I recently had the occasion to spend some time at one of Nova Scotia’s more famous sites, Oak Island. Despite the relatively small footprint of the island, there is a wealth of legend regarding the island. Growing up in the Maritimes I thought Oak Island was a real life Treasure Island and in fact I may not have been far off. Dating from 1795 when a youth noticed some lights on the island and began to dig, the legend of the Oak Island Treasure has traveled far and wide. It is reputed that a pirate (or Spanish or French) treasure is buried under an intricately booby trapped shaft and several treasure hunters have invested a great deal of time, money and indeed lives in unsuccessful bids to discover that treasure.
What makes Oak Island of interest in a law blog is that, as the title suggests, there is an act for that, which several people I talked to at the time seemed unaware of. The Oak Island Treasure Act, SNS 2010, c 39 passed in 2010 succeeded the Treasure Trove Act which was repealed at the time. The Treasure Trove Act, RSNS 1989, c 477 was originally passed in 1954 RSNS, c 299 to regulate treasure hunting on Oak Island and was then soon expanded to regulate treasure hunting on and off-shore of Nova Scotia. It is debatable whether the province was concerned with safety or with making sure the prescribed royalty be enshrined in law should treasure be discovered. Despite the change in attitudes regarding treasure hunting in NS the 2010 act still retains the clause, at s 9: “Upon payment of a royalty at the rate prescribed by a licence, the Minister may confirm to the holder of the licence the right to retain for the licence holder’s own use and benefit any treasure discovered and recovered by the holder of the licence within the area covered by the licence”.
In 2010 the government determined that they would repeal the Treasure Trove act in a bid to protect Nova Scotia’s “underwater and cultural heritage resources”; however, it seems that Oak Island required special attention as Long John Silver remains at large:
“Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest –
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”