Francis Drake May Have Discovered Western Canada Hundreds of Years Earlier, Kept Quiet About It

The discovery of a 16th century coin is threatening the story of British Columbia’s history

Did the English discover Canada's west coast hundreds of years before it was officially charted by Spanish explorer Juan Perez? Wikimedia Commons

The Age of Exploration, from roughly the 15th through 17th centuries, was a busy time for global colonialism. Seafaring nations from across western Europe were “discovering” the rest of the world, and their tales of daring and danger—of setting off for unknown lands to claim and conquer and study—created, for many people, the story of their cultural heritage. But as archaeologists and historians and treasure hunters continue to pick through the past, some of these tales turn out to be more myth than history.

You probably already know that Ponce de Léon's discovery of Florida wasn't quite as simple as it's often made out to be. And, last week, a new study suggested that Dutch sailors nearly beat the British to New Zealand. Now, evidence is building that the English discovered Canada's west coast hundreds of years before it was officially charted by Spanish explorer Juan Perezsays Postmedia News.

The latest piece of evidence for the early English visit to what is now the Canadian province of British Columbia, according to Postmedia, is a coin:

The newly discovered coin bears marks indicating it was produced between 1551 and 1553 during the reign of King Edward VI, the son of Henry VIII and half-brother of Elizabeth I. It was found in December by retired security specialist Bruce Campbell, who told Postmedia News he initially had no idea the centuries-old bit of silver could help rewrite the early history of Canada.

This is the third 16th-century coin found along the coast. Thsi physical evidence adds support to documents indicating that, during a 1579 voyage to North America's west coast, British sailor Francis Drake made his way further north than was thought.

The idea that Drake discovered British Columbia, says Postmedia, was first pitched by the Samuel Bawlf, a former provincial cabinet minister. But if that's the case, then why was it kept secret? To fend of competition from Spanish explorers:

Bawlf bases his theory on encrypted maps and other British archival documents from the late 1500s that suggest Drake was directed to safeguard his first-hand knowledge of the Pacific Northwest from England’s Spanish enemies.

In other words, this isn't a case where historians were simply confused—Drake's voyage was kept secret, on purpose.

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