Coin found on Vancouver Island beach could rewrite history of Canada

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 11:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 11:03pm


An amateur treasure hunter with a hand-held metal detector has turned Canadian history on its head after finding a 16th century shilling buried in clay on the shores of Vancouver Island.

The 435-year-old coin discovered on the island off Canada's west coast has rekindled a theory that British explorer Sir Francis Drake made a secret voyage there two centuries before Spanish sailors.

Official historical records claim the Spanish were the first Europeans to set foot in what is now Canada's British Columbia province in 1774, followed four years later by British Royal Navy Captain James Cook.

Retired security-systems installer Bruce Campbell found the coin in mid-December. "I was getting fat and tired of watching TV," he said of his hobby.

He never imagined, he said, stirring up controversy with his latest find.

According to some historians, the silver coin, produced between 1551 and 1553, is further evidence of a longstanding theory - that Drake travelled as far north as Canada's Pacific coast during an expedition to California in 1579, in search of the famed Northwest Passage.

But he covered it up at the behest of Queen Elizabeth I, who supposedly wished to avoid confrontation over the new territory with Spain.

Samuel Bawlf, a leading proponent of the so-called Drake theory and author of a 2003 book on the subject, says the coin proves the British got there first.

He noted two other finds that support the theory: a 1571 sixpence dug up in 1930 in the backyard of a Victoria home, and another Tudor-era coin unearthed on nearby Quadra Island.

Drake would have given the coins to natives he met "to show to later comers that England had already found and staked a claim to these lands".

Royal British Columbia Museum curator Grant Keddie, who is examining the evidence, is sceptical. He said his analysis looked at "what was written at the time, and archaeological artifacts". And there was currently not enough evidence to support this theory, he said, noting that Drake's logs were burned in a London fire a century later.