Written by Danny and Yvonne Hennigar February 8th, 2016 copyright Danny Hennigar. All rights reserved
Dad had a way of making me pay attention to my surroundings without making me feel like the child I was. As he steered his little plycraft speedboat toward the beach of Oak Island he informed me of the possibility of pirate treasure. To the ears of a ten year old this was high octane fuel. Once landed on the Island in typical wild abandon, I bolted up over the hill from Smith’s Cove. Dad’s advise rang as true then as it would today for a fleet footed child, “watch out for the holes son.”
Thus began a better than fifty year fascination with an Island that has gained the attention of people around the world. It took the lives of six men and cost millions of dollars to search for a treasure no one has seen or can be sure it exists.
One day Ted R, Hennigar, father, mentor, author, entrepreneur, folklorist and avid newspaper reader drew my attention to an ad placed by the Provincial Department of Tourism seeking potential guides for guided tours on Oak Island. As an unemployed teenager who did not want to pick Strawberries for my summer job I wasted no time applying and landing a position.
What a thrill! I was a shy, awkward, overweight teenager and for me to take on the role as a public speaker was a stretch. In short time, my supervisor the late Linda Masland gave me all the support and encouragement she could and I started to blossom.
The next three summers I worked as a tour guide on Oak Island meeting people from around the world. I repeated the tales of Oak Island with a collection of weird and wonderful fellow tour guides, treasure hunters, theorists, and media people.
One day, I was leading a small family on a tour down the hill toward the Cave-In Pit. The lady with a small child, Billy was his name, wandered out ahead of me enjoying the sun, slight wind and spectacular view of Mahone Bay when suddenly she stopped dead in her tracks and pointed toward the clear blue sky exclaiming “look Billy, they even have airplanes up here.” My outer voice said nothing but my inner voice thought, of course we have airplanes, and cars, then it hit me. Visitors from far away really have no idea what to expect here in Nova Scotia. Chalk one up to the kid leading the tour.
I was becoming comfortable with the supplied script even though I could not answer every question I was challenged with, I tried hard to make sure everyone got what they paid for, a good experience. In time, I starting reading and devouring the information in available Oak Island books. One day, two bus loads of approximately 60 tourists arrived on the Island. I led them down to Smith’s Cove speaking through a bull horn. Piece of cake I thought, nothing to it as long as I stayed with the script. I saw a man making his way through the crowd toward me, I reasoned he was trying to get into position to hear me better but as he drew close, he kneeled down before me and thrust a microphone toward my face with the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) acronym attached to a huge tape recorder. I lost it, my face flushed, I stumbled over my words and lost my peripheral vision, I thought I might pass out. From that day forward, I vowed that would never happen to me again and it never did. I often wondered if that reporter kept the tape or destroyed it.
Friendships formed with Dan Blankenship and many fellow tour guides remain intact today. I even fell in love with one lovely young lady who was a fellow tour guide. I have many memories of the Island, most all of them just super. One of the weirdest memories was of tourist who claimed to have had some sort of odd heat/cold experience on what is refereed to as the Beach Road, it really freaked him out. The experience was well chronicled in a story I wrote and posted on the Chester Bound web site. “The Energy Field of Oak Island” the story amazes me to this day. http://www.chesterbound.com//Oak_Island/
After my Oak Island job, the next twenty years were spent building my life and career with little involvement with Oak Island. I would cross paths with Dan once in a while and he would catch me up on the island news. I visited the Island with my young daughter while they were digging Borehole 10X and continuing to read everything I could find about Oak Island. A well respected teacher in the Chester area knew of my experiences and one day I was asked to speak to her class. This unleashed an appetite, which is yet to be quenched, to share this incredible story.
I did a few more school talks and even a series of Oak Island presentations at the Lordly House Museum in Chester. Not one to let a good story pass him by, our local and very popular MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) John Chataway attending one of my presentations. After the meeting, he told me he was assembling some people to create a society to reinvigorate the interest in Oak Island. The end goal was a tourism attraction. John asked, if would I was interested, I think I surprised him with my quick reaction, “Where do I sign up John?” That Society became known as the Oak Island Tourism Society.
The next nine years (2001 - 2009.) we worked as hard as anyone can on a part time, volunteer basis to do just that, the mandate was to reinvigorate the interest in Oak Island and create a tourism project. Literally hundreds of meetings were held, successive governments were wooed, most owners of the Island were brought on side. We held many very successful events with the biggest and best being Explore Oak Island Days, a three day festival jam packed with guest speakers, displays, artifacts, special events and walking tours of the famous Island. With a deep and disappointing sigh a series of events proved beyond a shadow of doubt, our mandate was utterly unobtainable. Late in 2009, with heavy hearts we shut down the Oak Island Tourism Society becoming an indisputable part of the Island’s rich but complicated and at times, very political history.
The O.I.T.S was a registered charity with the Canada Revenue Service, by law upon wind up, we were obliged to release our assets to a similar organization so the Chester Municipal Heritage Society became the benefactor.
Personally, the time I spent with OITS was some of the best times in my life. But, one must always be open to change and the undeniable fact, nothing lasts forever. Since that time I do private research for those who want it, public and private presentations and I assist many children with school projects. I have an excellent circle of like minded Oak Island knobs with whom I can share information and offer new findings. I am excited and heartened to know there is a new breed of disciplined researchers working hard to try and understand and chronicle Oak Island’s wonderful history. I have learned that freely sharing information regarding Oak Island is good for the soul. Perhaps the most satisfying thing I have done for preservation, protection of Oak Island history and public education is the creation of the Explore Oak Island Display at the Chester Train Station where I fulfill a role as curator. The Display is full of original artifacts, great photographs and oddities, all highlighted and interpreted by a collection of wonderful art created by some of Lunenburg County’s finest multi-media artists. Please drop by for a visit, it doesn’t cost a penny to walk in the door, it’s open seven days a week during the season that runs from May to October, oh yeah, please sign the guest book. The Explore oak Island Display can be found at 20 Smith Road, Chester, in the historic Train Station building.
Throughout it all, the love of my life for better than 30 years, my wife Yvonne, stood by me in active roles and passive acceptance of my passion, some say obsession, with Oak Island. We often discuss the rough patches, the wonderful people who entered our lives, the incredible history and what the future holds for this former Oak Island tour guide. Who knows? But I can tell you two things with absolute certainty, I will keep up with my interest until my eyes flicker shut for the last time and being an Oak Island tour guide was the best job I ever had with the worse pay. For me, life’s ultimate joys are not always measured in dollars and cents.