Essex family $10K richer after solving six-year-long treasure hunt

The treasure hunt involved a book called 'In Pursuit of the Golden Key' and a series of riddles and clues based on the War of 1812.

The project commemorated the bicentennial anniversary of the War of 1812

The Bombardier family of Essex — parents Jamie, left, and Renee, centre, along with Eric, right, and his two brothers — was given their ultimate surprise Tuesday afternoon when they finally solved the Golden Key Treasure Hunt six years after they started.

It was an elaborate treasure hunt featuring a series of riddles and artwork about the War of 1812. Its creator made a promise — solve it and win $10,000.

Now, after six long years, an Essex family has done just that, navigating through clues hidden in trees, mental riddles and a lot of Google searches.

"I don't even remember how we first heard about [the treasure hunt], because it was so long ago," said contest winner Renee Bombardier.

Hunting for treasure through education

The clues to the treasure hunt were found in a book called 'In Pursuit of the Golden Key,' written by Dennis White. The book was based off one he received back in 1979 called 'Masquerade,' a children's book which sparked an international search for hidden treasure.

"Because of that first book, I had thought, 'maybe we could do a treasure hunt for Amherstburg.' Just a small one — a local type thing."

Dennis White was inspired to start the project after receiving a treasure hunt book as a gift in 1979. After combining his artistic skills with a sudden fascination of the War of 1812, the Golden Key Treasure Hunt was born. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

After contacting local artist Steve Gibb to collaborate on a new treasure hunt book, White started researching the War of 1812 and fell in love with its rich history.

"I said to Steve, 'this [book] could be a real educational tool. So let's go that route.'" he said, adding he found sponsors to support the book, manufacture an actual golden key and help fund the $10,000 grand prize.

'In Pursuit of the Golden Key' features riddles, poetry, quotes and artwork based on the War of 1812.

The search begins

Bombardier doesn't remember how she first heard about the treasure hunt because it was so long ago. She said the book made the perfect home school history project for her three sons. 

"It wasn't very difficult to convince them, 'Hey. Let's study a war,'" said Bombardier.

"It had everything in there. It had the art in there. It had some math in there. It had so many awesome facts in there that I never knew. I don't even remember taking the War of 1812 in school, so it was all a new learning [experience] for me as well."

Renee Bombardier, shown here holding a basket of books fronted by 'In Pursuit of the Golden Key,' said the family had to analyze clues hidden in trees, answer mental riddles and run a lot of Google searches to fully understand the book's content. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Over the course of six weeks, the family stepped away from the book for a few weeks — even a few months at times.

But their commitment never wavered.

"It was maddening at times ... That's why it took us six years to solve it."

Six years until victory

Like his mother, Eric Bombardier remembers little about how he was introduced to the treasure hunt. He was nine at the time and remembers being unable to comprehend the enormity of the grand prize.

"At the halfway point, I knew somewhat of how much $10,000 was. And then, up to this point, since I'm spending now ... [I know] I can do a lot with $10,000."

Over six years, Eric and his two brothers changed a lot. His mother said they gained "totally different eyes and totally different ways of thinking," leading them to spot new clues they hadn't seen one or two years ago.

'In Pursuit of the Golden Key' features riddles, poetry, quotes and artwork about the War of 1812 and was the guideline for anyone who participated in the treasure hunt. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

The end came Tuesday afternoon when they found the final clue — 'teerts yasmaR 192 tsop ecnef renroc,'

Spelled backwards, it points to the 'corner fence' of author White's address.

"I was basically in shock ... We actually just won ten grand. This is the first thing I've actually won that's so important to me," said Eric, who added the Bombardiers will run a family meeting to decide what to do with the money.

Hear more from Renee Bombardier and her son, Eric, on the CBC's Windsor Morning:

A welcome finale

White is thrilled that someone has solved his treasure hunt. He said doubt started to creep up in his mind because some of his peers lost belief in the project.

"So what I did is I went back into my studio and studied [the clues] and said, 'Yeah, it's solvable. Somebody's going to get it. Someday. I don't know when,'" White said.

"It's almost like getting out of prison at the end because it was solved. There was some respect I earned from myself and from others that [the project] worked."

As for Eric, who's now reached age 15, he just has one way to describe his expertise of the War of 1812.

"I'm an apprentice."

with files from the CBC's Windsor Morning


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