sludge pirates

Two people are using magnets to pull treasures out of Toronto's harbour

When two bored actors bought a high-powered magnet last spring and threw it into Toronto's harbour, they had no idea what they would pull out of the murky Lake Ontario waters.

Fast-forward six months and Neil Girvan and Evan Sabba have turned their pandemic hobby into a YouTube show called Sludge Pirates and a thriving Instagram account.

The episodes, released weekly, generally show Girvan and Sabba throwing their high-powered magnets into a water-body around Toronto, such as Lake Ontario and the Don River, and pulling out weird, long-forgotten items.

For under $100, anyone can buy the small magnet that has the power to pull 2,600 pounds, said Girvan.

Magnet fishing is growing in popularity around the world and has even been deemed dangerous in Britain where people have pulled up grenades or even the body of a handcuffed man.

Girvan and Sabba met about 30 years ago when they were both studying acting, and have gone on to have successful television acting careers in Toronto. But during lockdown, filming stopped and they were looking for something to do.

Sabba said he discovered magnet fishing watching YouTube.

"I thought it was interesting, pretty funny."

He sent a link to Girvan.

"I just thought it was ridiculous — what are these guys doing," Girvan said.

Around April they ordered the high-powered magnets and tried it. They found it was a good way to socialize, get outside and have fun while still following social distancing rules.

Soon they were addicted to the thrill of finding stuff.

"When you throw the magnet in the water and you click on something, you don't know what it is and you are pulling up this unknown thing that has weight, your imagination is going wild," said Girvan, adding, "A lot of times it is just garbage."

But sometimes they find cool stuff.

Some of the more interesting things they have found include shopping carts, old street signs, bikes, high-end skateboards, classic buttons, knives and coins.

They pulled out seven old café tables that were about 75 to 80 pounds each in the Harbourfront areas. They guessed the tables were from the 1950s. Recently, a chair they pulled out of the water drew attention.

They found a large cache of $1 CNE Casino tokens from 1992 in Ashbridges Bay, and later found the whole slot machine, broken with the tokens falling out. The machine was too heavy to pull out.

At first, there was no thought of YouTube but one day Sabba called them sludge pirates and Girvan thought that would be good name for a show. With an acting background, they were comfortable in front of the camera but they needed to learn shooting and editing skills.

They now go out once a week and post a new show every week.

Most of the items they pull from the water aren't worth much but that isn't really why they are fishing. It is more for fun but they also help clean-up the lake and rivers.

Anglers have told them they appreciate getting the items out of the water to stop their fishing lines from getting caught.

Their fishing sometimes draws crowds of people.

"They gather and watch and clap," said Girvan.

They now communicate with other fishers in the US and hope to meet them, once it is safe to do so.

"Magnet fishing has a huge community," said Sabba.

They would also like to go outside of the city to places such as Hamilton and Kingston to explore.

For now, the hobby gets them outside in Toronto and it something they enjoy doing.

"You don't know what's right below you, you could find something really cool."

Lead photo by

courtesy of Sludge Pirates


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