| [Photo: Sharon Dunn,
Treasure hunter Alex Storm says there's still plenty of gold to be found in Nova Scotia, including the great Louisbourg treasure.
It's a foggy day as I set out for Louisbourg, Cape Breton -- but then again it's always foggy in Louisbourg, which probably explains why so many ships were lost here over the years.
I'm here to talk treasure with Canada's most famous treasure hunter, Alex Storm, who's just written a book, Seaweed and Gold. You may want to listen to what Storm has to say, as he uncovered a huge treasure off the shores of Cape Breton in the 1960s, still the largest find in Canadian history, from a ship called Le Chameau that went down in 1725.
"It was because of my little adventures that I decided to write a book," he says. There's growing enthusiasm for the self-published book, and Storm has been approached by a Halifax distributor (Nimbus Publishing). "I even give charts and directions in the book," he tells me, "because I want others to have the pleasure of finding a treasure." Obviously, people are intrigued. "I get e-mails from people all over the world looking for tips, people who go around with metal detectors."
As we sit in his Louisbourg second-floor flat, I'm a bit disappointed: I had hoped he'd be living in luxury; after all, Storm is a bit of a legend here. He and his two partners got 75% of the take of Le Chameau, rumoured to be worth about $750,000 at the time. "It was actually more," says Storm. "The details are secret." The other 25% went to a couple of divers Storm had worked with before.
Storm also found a treasure from a ship called the Feversham (1711) and got to keep it all. In the case of the Feversham, he says, "they tried to take it away from me. The receiver of wreck said, 'Will you please deliver the treasure so we can determine the rightful owner.' And I said, 'No, if you want it so bad, you'll have to dive for it yourself.' " Storm put the treasure into a large vault and lowered it back into the ocean.
"Two or three years, they came back to me and made a deal," he says. "These guys are pirates -- they try to take it from you."
In the end, says Storm, "I got everything I wanted out of it -- not as much as on the open market, but quite considerable." But, he adds, "because I felt sorry for the government, I gave them some."
Storm, who has donated pieces from his finds to Fortress Louisbourg and the federal government, says, "I got a call from an archeologist in Ottawa several years ago. He said, 'Alex, what happened to the material from the Feversham.' Like Indiana Jones, all the discoveries are in the warehouse, in a vault. They should be available to the public to view."
If you're thinking of becoming a treasure hunter in Nova Scotia, Storm says, "the first thing you must do is apply for a treasure trove licence and inform the government of the treasure you're looking for." A treasure trove "is defined as anything deliberately hidden with an intent of recovery." He insists there are plenty of treasures to be found in Nova Scotia.
I ask about Oak Island, the site of a legendary pirate treasure. "It's a story all right," Storm admits, "but not like the Louisbourg treasure. I'm not going to tell you where I think it is, but it's the strong boxes from seven warships that went down in 1758 and the entire contents from the treasure that was at the fortress. Only it's not buried in the fort -- or underwater, for that matter."
Why doesn't he just go and get it if he knows where it is?
"Because there are people who want to take it away from me," he says. And getting the Louisbourg treasure "is not that easy. It's the location, and the fact that it was not actually known to exist until I researched it for the book."
The treasure's worth, he says, "is beyond measure, in the millions of dollars probably."
And it involves tunnels. "In my thesis, the hiding spot was actually prepared before the siege."
"The government doesn't want to talk about it," he says. "I'll tell you why: Because they dislike people like me, treasure hunters, they think we're pirates, and if made public it would attract pirates here."
(Book cover of
Seaweed and Gold)
As far as the treasure is concerned, what would it take to get it? "I could do it all by myself if I wanted to," says Storm, grinning. He grins a lot.
What if someone else gets it? "Not a chance," he says.
So why not go get it? "I'm pretty sure it's safe there," he says. "Besides, you have to be a bit in the mood for this treasure hunting, and I'm not in the mood."
If he were in the mood, he says, it would take him two weeks to make sure it is in the location, then another month to extricate it. "And there are extra elements to consider: too much public attention, too many people to see what you are doing, not to mention the weather. I'm waiting for the window of opportunity.
"I'm not overly zealous to go after this one. I've learned that treasure hunting is a lot of work and headaches. You might not believe this, but the treasure hunting business of mine is just a hobby, something fun to do. The lust for silver and gold is not really it for me. It's the adventure, finding the treasure, bringing it up and actually seeing it."
And Storm always painstakingly records what he finds, like an archeologist. "I don't want any information to be lost," he says. "That's why I wrote this book."
I ask him to take me to the ocean for a picture. He takes me to Lighthouse Point, outside the town of Louisbourg, and points to a spot where he guarantees there is yet undiscovered treasure. "They built this lighthouse in 1726," he tells me, "because of the loss of Le Chameau and so many other ships and treasures. Just look at the fog."
Once back in Toronto, I ponder Lighthouse Point and what Storm has told me. One night, it hits me: "I know where it is," I scream. I've finally figured it out. I dial Storm.
"My God, I know where it is, I know where the treasure is," I tell him. "You gave me too many hints, and the big find isn't at Lighthouse Point at all."
"Really?" he replies cautiously, not believing I really know.
"I figured it out from what you said. But don't worry," I tell him, "I'm not going to publish it. And Alex, you're right, it's safe."
There's a pause. "It is safe, isn't it, Sharon?"
"Oh, it's safe all right," I tell him. "Call me after you get it."