Hobbyists chase the thrill of finding valuable items, all while cleaning up the water
Frédérick Hardy reaches back with his left arm, clutching a climbing rope with a heavy magnet on the end.
He throws, hucking the weight as far as he can out into Montreal's Lachine Canal near the Atwater Market.
"It's like playing the lottery. You throw, you don't know what you're going to find," said Hardy.
He's found everything from iron railway spikes to mortar shells. And he's found plenty of loose change, too.
"People are making wishes," he said. "Sometimes the wishes come back to my magnet. Sorry."
Magnet fishing is a growing trend around the world. And based on engagement seen in online magnet fishing communities, page administrators estimate thousands are taking part in the hobby across Quebec.
People usually take it up with hope of finding interesting, or even valuable, objects while cleaning up waterways.
Not always 'finders keepers'
Serge Côté, who lives in Quebec's Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, has written two books on the subject, including a magnet fishing guide for the province.
In his Facebook group, Pêche à l'aimant Québec, which has some 2,600 members, hobbyists post discoveries like rusted bikes and street signs. There are old springs, bottle caps, tools, washing machines and screws, but also old coins or wagon wheels.
In one recent post to the group, someone pulled out an entire golf cart. The author wrote that police were called and it was determined to be a stolen cart from a nearby campground marina.
Sometimes the magnets find guns, ammunition, phones, watches, safes or bags of money. But, Côté explained, it's not all finders keepers.
He said it's important to contact the police when a gun, or anything that may have been stolen, is found.
When Hardy found a rifle last month, he called the police. He said they told him it was unusable, and he was allowed to keep it. So he cleaned it up and has it on display.
"It's an old Swedish gun," he said, estimating it dates back to sometime between 1942 and 1960.
The hobby is getting so popular that the province's first-ever Global Magnet Fishing Day event is planned for July 15 in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., about 40 kilometres south of Montreal.
It will be a full day of magnet fishing in the Chambly Canal, where organizers like Côté and Hardy expect there will be some particularly interesting treasures.
"From word of mouth, we've heard it's a place worth exploring," said Côté, describing the event as an opportunity to introduce more Quebecers to the activity.
"A bunch of magnet fishers will magnet fish together, showing how it's an ecological way of cleaning the water."
Hardy said cleaning the water is one of the main purposes of magnet fishing, and that Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu welcomes the initiative.
"We hope that this event will contribute to sensitizing the population to the importance of taking care of our waterways," said municipal spokesperson Marie-Pier Gagnon, noting the canal is managed by Parks Canada.
Aside from needing to be aware that you can't just keep anything suspicious, Côté said there are few regulations surrounding magnet fishing. You just have to stay away from private property if you don't have permission, and avoid archeological sites.
In his 12 years of magnet fishing, Côté said one of his more memorable finds was an old Volkswagen that came out of the water in two pieces.
"I had to get people to help me," he said. "It was too heavy."
A hobby for all ages
Anyone can get into magnet fishing, Hardy said. Magnet and rope kits can be found online, but it's important people find a magnet that suits their strength. A powerful magnet might lock onto something too heavy to retrieve.
"You can remove cars and old boats, if you want," he said. "But you need to be careful or you're going to lose your magnet. It's happened to me."
Hardy has a YouTube channel, Joker's Magnet, where he posts videos of his adventures in Quebec and the United States.
As for all the metal he hauls out of places like the Lachine Canal, Hardy said he often scraps it for pocket money. But it's not really the extra cash that keeps him interested. It's the thrill of finding surprises, but also helping to clean the environment, he said.
Some, like Montreal resident Pierre Brise-Bois, hope to uncover evidence that could help police crack a criminal case.
"I wish to find a gun or something like that to help the police with an investigation," he said.
Recently, Brise-Bois pulled a Bixi out of the Lachine Canal, he said. He's found more than 15 bikes, he said, and one complete car door.
"It's like a big bag of surprises," he said. "You never know what you're going to get."
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