After a long winter of virtual meetings and stay-at-home measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, Canadian and Americans alike are moving outdoors for some real-life bounty hunting.

In Manitoba, the craze for geocaching ballooned into a hobby for at least 4,000 new members last year, says Nathan Kachur, president of The Manitoba Geocaching Association. That’s an increase of 30 to 40 per cent compared to three years before the pandemic.

Geocaching involves searching for little packages called caches that are hidden by other players and recorded with GPS co-ordinates or other clues. Packages can be hidden anywhere — deep in a forest, on a city sidewalk, or tucked at the top of a playground slide. 

Inside the caches, people discover inexpensive toys or trinkets to trade and a logbook to sign their name. The boxes must be placed precisely where they were found.

“It was definitely a very geeky sport or activity,” Kachur said of geocaching before the pandemic. 

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, this form of treasure hunting has grown in popularity — at least in part because it is done outside, can be done alone or with family, it’s fun for all ages and doesn’t require much equipment, Kachur says.

“As time has gone on, the evolution of smart phones has definitely made it more accessible,” he said.

WATCH | Manitoban’s adventure-seeking geocachers:

Requiring little equipment and minimal cost, geocaching has become an accessible avenue for Manitobans to get outdoors and find freedom, in a time when the coronavirus would keep them locked inside. 0:58

Jordan McPeek has been geocaching since 2008 and has logged more than 4,500 hiding places around Manitoba and beyond.

“It’s something that gets you outside and gets you active. For someone like me, it helps in providing some motivation for getting out,” he told CBC’s Marjorie Dowhos.

Cold, hard cash

Meanwhile, south of the border, somewhere in the state of Maine, there’s a hidden stash of $20,000 US that treasure seekers are invited to find.

The creators of the treasure hunt and the company behind the hunt, Dirigo Treasures LLC, are Kurt and Kelly Stokes of Newcastle, the Lincoln County News reports. It took three years to organize and package the elaborate hide-and-seek game.

“We created the game to celebrate Maine’s 200 years of statehood,” Kurt Stokes told the newspaper. “What better way to celebrate Maine than to get people out of the house, out of their town and exploring parts of the state they never knew existed?”

Finding the Dirigo treasure will involve solving a secret, a riddle and a puzzle. Getting started means ponying up for a deck of cards or flash cards for $19.99 or $39.99, with a dollar from each sale going to the Maine Cancer Foundation.

The couple ensured that the quest for the hidden treasure is legal, ethical and environmentally responsible.

“We abided by the principles of leaving no trace,” Kurt Stokes said.

Toronto pirates with an environmental edge

Ontario’s self-dubbed Sludge Pirates, Evan Sabba and Neil Girvan, have turned their adventures of magnet-fishing in Toronto into a weekly program on YouTube.

One of their motives for pulling objects out of Lake Ontario with powerful magnets on a rope is to help clean the water of rusted metal or otherwise hazardous material.

“You’ll come up with mainly nuts and bolts but sometimes you get a watch or a cool old lighter or something like that,” Sabba told Metro Morning’s Ismaila Alfa. Whatever is pulled out of the water is then earmarked for garbage collection or recycling, or if the objects are too large, they call and have it removed.

“Definitely don’t put it back in the water. That’s not our intention. Once we take it out, it’s out, it’s cleaning the water, and we put it in the garbage.” Sabba said.

“Part of the fun thing of it is you don’t really see it until it breaks the surface.”

“People think we’re crazy. A lot of people think we also work for the city somehow, that somehow this is a city job, like they see us, like why else would we be doing this? ” Girvan said.

“It’s impossible to not have fun. You may not get something but you will definitely have fun.”  

Metro Morning7:36Sludge Pirates fish for garbage and gold with a magnet

Evan Sabba and Neil Girvan are self-described PIRATES who are searching for Lake Ontario treasure by fishing out other people’s trash, using a giant magnet 7:36

Pirate treasure in Newfoundland

The moss, rocks and cliffs of Newfoundland come with plenty of legends of pirate treasure, says folklore PhD candidate Katie Crane, who spoke with St. John’s Morning Show on Tuesday.

The granddaughter of Otto Tucker, proponent of Newfoundland history and culture, was the guardian of an iron treasure chest discovered in a cave on the mountain in Winterton called the Sugarloaf about 100 years ago.

She describes it as “a square metal chest that looks like it had at one point ornate plates on the front that had been removed and beyond that it’s just an iron chest. It’s really heavy.”

The story Crane has been told her whole life is long ago, two young brothers found a cave far up the cliffs of the Sugarloaf mountain. “Inside the cave, on a rock ledge was this chest, which t they somehow lowered down the side of cliff and then they opened it up on the beach, fully expecting to find treasure in there.” 

LISTEN | The granddaughter of the guardian of the Sugarloaf treasure chest tells all:

St John’s Morning Show7:16Treasure Chest

A tale of a mysterious chest found in a hidden cave in Trinity Bay. We chat with folklore PhD candidate Katie Crane about her family’s connection to that story. 7:16

Instead of finding treasure, there were papers, useless to the pair who could not read. Since the boys had “borrowed a boat without permission” and thought they would be punished, they decided to burn the papers (or threw them away — depending who you ask).

“The missing papers is what fuels this legend and gives it its power. With the lack of papers it continues the stories and allows people to interact with the story, give their own opinions and ideas and it gives it longevity,” Crane said.

The chest, now stored in the Wooden Boat Museum, was recorded as probably dating to the 19th century, which is too recent for pirates who were legitimately in the region in the 1600s and 1700s.

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