PORT AUX BASQUES, NL – It’s a mystery well over 100 years in the making. Just how exactly did an 18th-century English belt-buckle ring end up in a Port aux Basques garden?
“Maybe it’s part of the Knights Templar treasure that’s supposed to be on Oak Island,” jokes Keith Collins, the current owner of the ring.
Collins comes by the ring honestly. It was his great-grandfather, Edgar LeValliant, who unearthed the ring most likely some time in the 1920s.
“In his potato garden I was told.”
Collins said the ring was discovered about a foot beneath the soil, “while setting potatoes over 100 years ago at Channel-Port aux Basques.”
Other than the family story of its discovery, Collins has little information to start from in his quest to know more about the unusual ring he inherited.
What he does have is a Facebook account and a lot of fellow history lovers he talks to through a group called Newfoundland History Buffs.
It was through the efforts of other group members that Collins first learned more about the ring itself. Two different researchers, Chris Fitzgerald and Todd Shearing, have independently confirmed the ring is likely a 10-karat men’s belt buckle ring, possibly crafted in Sheffield, England in the mid- to late-1700s.
“The stone is a red garnet, but that hasn’t been confirmed by a jeweler,” said Collins, who doesn’t even know where in Port aux Basques his great-grandfather’s potato garden was located.
“I have no idea where it was found or how it may have gotten there, but one thing is for certain – there weren’t a lot of people living in the area that could afford this ring in the 1800s.”
Collins’ fellow history sleuths concur the ring would have likely belonged to someone financially well off, or perhaps even a member of the clergy.
History of travellers
As Port aux Basques has a long history of travellers visiting while passing in and out of the province, it is all but impossible for Collins to trace the name of the ring’s original owner.
One user suggested a census search of English immigrants from that time, but given the scarce and poorly detailed data available, the search for the loser’s identity remains a long shot.
“The possibilities are endless,” says Collins. “So many different people landed here and used Newfoundland as a stopover before heading to the mainland.”
After he found it, LeValliant wore the ring for a short time before drowning at the age of 33 while out duck hunting. He was still wearing the ring when searchers recovered his body.
Says Collins, “People were very superstitious in those days and believed the ring was cursed. From that day on it was considered bad luck and was never worn again.”
The ring would eventually pass to Collins’ grandfather, Gordon. He died in 2009, but gave the ring to Collins a few years earlier – along with a warning to never wear it on the water.
Collins says so far, he hasn’t tested fate.
“I would never wear the ring because my grandfather told me not to. When he gave it to me I was living in Alberta and I wouldn’t even take it on the plane with me,” laughed Collins, who relocated back to Gander three years ago.
“I left it down here.”
Whether or not the ring is cursed remains subject to one’s personal beliefs, but it seems misfortune did continue to follow Edgar LeValliant’s descendants.
Collins recounts that after his death, other relatives took in Edgar’s sons.
Eventually they would scatter to other parts of the island and beyond, and Collins believes there are currently no living LeValliants in Newfoundland.
“Out of the four brothers there was only one son. He, too, died young in Ottawa.”
Gordon LeValliant eventually fathered two girls, one of whom died at only a year old.
Collins mother, Gordon’s other daughter, died when she was only 21.
“So, you can say the curse was continued on the family.”
But despite the tragedy surrounding his family, the mystery of Edgar’s belt-buckle ring continues to enthrall Collins.
“Where did it come from? Who hand crafted this ring? Could it have been from early Basques whalers, pirates, or even Vikings?
“I wish I knew.”
For the time being Collins has no intention of parting with the ring, although he may get it appraised down the road. He would also need to discuss any such plans with his family first.
“It’s worth more to the family as an heirloom than the monetary value that a ring of that age may bring,” says Collins. “Now if we could just figure out who owned it originally and how it got in Port aux Basques.”