The Legend of Ogopogo, the Lake Monster of British Columbia

Most people have heard of the Loch Ness Monster, but did you know that “Nessie” isn’t alone? There are three other legends in the British Isles alone, plus there are no less than 16 mysterious water creatures alleged to be living in Canada and 22 in the USA!

Like Nessie, some people theorize that Ogopogo
is a leftover creature from dinosaur times,
such as a type of plesiosaur
“Ogopogo” is the most famous fresh water monster in Canada, believed to reside 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 pictographs (rock art) have been found that are said to depict the beast. According to legend, Kel-oni-won was a man possessed by a demon, and he murdered a respected elder named "Old Kan-he-kan " with a war club. The Creator punished Kel-oni-won by changing him into a lake serpent forever. The tribe then named the lake after Old Kan-he-kan (Okanagan)

Squally Point, Rattlesnake Island
Native tradition also holds that the lair of the monster was a cave beneath Squally Point near Rattlesnake Island, just offshore from Peachland, BC.  No one would attempt to cross this particular lake without bringing along small animals to drop in as offerings! However, the story is told of a visiting chieftain who refused to believe the creature existed. He deliberately canoed near Squally Point, and suddenly the monster rose up and whipped the water with his tail. The chieftain and all who were with him were pulled underwater, never to be seen again. 

Lake Okanagan, British Columbia
Another story recounts that when a horse bent down to drink near this area, the monster seized the horse's nose and pulled him under! Yet another account tells of a group of natives planning to row to the town of Kelowna for supplies.  On the way, three of the lake monsters attempted to tip their boat! The men escaped and returned to their home and no one tried to cross the lake for a very long time.

The Salish people in the area called the lake monster N'ha-a-itk, or “lake demon”. The Chinook peoples called it "wicked one" and "great-beast-on-the-lake." In 1924, however, a Vancouver newspaper reporter parodied a British song, “Ogo-Pogo, The Funny Foxtrot” in order to make fun of the reported sightings of the time:

His mother was an earwig;
His father was a whale;
A little bit of head
And hardly any tail
And Ogo-pogo was his name.

Unfortunately, the native names for the monster were promptly forgotten or ignored, and the creature has been called Ogopogo ever since!

Sightings of the creature consistently
mention its long neck
Recorded sightings of the monster by Europeans date back to the mid-1800s (which predates the first sightings of Nessie in Loch Ness by about 60 years!) In 1854, settler John MacDougall was in a canoe, swimming his team of horses across the lake. Without warning, the horses were dragged under by forces unseen. He was forced to cut the lead ropes to save the canoe from being pulled under as well, and narrowly escaped. The horses disappeared without a trace.

The first recorded sighting of the creature was by author Susan Allison in 1872. She was watching the lake for signs of her husband returning from a canoe trip, when suddenly she saw an unusual animal swimming against the waves. In 1880 timbers were going to be floated to Osoyoos to Judge and Emily Hayne's ranch. The hand-sawn timbers were being made into a raft, and as they were building it, a Mr. Postill saw the N'ha-a-itk raise its head from the water and watch them! In 1890, Thomas Shorts was captain of a steam ship on the lake and claimed to have seen a finned creature about sixteen feet long with a head like that of a ram. The monster disappeared, however, when Captain Shorts turned the ship in its direction.

Sightings have occurred about six times a year on average ever since, some by large groups of people at the same time. On September 16, 1925, a large creature was seen swimming in the lake by about 30 cars of people parked along a beach! The government subsequently announced that the new ferry being built for travel across the Okanagan Lake would be equipped with special "monster repelling devices"! On July 2, 1947, several boaters reported seeing the monster about the same time. On July 17, 1959, a number of people saw a huge creature with a long neck for about three minute before it submerged.

In 1990 Canada issued a stamp featuring the Ogopogo
Witness accounts vary somewhat but most tell of a 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 goat-like or horse-like head on a very long neck. Some witnesses describe their sightings as “logs suddenly coming to life” and swimming away at great speeds, often against the waves.

Occasionally, the creature has been sighted out of the water. In the summer of 1989, a couple out for a walk at night witnessed a large unknown creature emerging from the water onto the shore. Other sightings had been reported in that same spot.

Is it possible that Okanagan Lake has an undiscovered animal, or “cryptid”, living in it? It’s certainly large enough to hide one. The lake extends from Vernon in the north to Penticton in the south, about eighty miles. Surrounded by mountains, it’s been compared to a coastal fjord with its steep-walled deep water basin. The lake depth plunges to nearly 1,000 feet in places! It’s been theorized that underwater passages connect the lake to other bodies of water in – and native tradition says that other lakes in the region have similar creatures!

Dani Harper
Author of the Changeling series of shapeshifter romance novels


Congrats to "ALAINA A" from
Saskatchewan, Canada.
She's won a paperback copy of
"Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep" by Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe   

Thanks to everyone who read my post and/or left a comment!