West Coast metal detecting enthusiast James Van Camp recently celebrated a banner week of treasure hunting.
After about five hours of scouring waist-deep in the ocean north of Swim Beach, a buzz from Van Camp’s metal detector led to the discovery of an 1883 Canadian quarter.
“It was totally amazing. When I first popped it out of the ground and pulled it out of the water and had a look I almost felt like somebody was setting me up,” he said. “It’s one of those things you don’t really think is going to happen and when it does it’s fantastic.”
He said the coin’s condition suggests it was likely dropped shortly after being minted, meaning it had spent over 100 years in the ground.
Van Camp noted the area he was scouring has no easy-access or nearby road.
“The really interesting thing is wondering how the coin got there and who it came from; of course I’ll never figure that out but that’s certainly part of the fun,” he said.
A few days after finding the historic quarter, Van Camp made another fascinating discovery when he dug up a 1923 nickel on Big Beach.
The quarter is the oldest coin Van Camp has found, with his previous best being a 1918 American wheat penny he discovered buried in MacKenzie Beach last summer.
Van Camp is not a coin collector and does not search for treasure to make a profit but what he keeps serve as thrill-of-the-chase mementos.
“Looking in the box of stuff that I’ve found you get to relive the moment you found it,” he said.
Van Camp, a member of the Ucluelet RCMP, is a relative noob in the metal detecting game and got into the hobby last year when his son Lucas, a Grade 8 USS student, showed an interest. He said the activity quickly became a unique source of fatherson bonding.
“When somebody asks ‘what are you looking for’ I always say ‘fun’ and we find it every time, so it’s not really about what you bring home it’s what you’re doing while you’re out there and it’s fantastic,” he said.
Along with the fun they have, Lucas and his father have enjoyed the good karma of clearing garbage off beaches and returning lost items.
Van Camp recently volunteered to assist a man who lost a wedding ring in the region and is stoked on the opportunity to investigate.
Lucas once found a cell phone in the sand and tracked down its owner who was thrilled to have it returned.
“He gave us a really, really, nice glass blown starfish for our efforts,” Van Camp said noting Lucas had not asked for any reward. “When you return something to somebody it’s really nice.”
He encourages others to take up the activity but urges them to follow a code of ethics that includes re-filling every hole they dig and removing any trash they find.
“Metal detecting is such a neat hobby; you’re out treasure hunting and you’re cleaning up the beach as you go,” he said. “It’s so much fun and the people that I’ve met doing it are awesome.”
One of the people Van Camp has met is a 17-year-old Florida youth who had been mugged on a beach by two men who stole his metal detector.
Van Camp found about the youth’s experience through online threads last November.
“The story bothered me and it stuck with me for quite a few days,” he said.
When he told Lucas what had happened, Lucas decided to send the youth his metal detector.
“I was super proud of Lucas,” Van Camp said. “He knows that we’re fortunate enough to work for an organization like the RCMP and we live in a nice spot and we’ve got a great family and he just thought ‘let’s pass it along.'” The Van Camps shipped the metal detector off and the youth was stoked when it arrived.
“The tides and weather were really good and he was just dying to go out and he couldn’t go and then he got a knock at the door and it came in the mail and he was super excited,” Van Camp said.
He said the youth has stayed in touch and often sends photos of his found treasures.
“I don’t want him to feel like he owes us anything,” Van Camp said. “It wasn’t something that we wanted to be thanked repeatedly for. We just wanted to be able to pass it along.”