Treasure hunting in the outports

Paul Peddle searches land and sea on the south coast

Brodie Thomas
Published on July 8, 2014
Paul Peddle of Burgeo holds a few bottles fished from the bottom of a cove along the south coast.
— Submitted photos

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 — places such as Dog cove, Fox Island, Coppet and Our Harbour.

Burgeo is a good launching point for Peddle, as he is able to reach 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 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 because they didn’t have a corkscrew small enough to extract it.

Many embossed bottles also have the location of origin, such as a pickle bottle he found from Glasgow, Scotland.

But some of his finds are much older, including handmade 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 plant growth. He uses CLR to clean the bottles.

In the past few weeks, Peddle has taken his search from the water to the land. His family gave 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 much of what they find is iron.

“My young fellow will say, ‘Oh it’s 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 parts 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 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 photographed headstones in various outports. Those images get shared on Facebook. Many people in Burgeo get to see the names of their grandparents or great-grandparents who lived and died in the outports.

Being in the old communities is the greatest reward of treasure hunting, he said.

“There are some really beautiful spots down there. Where those people lived, it’s unreal. The scenery is crazy. I don’t know if I have a favourite, but they’re all pretty nice.”

The Gulf News