CANADA'S GREATEST UNSOLVED MYSTERIES
Reader's Digest Canada|April 2021
CAN YOU CRACK THESE SPOOKY DISAPPEARANCES, PARANORMAL SIGHTINGS AND PUZZLING WHODUNITS?
Luc Rinaldi AND Courtney Shea
The Missing Theatre Magnate

On December 1, 1919, Ambrose Small, a Toronto theatre owner, sold the bulk of his empire to a Montreal company for $1.7 million. The sale itself was not suspicious: given the growing popularity of moving pictures, Small had decided to divest himself before it was too late. The next day, he and his wife, Theresa, together deposited the money. On the street they parted ways, Small promising to be home by dinner. But he never arrived. Small had a reputation for carousing, and Theresa waited two weeks to report his absence.

Today, the potential killers sound like players in a murder-mystery game: wife Theresa, a fixture in Toronto society; Small’s money-grubbing sisters with no other source of income; the disgruntled secretary; and at least one mistress. There was even the possibility of a gangster hit, given Small’s substantial gambling habit.

But if suspects were plenty, the investigation was clumsy at best. “This was a different era of policing,” says Katie Daubs, author of The Missing Millionaire: The True Story of Ambrose Small and the City Obsessed with Finding Him. “At that time, police mostly patrolled the streets and successfully solved crimes by being present when they happened.”

A series of private investigators tried their luck at cracking the case. So did clairvoyants and cryptographers. Theories multiplied, and the tabloids made a meal of every false lead (including a deathbed confession from Theresa, later deemed a forgery). Ultimately, neither Small nor a culprit was ever found, and in 1960 the Toronto Police officially closed the case.

The Empty Money Pit

In 1795, three teenagers discovered an odd hole in the ground on an island off the south shore of Nova Scotia. The area was rumoured to be a pit stop for pirates, so the boys began digging, hoping to unearth buried treasure. Instead, they struck layer after layer of buried timber. Though the trio never found any booty, they did discover a cryptic stone slate inscribed with unfamiliar symbols—a cipher that, at least in their interpretation, promised a huge payday.

Thus began the saga of the Oak Island money pit, which has beguiled countless explorers and excavators—including John Wayne and Franklin D. Roosevelt— over the past 225 years, even bankrupting some. Falls, explosions, suffocation and other accidents have claimed the lives of six men who tried to find the island’s prize. So far, explorers have spent millions on the search and found not a penny.

THE WRECKED PLANE

In 1959, John Diefenbaker, citing high costs, axed development of the Avro Arrow jet, even destroying prototypes and blueprints. In 2011, an intact Arrow ejection seat was discovered in the U.K., reigniting rumours that one plane survived and was smuggled out.

The Pacifist Assassination

At a little past 1 a.m. on October 28, 1924, a train travelling the Kettle Valley Railway in B.C. lit up the sky with a giant fireball. Nine people were killed in the explosion, including the presumed assassination target, Peter Verigin, spiritual leader of the Doukhobor people, a Russian religious sect. Since immigrating to Canada at the turn of the century, the group had faced resentment for their strict pacifism and communist ideals. There was an outcry when the government granted the Doukhobors a religious exemption from World War I.

By the time of his death, Verigin had built an extensive list of enemies. Potential suspects included a Doukhobor splinter group, the federal government, the American Ku Klux Klan and even Verigin’s own son, Peter II, who assumed his father’s leadership role. Despite a $2,000 reward, no charges were ever laid, and questions remain to this day, including whether it was an assassination at all. It’s true that Verigin was a contentious character, but some experts believe a leaky gas line or hastily packed dynamite in the suitcase of a local miner may have been responsible for the kaplow!

The Year of the UFO

In 1967, Canada was visited by multiple UFOs—or so people claimed. The convincing sightings prompted investigations by intelligence agencies and discussions in the House of Commons.

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