Ogopogo is the most famous fresh water monster in Canada, alleged to live in Lake Okanagan, British Columbia. First Nations peoples told stories about the “water demon” or “snake in the lake” long before European settlers arrived, and some native petroglyphs have been found that are said to depict the beast. Tradition holds that they didn’t cross this particular lake without bringing along small animals to drop in as offerings.
The first European sighting of Ogopogo was in 1860 (which predates Loch Ness sightings by 60 years!). A man in a canoe was swimming a team of horses across the lake when, without warning, the horses were dragged under by forces unseen. He was forced to cut the lead rope to save the canoe from being pulled under as well, and narrowly escaped. The horses disappeared without a trace. Sightings have occurred about six times a year on average ever since, several by large groups of people at the same time, and sometimes the creature has even been spotted on land! Witness accounts vary somewhat but most tell of a scaly serpentine creature from 12 to 70 feet long, glossy black or brown, that undulates through the water. It isn’t clear if the creature actually has a number of humps or if it just looks like that because of its method of locomotion. The Ogopogo is described as having a rounded or horse-like head on a long neck, and the creature has appeared not only singly but in groups of up to three.
With no less than several thousand credible accounts of its existence, it’s no wonder that the government of British Columbia gave the Ogopogo protected wildlife status in 1989. It is illegal to harm, kill, capture or disturb the creature in any way. Whatever it is.
Meanwhile, creatures of similar description are reported to inhabit other deep, cold Canadian lakes – such as Turtle Lake in Saskatchewan, Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipegosis in Manitoba, Lake Cameron in British Columbia, and Lake Simcoe in Ontario, to name only a few.
One of the most studied monsters is reputed to live in a lake divided by the USA-Canada border – Lake Memphremagog, which is partly in Vermont and partly in Quebec. The creature is nicknamed Memphre, and reports of its appearance date back about 200 years. Early settlers to the area were warned by the local Native Americans not to swim in the lake because of the monster. Witnesses describe an animal very similar in size and shape to Ogopogo – serpentine, about 15 to 45 feet long, black or dark gray. Frequent sightings have continued to the present day, including (also like Ogopogo) appearances to large groups of people.
By the way, the study of lake monsters has been dubbed dracontology. Originally coined for the study of dragons, it was borrowed by cryptozoologist Jacques Boisvert in 1980. Boisvert was responsible for a great deal of the research done on the “Memphre” monster, having logged nearly 5,000 dives in Lake Memphremagog.
While some lake monsters may indeed be cryptids – creatures not yet discovered by science – not all freshwater monsters are new animals. Crescent Lake, Newfoundland, apparently harbors gigantic eels, while Lake Temiskaming in Ontario is home to what may be sturgeon of epic proportions. And in recent years, monsters lurking in the St. Laurence seaway near Quebec were shown to be Greenland or sleeper sharks, creatures able to exceed great white sharks in size. These big cold-water sharks have been witnessed eating caribou after lying in wait, crocodile-style, at the mouths of Canada’s northern rivers. Stomach contents of some of these sharks revealed not just caribou but pieces of seals, horses and even polar bears! *
Which just proves that sometimes truth can be far stranger than legend.
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Your turn – do you think there could be undiscovered creatures living in some of our lakes? Have you ever seen one or met someone who has? What do you think you would do if you happened to spot Ogopogo or Memphre? Would it change your view of the world?
* Go to http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1057583266342_45///?hub=SciTech and http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/clash-of-the-fiercest-predators-as-shark-eats-polar-bear-891512.html and http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2008/05/06/freakish-caribou-eating-creature-haunts-the-arctic-deep/ to read more about those strange Greenland sharks.
Posted by Dani Harper, AUTHOR