Ogopogo . . . the famed sea monster of Lake Okanagan, Canada. Titled "Nessie's Canadian Cousin," the sightings of this mysterious creature abound still more and more as the years go by.
Many legends and myths abound in the Okanagan Valley concerning Ogopogo. It is a fact that all legends and myths originate from some source, and also that most Indian legends were related following an actual happening. From here they were handed down from generation to generation and later recorded.
The Kelowna Chamber of Commerce has the following information for those interested in the Ogopogo:
"Before the white man came to the Okanagan Valley, the Indians knew of the lake monster which they called N'ha-a-itk. This monster lived in a cave close to Kelowna at a place called Squally Point.
"Indians would never paddle a canoe or raft near this area because often a storm would spring up and from the water would rise N'ha-a-itk to claim another life. If it was necessary to go within the area it was better to carry a small animal and throw it overboard as a sacrifice to appease the monster.
"The first white settlers heard of N'ha-a-itk from the Indians, but these sturdy citizens were not superstitious, and many of them saw the monster and experienced phenomena that were rather unusual.
"One instance tells of two horses swimming behind a boat and mysteriously being pulled beneath the waves; another of a girl and her horse getting the scare of their lives as a huge black serpent-like creature slithered off the rocks into the lake.
"In the past 30 years many reputable persons have seen 'Ogopogo,' but as most of the roads are high above the lake, it is almost impossible to photograph anything one might see.
"In a two-year period 21 reputable citizens have seen our friendly lake monster, and the general descriptions all agree: 20 to 50 feet long with a heavy snake's body, a horse's or goat's head - well bearded, and traveling at a fast speed or lazily sunning himself.
"This is all we know of Ogopogo. Perhaps someday we may see him ourselves, but in the meantime it's nice to know he's there keeping a benevolent eye on his favorite city."
KELOWNA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
It would take an entire book in itself to recount in full detail the numerous sightings of Ogopogo from 1872 to the present. Reported sightings of the Okanagan USO (Unidentified Swimming Object) occur in almost every area of the lake, the descriptions being almost invariably the same: a snake-like body varying from 20 to 70 feet in length, darkish green or brown in color, moving in an undulating motion through the water, with two or more visible humps an equal distance apart.
During the days when the early settlers considered the Ogopogo a source of sheer evil, the shoreline of Mission Creek was patrolled daily by the men, armed with guns and ready to protect their homes from an attack by Ogopogo. Over time this viewpoint changed, and now the Ogopogo is far from being considered an enemy.
The John Allison family came into the Okanagan Valley before the turn of the century and eventually settled at Westbank, a small community directly south of Kelowna. For John, it was necessary to make numerous trips across the Okanagan Lake to obtain supplies for his family's maintenance. On one special occasion a terrible storm arose and he was unable to return home on schedule.
Mrs. Allison, understandably, became very alarmed when her husband failed to return. Running anxiously to the lake's edge, she peered into the threatening storm and feared that she might never see her husband again. As she searched the lake frantically, she suddenly caught sight of a large motionless object a good distance out. Suddenly it began to move against the storm, increasing its speed as it churned through the waters despite the heavy wind and waves which lashed and foamed against its wake. After watching the object for some time, Mrs. Allen saw the creature submerge, then disappear.
After the storm subsided John returned home and found his wife stunned though extremely fascinated by what she had witnessed.
Another early settler, John McDougall, who came into British Columbia as a guide for Donald Smith of the CPR, had a most unusual experience. John settled in the Kelowna area. On one particular day he was swimming a team of horses across the lake to help Mr. Allison with the haying. McDougall was part Indian, and therefore had adopted the way of the Indians and made a practice of never going out onto the lake without a sacrifice. In his haste to help his friend he gave no thought to the usual offering. As he was leisurely towing the horses behind his canoe, they were suddenly drawn down by some unknown force below. The tugging rope began to pull the canoe under and John quickly took out his sheath knife and severed the bond. He paddled away fearing for his life. No trace of the two horses was ever found.
In 1900, Mrs. Ruth Richardson, now a resident of Cashmere, Washington, recalled seeing the legendary Ogopogo near a beach at Okanagan Landing as a child of ten while playing near her family's home.
"All of a sudden I heard a swish of water and it drew my attention, so I looked out on the water and here was this Ogopogo sitting up there as big as life.
"He stood about three feet of him out of the water; he was quite a way out in the water but was very still and looking at me as though I was as big a curiosity to him as he was to me.
"I watched for quite a while, and then he went down in the water; he rather backed down. So then I thought that was all of him and went on playing. Soon there comes another swish of water and he was much too close and he frightened me terribly.
"I had a good close look at him and he still sat there very still and just stared at me. Well, that was just too much and I made a run to the house, you can be sure."
