Maybe you’ve seen folks — mostly families — running around Lake Cowichan on Saturday mornings, in search of something.
Maybe you’ve been one of those folks. If so, then you’ll know what they’ve been looking for.
If you haven’t, this is the story behind it. If you have taken part, this is your chance to meet the man responsible for the madness — with the help of The Tube Shack, which stepped up recently as a major sponsor.
His name is Andrew Braye, and he’s been organizing treasure hunts in town for the last several weeks. Families — anyone can take part — look for clues on Facebook, then hunt for treasure. Originally, the weekly prize was a bar of silver, with a gold bar up for grabs once a month. Because the participants have been mostly families with young kids, the weekly prizes have changed to things that might appeal more to kids than precious metals, but the monthly gold bar is still on offer.
The idea came to Braye earlier this spring when he considered holding an Easter egg hunt for grown-ups.
“Although we’re adults, it was so fun as a kid, it would be so cool to do an adult version of it,” Braye recalls.
Easter passed, but then Braye came up with the idea of a treasure hunt. What if he bought a bar of gold or silver and a treasure chest from a dollar store, and hid it somewhere in town for people to find? He couldn’t shake the idea.
“It was so incredibly exciting to think that other people would get to do what I love doing,” he says.
Braye is on disability, so he has the time for projects like this, and he manages his finances very carefully, so he has some extra cash around. He decided to conduct a three-month pilot project. He ordered silver bars from TD Bank, then found some little wooden treasure chests, and got to work.
“I come up with cool ideas, but I don’t normally pursue them,” admits Braye, who has autism.
This time, he made sure something would happen by creating a business plan.
“I had to come up with the idea and make it self-sustaining or even profitable,” he says. “I took a couple of weeks building a business model.”
Braye created a Facebook group, Lake Cowichan Treasure Hunters, where he posts clues for the hunts. It attracted 250 members in the first week. He estimates that 100 people took part in the first hunt, on April 24.
“It makes me tremble because I thought it was super cool, but I never knew if it was going to work or not,” he says.
Over the first few weeks, Braye made the weekly hunt about more than just the bar of silver, adding prizes for kids like squirt guns, chocolate coins and other candy, and colouring books to the haul. He has since decided to scrap the silver altogether and just hide the other prizes, which he buys at local dollar stores. Braye makes sure he has enough goodies so each kid gets something.
Although the money for the first few treasure hunts came out of Braye’s pocket, The Tube Shack recently got in touch with him to help out. The Tube Shack is putting up $160 each month to buy the prizes for the weekly events.
“When you have something like that, which is going to make a beautiful community project sustainable indefinitely, it’s amazing,” Braye says. “I’m able to add a lot more prizes and make sure every single kid gets a prize, even if they don’t find one.”
The weekly hunt may have changed, but the monthly gold hunt is still on, with the first one taking place on May 29. Participants pay $25 to get clues to the location of a 1g bar of gold inside a treasure chest.
The clues for the weekly hunt drop at 11 a.m. every Saturday. The gold hunt takes place on the last Saturday of each month, and clues are posted at noon, allowing participants to do both events if they wish.
Locations of the treasure hunt have ranged from Saywell Park to the Friendship Forest Trail to the Kinsmen Duck Pond, but one of Braye’s most creative hunts, on May 8, sent participants looking for a specific book.
Braye had taken his own copy of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and cut a hole out of the pages with an X-acto knife just big enough for the bar of silver. He then hid the book in one of the take-a-book-leave-a-book free libraries in town.
Gerrie and her four grandchildren — Kenley and Mylan Knott, 12 and 9, respectively, from Lake Cowichan, and Karmyn and Gavin Say, 5 and 2, respectively, from Sidney — were watching eagerly as the 11 a.m. clue-drop approached. They had taken part in the first hunt and successfully found the hiding place, but the silver bar was gone before they arrived. They missed the second week, but the grandkids insisted on going back for the third.
“The kids wanted to do this before anything else,” Knott recalls. “Their mom and dad were going out of town, but they wanted to stay and do this.”
They sat in Knott’s truck in the middle of town, refreshing Facebook repeatedly. When the clues popped up, they went to two different book boxes before they found the Mark Twain book in the third.
“They were jumping, they were so excited,” Knott remembers. “It was really fun. He did a really good job of it. It was challenging. If you were coming from out of town, you might not know where the book boxes were.”
If Braye’s vision continues to come to life, he will soon expand the treasure hunt idea to Duncan, Chemainus, Nanaimo, Victoria, Vancouver and beyond, bringing in new people to coordinate the hunts in each community. Eventually, he’d like to have events across Canada.
“Anybody can [organize] it, and that’s the beautiful part,” he says. “How fun would that be to be a kid, and instead of a paper route, your job is to make a treasure hunt every week?”
If Braye’s own experience is anything to go on, it’s pretty special.
“It has literally changed my entire life,” he says. “Every single week, I have something to focus on that is now sustainable every single week.”