Ringfinder: Meet Edmonton's metal detector master

Like a monster from the deep, choking from the hot fumes, Norm Peters waded through garbage-infested waters, waiting for his trusty metal detector to make its signature sound: beep, beep beep.

'I get some real doozies, I'll tell you that'

Norm Peters was inspired to buy a metal detector after his son lost his wedding ring on a beach in Mexico. (Getty Images )

Like a monster from the deep, Norm Peters waded through garbage-infested waters, waiting for his trusty metal detector to make its signature sound: beep, beep beep.

But instead he heard the wail of police sirens.

"And at that point, about eight cops came running after me. I'm surrounded. Somebody from the apartments nearby had called to complain about this guy in the pond.

"And this sergeant comes up to me and says, 'What are you doing?' and I said, 'I'm metal detecting. I'm looking for a ring.'

"And they said, 'We have to investigate, we've had reports of strange activities in here.' "

The water-logged encounter with the law is just one remarkable tale from a man who has spent the last seven years helping reunite Albertans with lost rings and other precious mementoes.

A mucky mission

Peters has searched frozen lakes, towering snowbanks, beaches and backwoods, but maintains the time he spent sleuthing through that man-made lake in Mill Woods was by far the most memorable.

"Fifteen hours in a slough, over three or four days. I went there three or four times to look for this ring for this young kid. It was his grandfather's ring," said the retired St. Albert salesman.

The teenaged boy had been riding his bike along the pond when he slipped and fell and the ring went flying.

The Bettie Hewes Pond, with its muskrats, ducks, and bulrushes, didn't make for a refreshing dip in the sweltering heat.

"These Edmonton storm ponds, you can imagine, every Tom, Dick and Harry throws all their garbage in there. I bet you I must have pulled a hundred cans and bottles out of there … and you can imagine the stench." said Peters, 64.

"And I was about to give up but something told me, go over there and have a look, and there it was, jammed between a rock and the wall."

The ring had been missing for more than a year.

"I called the kid and told him that I found his ring. He couldn't believe it."

Son's lost ring got him started

Peters was inspired to get into the "business" after his son lost his wedding ring shortly after getting married in Mexico. The family was enjoying a day of surf and sun when the band slipped off in the waves.

Although the ring was never found, Peters became fascinated with the prospect of finding lost treasure. After returning home from Cancun, Peters put on his favourite Tilley hat and started shopping for metal detectors.

He put ads online, offering his services for free, and it wasn't long before he got a call from the president of the Ring Finders, an international brigade of more than 350 metal-detecting men and women. Peters was happy to join their ranks.

'I get some real doozies'

Peters now takes dozens of calls a month, documenting each successful find on his blog.

He's searched sports pitches, snowbanks, farmers' fields and even a shag carpet.

Sometimes he finds the lost item in minutes, other times the search stretches on for days.

"I get some real doozies, I'll tell you that," he said. "You have to be like a detective, always asking questions and things like, 'Can you recall the last time you've seen it?' Time is of the essence.

"A lot of people figure once the ring is off their finger it's lost forever. But if they know the proximity of where the ring is lost, there is a 99.9 per cent chance of finding it."

'You're going to be in the doghouse'

Most often when his phone rings, it's a desperate husband or wife on the line.

"Especially when hubby doesn't know or the wife doesn't know, they tell me, 'Hey, you better keep quiet, I haven't told them yet,' and I say, 'You better tell them.'

His clients are so desperate in those early minutes or hours, some — mostly husbands — will start thinking about replacing the lost ring with an identical one from the jewelry store.

"I tell them, you're not going to fool her. You can buy an identical one, but it's not the same," Peters said. 

"There's a lot of sentimental value. That ring reminds her of that particular day, and if you run out to People's jewelers or whatever to buy her another one, and you bring that home, you're going to be in the doghouse."

'It's top secret where I go hunting'

Although the rings he finds are sometimes worth a fortune, Peters isn't in it for the money. He charges a $40 base fee to cover his travel costs. And If the search is successful, he leaves it up to the clients to decide what his services are worth.

For his next mission, Peters will be wading back into the water to search the shores of a lake for a ring lost almost three decades ago. He won't reveal the location.

"It's top secret where I go hunting. I don't divulge."


Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.