April 10, 2009 Features & Images » Feature Story

So… Ogopogo 

Or at least, here be something that feeds our collective appetite for big scary monsters. Belief sold separately

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Trudy and George Hess run the world-renowned Gray Monk Estate Winery, situated high above the eastern shore of Lake Okanagan's northern arm. Ever since there was a sighting below the winery years ago, visitors on one of the region's many wine tours have happily relaxed on Gray Monk's outdoor terrace, following the progress of a cheeky little Gewürztraminer Alsace Clone with one eye and scanning for monsters with the other. And who can blame them? The first thing they see in the parking lot is a large Chamber of Commerce sign designating the winery as an official "Ogopogo Viewing Station," offering a $2 million reward to anyone who can provide verifiable proof of its existence.

Most adults, certain the money is safe in the local treasury, are mildly amused by its whimsy, but kids take the sign as de facto proof the creature exists. George has received calls from children asking "Where does Ogopogo sleep?" and "What does Ogopogo eat?" Trudy chuckles as she relates this, then grows serious; she has a secret to share.

"One day we had a boatload of restaurant owners on the terrace. As we were cleaning up, one guy said, 'Look-it's Ogopogo.' I looked out at the water and there it was, swimming, diving, going up and down. It wasn't boat waves, they're very regular."

Trudy never told anyone, all too aware that whenever someone sees something-anything-in the lake, it's Ogopogo. She was also worried that they'd think she'd been drinking.

"You know how it is: when tourism is down there's always an Ogopogo sighting, so people don't trust it. And when it's not that, it's some Albertan who has been in the sun too long with a can of beer."

Yet despite John Casorso's delay in releasing his 2004 video, the footage won over skeptics in several news organizations, as well as waffling locals. Dave MacLean, who isn't sure he's a believer, also isn't sure that he's not. "It would be incredibly arrogant of us to think we've discovered every form of life on Earth," he allows. "Hey-at the turn of the last century we still thought gorillas were monsters. The mistake everyone makes is thinking it has to be like something we already know."

MacLean is adept at succinct and thoughtful sound bites, a skill honed as volunteer past-president of the chamber of commerce. It's most evident when my questions turn to Ogopogo's place in the pantheon of local attractions, the pressure of exponential increases in residents and visitors, and the negative impacts of Kelowna's currently rapacious sprawl.

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