LaSalle diver featured in National Geographic show after finding Model T in Detroit River
In his 30 years of diving, Matt Zuidema admits he’s found a lot of cool stuff on ocean and river floors.
“And the funny thing is some of my most enjoyable dives — even those amazing dives all over the world — I find some of the neatest things I've done are right here in the Detroit River.”
Now, the professional diver and instructor is getting a moment in the spotlight after helping National Geographic find an old Ford Model T in the bottom of the Detroit River for a feature on prohibition-era organized crime syndicates.
Zuidema is being featured on National Geographic’s show ‘Drain the Oceans’ in an episode aptly named, “Rise the Mob.”
“They had an idea for a documentary they wanted to do and it was about prohibition, so they wanted to have film footage of a vehicle at the bottom so they could talk about how rum-running went across the river on the ice,” said Zuidema, who was tipped off about the interest by Windsor Port Authority harbourmaster, Peter Barry.
Zuidema recalled a tip he received from a diving pal, who spotted what he thought was a Model T on the floor of the Detroit River back in the 80s near Hiram Walker.
He got himself a special diving permit and went looking.
Zuidema eventually spotted the Model T — and filmed the experience with his Go Pro, footage which was featured on the National Geographic special.
“We were able to use the pictures that we had taken from this wreck and identify exactly the same body shape and parts that we were seeing on that vehicle at the Automotive Museum and it's really neat,” he said.
One of the interesting artifacts he found was an old chain that at one time likely tied off from the car to a boat to help haul double the booze across the icy terrain.
But he warns diving in the Detroit River is not for the faint at heart or amateurs.
“The visibility typically is anywhere, five feet of visibility is a good day, and a lot of days you can you can just see a foot in front of your face,” said Zuidema.
You need permission from authorities and a professional who can help divers avoid regular boat traffic and provide a safeguard from the various layers of current in the river.
“That creates an undertow, that creates a pull and it spins you around and you get lost you only see a foot a foot and a half in front of you,” said harbourmaster Barry. “You don't know which is bottom which is up.”
Barry adds even if you manage to get the permit you can look, but shouldn’t take.
“Anything that's found on the bottom of Detroit River, that’s of some substance of heritage and belongs to the Government of Canada, so can't be picked up and taken away or you could be charged,” he warns.
The Model T featured in the National Geographic episode remains at the bottom of the river. Zuidema believes there are many more like it between Windsor and Detroit and is glad for the spotlight on the region’s nefarious rumrunning past.
”It's neat to be part of something that National Geographic would be interested in and to get a worldwide audience to see something and kind of bring Windsor out and show the world about Windsor, which played in a really neat part of history,” Zuidema said.
The episode is available to stream on Disney+ and can also be viewed on YouTube with a YouTubeTV subscription.
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