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09/09/2014 01:58 EDT | Updated 09/09/2014 01:59 EDT

Started From The Bottom: Unbelievably Unexpected (But True!) Rags-to-Riches Stories

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The idea of becoming an “overnight millionaire” is too good to resist — which is part of the reason why so many Canadians play the lottery each year. Sure, striking it rich might seem like a hard goal to accomplish, but there are plenty of success stories out there. Here are some stories of people who won the game of life in a big way.

Started From The Bottom: Unbelievably Unexpected (But True!) Rags-to-Riches Stories

Michael Sparks

Your typical thrift shop find is a sketchy new shirt with a strange smell and a few hidden stains. Yet we all continue to scour the aisles in the hopes of finding a mint-condition designer item that was donated by a careless, but incredibly wealthy, socialite. Michael Sparks of Nashville, Tennessee found something even better at a thrift shop near his house — he picked up a signed copy of America’s Declaration of Independence dating back to 1823. Sparks initially planned on auctioning it off for $250,000, but it managed to fetch nearly twice that. That’s a pretty impressive profit on something he spent $2.48 on.

Lisa and Joe Johnson

Before she met her husband, Lisa Johnson was a single mom recovering from a divorce and working in a café to make ends meet for her and her young son. When she began dating one of the café regulars, Joe, she was under the impression that they were in the same boat and he was also struggling financially after his own divorce. In fact, they split the bill on their first date at a cheap Chinese noodle house. It wasn’t until they were engaged a few months later that Joe revealed the truth — he was an instant millionaire after winning £ 10 million ($18 million CAD) in Britain’s National Lottery. Now that’s a love story you can take straight to the bank.

John Maloof

In 2007, 26-year-old John Maloof randomly bought an old box of photography negatives from an auction in Chicago, not knowing what he’d find on them. He soon realized that he had discovered a rare talent in the photographs of Vivian Maier, an amateur photographer who worked as a nanny and had passed away a few years prior. Maloof has been showcasing Maier’s work in a global art expo to widespread praise — her incredibly rich street photography was taken well before the art form was popularized by hipsters. Within a few years, Maloof had gone from a struggling photographer to an in-demand artist, simultaneously bringing fame to himself and (posthumously) to Maier. The story of Maloof’s journey is chronicled in the critically-acclaimed theatrically-released documentary, Finding Vivian Maier.

Evangeline Richard

Evangeline Richard of Saint Phillippe, New Brunswick, was your typical live-at-home 86-year-old, until she received some news that would change her life immediately: She had won $1 million in the LOTTO 6/49 lottery. Large lottery prizes might be rare, but here’s what makes this story even more surprising: Two of her children had won the same amount in the lottery just five months earlier, meaning the Richard family became the luckiest family around in under half a year.

Kathryn Jones

When Kathryn Jones of Hamilton, Ontario bought a LOTTO MAX draw ticket in November 2012, it quickly slipped to the back of her mind in the hustle and bustle of preparing for the holiday season with her husband and two university-aged children. Eventually, she lost the ticket entirely without ever checking to see if it was a winner, and it seemed like it would be forgotten forever. Little did she know that the ticket she had misplaced was the winner of a $50-million jackpot! OLG came across Kathryn’s prize and worked to find its owner before its expiry date rolled around. Kathryn and her husband are using the prize money to see the world, but the real lesson here is crystal clear: Always keep your lottery tickets in a safe place!