouting, “A 1902 Barber dime…1898 Canadian dime…1874 quarter in great condition!”
In a 15 minute period he had four silver coins and a large penny. We both felt a lot better about it now!
We quickly scanned in this direction, working our way further into the bush and climbing another fence en route. Hot rocks were numerous, and all were fragments which had worked their way down from the fault zone, so I took a large chunk and set it up on a big oak stump for later mineral analysis.
We found more coins sporadically for the next few hours, noting a rusting old model “A” Ford, a large dump, and several depressions about grave-sized which we know hold old bottles and “junk”. But the hours were wearing on, and we weren’t equipped for digging bottle sites. We decided to head back to the farmhouse so I could touch base with my work, and have a little lunch which we had left in the cars. By now the wind had settled down, and although still cold and raw, it was gorgeous day.
The farmer’s wife expressed a real interest in our finds, so I gave her a large 1904 penny in VF condition, and she let use the telephone. On hour and 15 minutes left to hunt, and 30 of those would be spent walking in and out. But we don’t give up easy, so back over the gate we went.
This time we swung up into the bush much nearer the house, and worked our way down through the trees towards the “dance platform”. We dug several bullet casings, an old axe head, and a beautiful huge brass key which must have fit one of the old church doors in the area.
Bill found one more coin, and I dug one more large penny – 1904. It was in better shape than the one I had presented to our hosts. I also landed one last nickel…1880…the oldest one yet. What a day!
In the final days of autumn, Bill made two quick trips to the site and found silver both times, but obligations and inclement weather kept me away. In retrospect, we did our research, and a had a very successful search, but next year will be time to re-search the entire area for those missed hot spots such as the ball diamond, the bottle dumps, the natural bleachers, and who knows what? Bill is going back in for the ore sample I forgot on the stump, and we will have it analyzed this winter.
One interesting observation: unlike the picnic sites we have searched, the ratio of silver coins to large pennies is heavily in favour of silver, as are we! This can be summed up a phrase I coined that day: “They took pennies to picnics and dimes to dances.”
Total coin finds: 25 silver coins, five large pennies, and a personal record of seven small nickels or “fish scales” in one day. These coins ranged in date from 1859 to 1915. We’re both excited about next year’s re-search.
Bill and I have realized that research conversations, if recorded with a small cassette, can also be re-searched for elusive clues to unexpected treasure. Don’t pass them by with a “one-track” approach! Happy hunting!
Andy Angus has 10 years experience as a treasure hunter in Eastern Canada, both in water and on land. He is presently serving as Treasurer of the League of Ontario Detector Enthusiasts.
By Andy Angus, Metal Detectorist: Western & Eastern Treasures, March 1990