For fifteen years Heather Jones and her husband, Sam, saved up for their wedding rings.
When they were first married 22 years ago they couldn’t afford wedding bands, so for their 10th anniversary, a friend and local First Nations artist designed them a pair of gold rings with a hummingbird design. However, they could only purchase Heather’s ring initially and Sam had to wait another five years.
That made a fateful incident at Witty’s Lagoon on June 20 all the more heartbreaking.
“It seemed that it took forever to have his ring, and then it just slipped off his finger,” Heather said. “It was almost a slow-motion release.”
Sam had gone for a late-night swim with their daughter when the cold water pulled the ring off.
The family frantically searched for it, borrowing neighbours’ goggles and using a wet suit but did not have any luck.
“He started showing signs of hypothermia,” Heather recalled.
The family went home and began looking at other options, and that’s when they found the services of ring finder Don Marshall. Even though they sent Marshall an email at 11:30 p.m., by midnight they received a call from him saying he could meet them the next day.
Marshall used his specialized equipment to search the waters, and within 20 minutes found the ring wedged under a rock.
“It was the most glorious feeling ever,” Heather recalled. “We both bawled … it was so beautiful that we found it.”
Heather and Sam have a tradition of always placing their wedding ring on each other’s fingers in the rare instances they come off. Immediately, Heather grabbed Sam’s ring and placed it on his finger, but not before giving Marshall a big hug and a kiss on the cheek.
|Heather Jones slips her husband's ring back onto his finger after Don Marshall found it in the water at Witty's Lagoon. (File contributed/ Don Marshall)
Devin Tait and his friends had a similar experience in Bullen Park at the end of July when they suddenly realized something was missing. Tait’s newly married friend, Matt, had lost his wedding ring somewhere in the grass.
The group searched fruitlessly for over half an hour before Tait thought to look online, hoping to find a used metal detector. Instead, he found the services of ring finder, Don Marshall.
“He was on site in about half an hour. Another half an hour after that he found the ring,” Tait said. “I think it was a lifesaver for Matt. He got married back in May, it was still pretty new and for him it was really important to find the ring he got married with.”
For Don Marshall, becoming a ring finder happened when he retired in 2002 and he realized he needed a new hobby. “I wanted something that would keep me active and outside,” Marshall said. “So I got into metal detecting.”
Pretty quickly Marshall was able to use his equipment to hear the difference between a bottle cap and something more.
He began finding a collection of rings, jewelry and keys and wanted to find out what he could do with them and how he could find the owners.
This prompted Marshall to join an international group called The Ring Finders, which has a mission of reuniting owners with lost things. Since joining the group he’s advertised his finds and services online with a lot of success.
“I’ve returned 37 items, but I’ve probably got another 30 to 40 rings that I can’t find the owners for,” Marshall said. “I found a gold ring in Elk Lake yesterday and I’ve posted it on social media … sometimes that’s the only recourse I’ve got.”
Marshall said that when people contract him to find lost rings, he has a 75 per cent success rate – something that’s not always easy considering all the cans, nails, bottle caps and other pieces of metal in the ground or water.
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After more than a decade of searching, however, his ears are tuned.
“It takes years of practice to hear a distinctive tone,” he said. “Each detector will have a different language, like human beings who will have their accents … at this point, I can literally hear a rusted nail. It’s the sound of the rust, it’s gravelly.”
Some of his favourite finds include a unique ring he spent months hunting for in Elk Lake. Marshall had seen an inactive ad on UsedVictoria.ca put up by a man looking for a precious ring, which he made using his mother’s jewelry after she had passed away.
|Don Marshall found a school ring from an unknown school, graduating year 1958. He's hoping to find the rightful owner. (File contributed/Don Marshall)
Marshall went to the area again and again, and after upgrading his equipment finally heard the distinctive ping. He scooped into the mud and shook out the sieve.
“All of a sudden this monster ring is showing up and the first thing you do is grin,” Marshall said. “I had to look at it three times to make sure it was real.”
When Marshall contacted the owner out of the blue, 14 months after his advertisement was posted, he was elated.
If people know approximately where they lost the ring the job isn’t too difficult, Marshall said. But if he’s found a ring on his own it can be very difficult to find the owner, especially if there’s no inscription or unique aspects to it.
For years Marshall has been looking for the rightful owner of a 1958 graduation ring he found in Beaver Lake, without any success.
Marshall charges a standard fee of $30 to come to the site to cover gas costs. If he doesn’t find a ring he doesn’t charge a thing, and if he does find it the rightful owner is welcome to pay what he or she feels is appropriate.
Marshall said this varies from person to person depending on the personal value of the ring, but on average it ends up being about a third of the cost of what it would be to replace the ring.
At the end of the day, however, the biggest reward is the reunion.
“That’s the best part of the whole job, meeting up with the person and getting that ring back to them,” Marshall said. “I love my job.”
For more information, you can visit theringfinders.com/Don.Marshall, or send him a text at 250-361-8666.