Treasure hunting in the outports

Brodie Thomas
Published on July 7, 2014

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."