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History may turn on a shilling

| Tuesday, March 4, 2014, 8:54 p.m.

VICTORIA, Canada — An amateur treasure hunter with a hand-held metal detector may set Canadian history on its head by finding a 16th century shilling buried in clay on the shores of Vancouver Island.

Retired security systems installer Bruce Campbell found the coin in mid-December, along with a rare 1891 Canadian nickel, a 1960s dime and penny from 1900.

The 435-year-old coin has rekindled a theory that a British explorer made a secret voyage here two centuries before it was discovered by Spanish sailors. But he supposedly covered it up at the behest of Queen Elizabeth I, who wished to avoid confrontation with Spain.

Records show the Spanish as the first Europeans to set foot in what is now Canada's British Columbia province in 1774, followed in four years by British Royal Navy Capt. James Cook.

Samuel Bawlf, a leading proponent of the so-called Drake theory and author of a 2003 book on the subject, says the coin is proof the English arrived 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 a Tudor-era coin found on a nearby island.

Royal British Columbia Museum curator Grant Keddie, tasked with examining the evidence, is skeptical that the coins are sufficient to support the theory.

If it is ever corroborated, it could have implications for Canada and the United States, whose border was based partly on European colonial land holdings.

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