By Mark Iype - Montreal Gazette
For decades, treasure hunters from around the world have been lured by the romance of finding fortune among the skeletons of ships lost to Nova Scotia's temperamental waters and craggy coastline.
But one of Canada's most celebrated salvage divers says a decision last week by the Nova Scotia government to stop treasure hunting among the thousands of shipwrecks that litter its coastal waters will leave Canadian history to be literally washed away.
"Unless something changes in the next few months, shipwrecks that could piece history together will be lost forever," said Alex Storm, a pioneering treasure hunter who, in the 1960s, discovered two of Canada's most important 18th century shipwrecks: Le Chameau and HMS Faversham.
Last week, the Nova Scotia government announced its Treasure Trove Act would be repealed by the end of the year, putting a halt to all commercial treasure-hunting in provincial waters.
Under the current law, treasure hunters can keep 90 per cent of their booty, with the remainder being ceded to the province.
The proposed changes would prohibit anything discovered among the estimated 10,000 ships that have sunk along Nova Scotia's rocky coast over the past 500 years from being removed from the province.
The government says it wants to help preserve the artifacts and mementoes of Canadian maritime history that might otherwise be taken from the province.
"There is an opportunity here, from a heritage and tourism perspective, to experience whatever is found in the natural environment," said Michael Noonan, a spokesman with Nova Scotia's Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Heritage.
Nova Scotia's Treasure Trove Act became law in 1954 after treasure hunters flocked to the notorious Oak Island, on the province's South Shore, where, it is rumoured, everything from Black Beard's buried booty to the hidden gems of Marie Antoinette are hidden.
Over time, the original Treasure Trove Act had evolved to cover Nova Scotia shipwrecks.
Noonan said now a new law will be passed to cover Oak Island, leaving treasure hunters free to keep searching for pirate spoils.
One famous wreck found off the coast of Nova Scotia was the controversial discovery by a U.S. salvage company of the British frigate HMS Fantome.