Mrs. Richardson said the monster had scales "that looked like shale rock" and three points or fins on the back of its neck.
"I kept my secret to myself, for if I had told my parents they would have spanked me for telling a tale, but later other people around the Landing saw the same kind of monster. You could never get me out on the water in a boat for any money. Lots of people dispute the Ogopogo story but I know what I saw and will swear to it."
Ogopogo: The Species
Ogopogo, if she exists (they), is unquestionably an animal unknown to science. Those who make her out to be a type stergeon or "exceptionally large beaver" are either terribly misguided or are simply wishing to play the devil's advocate. New species are being found all the time. Journalist Ivan Sanderson estimated in a National Geographic Society report that each year scientists discover and classify 15 new reptiles or amphibians, 50 new mammals, 100 new fish, 15 new birds, and at least 5,000 new insects. For more in depth information, see The Ocean: A World of Mystery.
It is extremely interesting to note that so many witnesses who claim to have seen strange lake creatures, many years apart and in widely separated parts of the world, agree so closely as to the shape, the color, the movements, and the speed of the unidentified creatures. Unlike the monsters of medieval times that took a variety of forms over time, the marine animals described in a more recent period of history are of only two or three shapes.
The modern sea monster is likely to belong to a type with a slender, snake-like body, a large wide-jawed head, and perhaps multiple fins. Another animal often described has an extremely small head, a curving swan-like neck, a bulky body like a barrel, two pairs of flippers, and a heavy tail which all paints the clear picture of a "pre-historic plesiosaur," as people so enjoy to call it.
Ogopogo, from the reports, best fits into the first category. However, this is far from en exact description, as the frequent mention of humped coils would discount this. Regardless, unlike Nessie of the Loch Ness, Ogopogo has been described in a much more snake-like fashion. The closest resemblance to the Okanagan USO is one that Kondrad von Gesner of Zurish, Switzerland, published in his Historia Animalium in 1558. Both he and Olaus Magnus spoke of gigantic snakes 300 feet long which wrapped their immense coils around small vessels and destroyed the ships and their crews. How ironic. Any mention of this today would leave a person as the laughing-stock of society, and yet these two highly respected men of the scientific community devoted an entire section to these amazing creatures. It only goes to prove that, given enough time, knowledge of our past can easily be lost . . . and the same is true for the dinosaurs of whom people knew as 'dragons.'
None of the modern witnesses who have encountered sea serpents thought of the creatures as real snakes. The serpents differed in several ways from real snakes, the most significant difference being in the way the serpents traveled through the water. Any sea-serpent resembling a snake moved with vertical undulations so that the creatures revealed a series of humps above the surface of the water as they swam (as Ogopogo). This, amazingly, was how Gesner described the giant sea snakes of his time. The report goes on to say: "True snakes must swim with horizontal wiggling of their bodies. Also, the sea serpents seemed to be propelled by flippers or fins which were concealed from the observers. True snakes do not, of course, have flippers."
An affidavit by a ship's captain of Gloucester, Massachusetts, signed before a Justice of the Peace in 1817 helps shed light on the speciation of Ogopogo.
"I, Solomon Allen II, of Gloucester, in the County of Essex, Shipmaster, dispose and say: that I have seen a strange marine animal, that I believe to be a sea serpent, in the harbor of Gloucester.
"I should judge him to be in length between 80 and 90 feet and about the size of a half barrel, apparently having joints from his head to his tail. I was about 150 years from him when I judged him to be of the size of a half barrel.
"His head was formed something like the head of a rattlesnake but nearly as large as the head of a horse. (This fits the frequent description of the Ogopogo head and this account was given in 1817.) When he moved on the surface of the water, his motion was slow, at times playing about in circles, and sometimes moving nearly straight forward. When he disappeared, he sunk apparently directly down, and would appear at 200 years from where he disappeared, in two minutes (identically similar to the submerging and resurfacing of the Okanagan USO). His color was dark brown and I did not see spots upon him."
Numerous other historical accounts give almost identical descriptions to an Ogopogo-like "sea monster." The creature that inhabits Okanagan Lake possesses many characteristics of the sea serpents described by Gesner, Allen, and of the Loch Ness Monster, but no one description fits the Okanagan USO exactly.
Frank Lillquist of the Kelowna Corrier staff years ago provided a satisfactory and well-put summary of the famed Ogopogo:
"Outside of the spike-backed dragon whose effigies appear from one end of the lake to the other, the most common description of Ogo is sort of a long, slithery creature, with serpentine neck and vaguely bullet-shaped body.
"That sounds like it could be some kind of plesiosaurus, which first appeared in the Rhaetic and 'last seen' in the Upper Cretaceous - last seen that is except maybe for one inspired member of the dying tribe who found refuge in a deep cavern in our lake.
