In 1795, settler Daniel McGinnis discovered a curious depression in a forest clearing on Oak Island off the southeast coast of Nova Scotia. With the help of friends, he began to dig, hoping to find a rumoured trove of pirate treasure.
At a depth of 90 feet, McGinnis uncovered a stone slab with strange markings. After digging a few feet deeper, the shaft filled with seawater. As it turned out, a 500-foot horizontal tunnel connected the “money pit” to an ocean cove. Artifacts discovered in the 200 years since have only added to the mystery.
“I honestly have no idea what happened on Oak Island, but I am convinced that something happened, and something very unusual,” writer Hammerson Peters said in an interview.
“Parchment, leather, and bones belonging to a 17th-century Arabian woman do not wind up 160 feet underground on a tiny Nova Scotian island by accident.”
This intriguing mystery is just one of many Peterson has written about. The fiddler and carver who grew up in the Pacific Northwest unearths and writes about hidden gems of Canadian history, exploring unexplained accounts from past centuries and our own.
Peters began to pen northern tales in 2016 when the self-described “history nerd” got a writing gig that took on a life of its own.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed reading about different historical events and periods. I was drawn to Western Canadian history in particular after high school, because I could actually go and visit the places I read about,” he says.
“I ended up getting paid to write articles for a site called MysteriesOfCanada.com which specialized in Canadian history and mysteries. I began to dabble in both genres and found that the mystery articles I wrote tended to get a lot more views than the historical ones, so I focused my attention on those.”
The Oak Island mystery was an early topic of Peters’ writing. In time, he penned “The Oak Island Encyclopedia” in two volumes. However, his first book was the 2018 work, “Legends of the Nahanni Valley.” Nearby Dene and Slavey tribes spoke of fearsome and hairy giant “wildmen,” called the Nakani, who lived near the South Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories. Traders, explorers, and missionaries put the accounts to writing. Later, in 1908, the discovery of two decapitated gold prospectors gave the gorge a new moniker: “The Valley of Headless Men.”
“Canadian history prior to the 20th century is completely intertwined with First Nations history,” Peters says.
“Since most natives, historically speaking, did not make a distinction between the natural and preternatural worlds, it is impossible to learn Canadian history without also learning something about First Nations belief, some elements of which we’d call ‘folklore.’”
The Nahanni Valley held other mysteries in more recent years. Peters interviewed Frank Graves who explored the area in 1965. Graves spoke of a giant white wolf-like creature he fired at with a shotgun, though strangely to no effect. Cryptid zoologist Ivan Sanderson called the beast a dire wolf, or Waheela, and speculated it might be an Amphicyon, a “bear dog” left over from prehistoric times.
Peters intersperses the accounts of anthropologists and fur traders with more contemporary reports, some shared firsthand. But he says ghost ships, dwarves, medicine men, and slips in time where past and future temporarily overlap are just some of the topics that he would have dismissed as fantasy at an earlier stage of life.
“I became a true believer in the reality of certain unexplained phenomena, namely ghosts, wildmen, and UFOs … despite that we cannot yet wrap our heads around them,” he says.
“What I find especially compelling is when history and mystery intersect—when I come across an old primary source describing an experience with an unexplained phenomenon which corresponds perfectly with modern accounts of the same thing.”
Although many people cling to their preconceived notion that the material world is all there is, Peters says, there are also many who are more broad-minded.
“Most Canadians, I think, are open-minded enough to recognize that there’s more to existence than that which our limited human faculties allow us to perceive and comprehend, despite what the humanists and atheists would have us believe,” he says.
‘A Bottomless Well’
Peters wrote “Mysteries of Canada Volume I” in 2019 and published Volume III last year. He promotes his six books on his self-named website and YouTube channel, which has over 12.2 million views. Here, mystery and history, research and creativity, intersect.
“About half of the music I use in my videos is of my own making, and comprised of 100 percent real instruments and vocals—a fact that I am very proud of. They’re just simple background loops – nothing very complicated, musically-speaking—but I’m pleased with the flavour they give my videos. I write the music and hire freelance musicians to play [or] sing the various parts for me, unless I need a fiddle part, in which case I play it myself,” Peters said.
“What does surprise me are the things people like about my work. For example, I get so many comments from people telling me how much they enjoy my narration, but I really don’t like the sound of my own voice.”
Some of Peters’ videos are short, while others are long-form documentaries, such as Ogopogo: Canada’s Loch Ness Monster, which lasts more than two hours. His exploration of the famous but elusive creature of Okanagan Lake began at the request of his cousins but turned into a three-year research project.
The author said it’s difficult to balance regular updates to his YouTube channel and wrap up longer projects. His research keeps opening new possibilities, as do people who come to him with accounts neither they nor he can explain.
“One thing I’ve wanted to research for over a year now is the phenomenon of flying humanoids, expressly because a subscriber, who strikes me as very sincere, got in touch with me to tell me about a very eerie experience he had in an Ontario city some years back. This project will require a lot of research, and will probably result in a feature-length video.”
In 1930, historian Harold Innis wrote that Canada was settled by “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” Ironically, that history itself has become deep waters for Peters.
“I’m actually astonished at the amount of Canadian material there is. It’s like drawing from a bottomless well. Whenever I research a story, I’ll come across at least two more stories in the process, or even a whole new aspect of Canadian history of which I’d previously been ignorant,” he said.
“Unfortunately, I think it’s fair to say that most Canadians are not only unaware of the richness of our country’s history, but also have false conceptions of it due to misinformation propagated by the educational systems and mainstream media.”