Wait, that isn’t what we were looking for!

Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area

By Lisa Sonnenburg

One of the amazing things about managing cultural resources in Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area is that we are always finding new things under the waves. Sometimes we are looking for a specific target, and just get lucky when we find something unexpected.

People sometimes ask, “How can you find anything in such a large lake?”  The answer is usually research or luck.

Some sites are well documented by local knowledge holders and professional researchers, so we know what is where. Other times, we investigate specific areas that may have characteristics that are associated with specific site types, like a shallow area known to be a navigation hazard, or an area where written or oral history of activities suggests materials or belongings could have been left behind in the water. Sometimes, it’s just plain old luck. But other times, we are looking for something we know should be there and end up finding something completely different and new. This is one of those stories.

In the summer of 2022, we received information about some old vehicles along the shoreline of Lake Superior from a local resident.  Given the rumours about a train derailment where a train car filled with Ford Model Ts ended up on the bottom of Lake Superior, we had to go and check it out! This location was near a well-documented 2008 train derailment that spilled plastic pellets, known as nurdles, into the lake. Two of these train cars are still submerged, and we wanted to get some ‘eyes’ on them to make sure the cars were still intact. We were using Parks Canada’s newest ROV (remote operated vehicle), named ‘Ursula’. As we were getting close to the known location of the wreck, we noticed debris along the slope leading into the lake. We decided to anchor and deploy Ursula. Much to our surprise, we did not find intact rail cars, but piles of rail stock, large pieces of wood and even an old telegraph pole!  This was not our intended target, but what looked like a much older train wreck. After taking video footage of the site, we returned to the office to look for any historical documentation that might provide insight into this mystery wreck. As part of our research, we discovered that a diver who worked on the recovery of the 2008 wreck had also noticed the older debris but had no idea as to its origin. Our current hunch is based on a short article in a 1916 newspaper about a train derailment in the same area. Is this the train wreck we found? Stay tuned as we continue to discover more about our mystery wreck!


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