"If this is the case, than Ogopogo is hardly a tourist attraction - modern-day alligators and boa constrictors are terrible enough, but their prehistoric ancestors make them look tame.
"Suppose Ogopogo was a Kronosaurus, the giant of his plesiosaur family. Then he would have a head about eight feet long, a body about 30 feet long, and be capable of running down a slow motorboat.
"Of course Kronosaurus was mostly found in Australia and if some of his kin are in Okanagan Lake they are most likely the typical long-necked version which fed mainly on fish and small prey.
"These creatures had necks 19 feet long and caught their dinner by lightning-like strikes rather than sheer speed.
"As mentioned, this breed ate mostly fish, but with kokanee dying by the hundreds of thousands and pollution reportedly cutting into all fish populations, perhaps there isn't enough seafood left to sustain the brute.
"If that's the case he probably wouldn't be adverse to changing diets; for instance, crocodiles have been known to eat and digest garbage can lids smeared with beef blood.
"But if a plesiosaurus doesn't fit your mental image of Ogo, then how about Giganthopis?
"He was a constrictor-type snake that lived some 50 million years ago and attained a length of about 60 feet.
"Of course there are many varieties of shark which grew upwards of 70 feet long and would fit the bill for a sea monster any time. There is a picture which periodically appears in magazines of a full-grown man sitting inside the jaws of one of these sharks.
"He could probably swallow the RCMP launch whole.
"Now everyone knows dinosaurs of any type were not the impregnable beasts portrayed tromping through bombs and cannon fire in Hollywood thrillers.
"A welter-weight Tyrannosaurus Rex wouldn't last two rounds with a Sherman tank currently in retirement at the armories.
"But a beast, any beast, about 30 to 50 feet long is capable of a fair amount of havoc, and even if he was hesitant about eating DDT-ridden human beings he might step on you in passing.
"By no stretch of the imagination am I an expert on prehistoric monsters, but I know enough not to want to come face to face with the Oknagan's greatest tourist attraction - at least not without the B.C. Dragoons along for company."
A 1925 news report stated that huge bones were discovered in Lake Okanagan and sent to Victoria, where fisheries experts claimed they were whale bones. Later circulated was a story that one of the large bones was taken to Vernon and displayed at city hall, to disappear a short time later.
Another story eventually came to light about the body of a 20-foot hammerhead shark found in Okanagan. Neither of these creatures, of course, are inhabitants of fresh-water lakes and are most commonly found in the oceans. If the stories are true, it shines an intriguing light upon Lake Okanagan . . . and not only that, but upon Ogopogo herself.
In essence, if the stories are valid, it would give almost unanimous support that underground passages exist between Lake Okanagan and the ocean far to the west. Ogopogo-like creatures have on numerous occasions been reported in the sea, as written about earlier. However, could it just be that she's simply the freshwater cousin of a salt-water relative? As we all know, salt and fresh water crocodiles exist, as well as dolphins, sharks, and numerous other species. Regardless, whether or not "the Ogopogos" came or continue to come from the sea, evidence seems to indicate that underground water veins do exist between the two bodies of water.
Okanagan Lake and the Loch Ness in Scotland are remarkably similar, lying at almost the same latitude and both very long and narrow, having areas of great depth. Both are also believed to have been created by cataclysmic shifts of the earth's crust. They have similar water temperatures and contain almost identical types of fish. Most important of all, of course, is the fact that both lakes have innumerable sightings of an unusually large unknown species which sometimes surfaces from great depths - Nessie in Loch Ness and Ogopogo in Lake Okanagan.
For those skeptics who continue to believe that people who report such creatures are hyperactive liars, consider the following: Not one report to date has yet come from a lake whose depth doesn't fit the criteria to house such a creature. Nearly a thousand feet deep, the Loch Ness, the Okanagan, Lake Champlain, etc, are all extremely large bodies of water whose bottom we know very little about. It was only discovered recently that the sea floor of the Loch Ness contains several caverns and valleys, described by some as being "like a raisin." There exists a very false conception in our day that man knows everything about his world . . . that the last and final frontier is space, the earth having already been conquered. Nothing could be further from the truth. Man knows more about the surface of the moon then he does about our oceans.
Ogopogo . . . does she . . . do they . . . really exist? It would be foolish to say no, as we take into account how very little we know about Lake Okanagan. 300 foot sea snakes are said to have existed in the 1500s. Credible men throughout the ages have sworn to their death beds of seeing strange and unusual creatures. Animals unknown to science are being found every single year to this day. Friends, with all due respect, something does exist in Kelowna Valley, Lake Okanagan, and only time will reveal to us what exactly it is.