Canadian firefighters sunk this ’57 Chevy in Lake Superior—for a lottery

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Facebook | Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area

The craziest thing about this 1957 Chevrolet wagon isn’t its location under the waters of Lake Superior’s Nipigon Lagoon, or even its newly acquired status as a fish habitat. It’s how this vintage machine got here in the first place.

Nipigon is a Canadian township in Northwestern Ontario—with the unusual distinction of 5.8 mile-wide crater on Mars named after it. (God bless Wikipedia.) With a population of only 1642 persons as of 2016, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the township’s volunteer fire department has developed some clever fundraising measures. Indeed, for Nipigon’s “car sinking lottery,” firefighters drove an old car onto the ice in the dead of winter. They then sold 50/50 draw tickets to Nipigonians, who bet on the time and date that the vehicle would break through the surface.

Nipigon ontario canada 2012 july
Nipigon, in the summer of 2012. Wikimedia Commons

Happily, the Nipigonian firefighters looked with pity upon vehicles sacrificed in so unorthodox a fashion. Before releasing a vehicle to its slow death, they tied a rope to the front of the car so that, after it sank and the funds were collected, they could winch the thing out. Rescue became impossible if the car flipped over during its marine descent, but generally the system worked.

And if you’re wondering whether there’s a fleet of upside-down automotive skeletons on the bottom of the Nipigon lagoon … you’re absolutely right.

The ’57 Chevy in these photos, however, is sitting on its own four wheels. So why wasn’t it rescued?

There’s an eyewitness who can explain—both the state of this sunken Chevy and the process of the car-sinking lottery. Nipigon’s own mayor, Richard Harvey, is a marine archaeologist and spotted the Chevy on a dive back in 2012. To the Nipigon native, an algae-covered 1950s wagon on the bottom of a lake lay entirely within the realm of the ordinary. As he tells the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), he saw several other upside-down, un-winchable vehicles down there. Harvey did spend enough time to discover why the right-side-up Chevy hadn’t been rescued per usual: Its cable had become tangled around a stump. An old wooden wagon and a skiff, richer in mystery, then caught his eye. Off he swam.

The Chevy was thrust back into the spotlight this February thanks to a Facebook post by the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, which rediscovered it during a summer “Underwater Mystery” dive. As one might guess from his decade of nonintervention, Nipigon’s mayor and erstwhile lagoon explorer harbors no ambitions to raise the car. As he tells the CBC, the finned wagon has become assimilated into the aquatic habitat—and there’s a turtle nesting area close by.

Considering that a ’57 Chevrolet is worth about $21,700 in driver (#3, or Good) condition, we’d temper our own mechanical sympathy and agree with Harvey to let this sleeping Chevrolet lie. But if wishes were fishes, imagine this wagon restored and painted with the crest of the Nipigon Fire Department. It could even be raffled off; who wouldn’t want a piece of this small-town Canadian story?

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