Now in its seventh season, “The Curse of Oak Island” is a hit reality television series that premiered in Canada in 2014 on The History Channel. Generating more than two million viewers each week in the USA alone, the show documents Rick and Marty Lagina’s quest to solve a 224-year-old treasure mystery. Oak Island lies off the coast of Nova Scotia and has lured team after team of treasure hunters in search of something of great value or historical importance. What exactly? No one knows, but rumours range from pirate gold to William Shakespeare’s original manuscripts to lost treasure of the Knights Templar, and even the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant.
In 2006 the Lagina brothers purchased the rights to the majority of the island in an effort to solve the mystery, while attempting to avoid the infamous “curse” (several people have died in search of the treasure over the decades). In 2010, they were granted their “treasure-trove” licence. Soon after, Prometheus Entertainment approached them about documenting their efforts. While they were excited to do it, the brothers knew they’d need to employ some modern technology, which involved, among other things, some serious heavy equipment. Enter SC&RA member company, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada-based Irving Equipment Limited.
Irving Equipment, an affiliate of J.D. Irving, Limited, has been part of the show since Season 4, providing world-class equipment and expertise. And while their normal operational processes don’t include film crews and equipment, the Irving team onsite doesn’t waver in its ability or desire to operate as they would on any other jobsite.
“Every job is high-profile to somebody,” said Matthew Kingston, pile-driving manager at Irving. “So we remember that and execute each day in an effort to stay true to that idea.”
Kingston explained that, even in the beginning, the Irving team approached the opportunity like any other job. “Our role on the show is to ultimately explore a host of methodologies – in terms of construction and feasibility,” he noted. “We work closely with the Oak Island team and provide them with insight, help, different options and from there, co-ordinate the required resources to accomplish specific tasks.”
People at Irving knew they’d be a good fit for the Oak Island project when they got the call, for some pretty specific reasons. “Mainly because we’d provided technical expertise before in the areas that we’d be focusing on here,” Kingston added. “We established open dialogue early on with their team, providing some valuable input, solutions and suggestions and at the end of the day, we pride ourselves on being a solutions provider and not just a crane company. And we knew that our attitude in this regard was a great fit with their team and their goals.”
While most crane companies don’t have to navigate a production crew or worry about being on camera for certain parts of the job, Kingston stated that it’s not as abnormal as folks might think. “Inevitably, every project has its own unique complexities and challenges. And again, we haven’t operated any differently than we would on any other project – our core commitment to safety and quality doesn’t change. That said, the passion and commitment we’ve seen from the Oak Island team – everyone on the island is really invested – presents an added level of focus to the work that is taking place.”
As a result, Kingston said it’s important to Irving not to portray itself any differently by taking short cuts or trying to do anything special because cameras are rolling. “Obviously, we take our work very seriously, with safety as the number one priority but, that said, it’s hard sometimes to ignore the various things going on around site. There are definitely a lot of things happening. But when you think about it, the camera crew is just another contractor working onsite, and you just go along with your work as it comes.”
To that end, Kingston also admitted it’s definitely a fun project to be involved with. “No doubt about it; it’s a fun worksite. With the passion there on the island, the community, the production – it certainly adds to a level that maybe you’re not used to typically seeing.”
Which is also why Irving tries to keep the same crew onsite. “In terms of consistency and familiarity with the work, it just makes sense,” said Kingston. “The equipment changes based on the scope that’s needed. But with us being based in Canada, we have the resources and the flexibility that allows us to bring in the best equipment and personnel for the particular tasks needed.”
As far as work is concerned, “It consists mostly of what you see on television,” confirmed Kingston. “Crane operators, riggers, welders, supervisors that manage our work, the sub-contractors and the drilling suppliers. But all that said, as with all projects, there’s a bunch of people working behind the scenes in order to make things happen seamlessly – like our logistics co-ordinators, mechanics, project managers, administrative support. So there’s a lot of people on the back-end pulling stuff together, and it’s a whole team effort, but the front-facing team would be the crane operators, the riggers and the welders.”
Each day onsite for the Irving team starts with a safety talk and an examination of the day’s tasks. “From there, it’s business as usual,” said Kingston. “We’ll also take a close look at all of the other activities happening on the island, and what those involve – and if things change, what types of adjustments and adaptations we’ll have to make.”
More than five years into the project, however, Kingston revealed that one thing still can’t be ignored. “The minute you step on that island, you sort of become enveloped in the mystery. The fact that you’re looking for certain items and no one knows how they got there or why – especially when some of these things were put there over two hundred years ago – keeps it exciting. And the Oak Island team, as well as the people on the island, bring a nice community aspect to the work.”
As far as additional attention for Irving goes, Kingston prefers to look through a broader lens. “Well, it’s not every day that you see a crane being involved in a two-hundred-plus-year-old mystery project, so that’s brought attention to the crane industry, which is good for everyone. And yes, we’ve seen an uptick in people asking questions and inquiring about what we’re up to, etc., but that’s to be expected.”
As far as takeaways and insights that Irving has gained from the Oak Island project, Kingston firmly believes it’s a lesson in discipline, overall. “It’s ultimately about staying true to what your company stands for and represents,” he said. “What you see on TV in terms of how Irving Equipment conducts itself is no different on or off the screen. We take tremendous pride in our work no matter the scale or profile. Obviously, as with any project, there’s always elements of the unknown that come up. But again, plans change – the construction industry as a whole is very adaptable to change. As long as you’re not compromising the safety of anyone, and you’re true to yourself and your ability, you’ll continue to move forward and find success.”