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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Afraid of Naitaka, First Nations people typically avoided the area and, according to 19 th century accounts, always carried a chicken or a dog to drop in the water to appease the monster spirit. Disaster was said to befall those who chose to disregard the practice. In Canada's Monsters , Betty Sanders Garner relates a typical tale: "Despite warnings against incurring Naitaka's anger, [Chief Timbasket] set out with his family in a canoe to cross the lake. Halfway across there was a sudden upheaval in the water under his canoe and he and his family were swallowed up by the swirling foam and never seen again."

Indigenous peoples had Canada to themselves for a long time, and they saw plenty of monsters; pictographs all over the country show the typical serpentine body and even some with fore-flippers. Pick a big lake in B.C. and there's a native monster legend to go with it. None good.

The Okanagan's first white settlers extended these notions of a malevolent spirit with tales of being pursued on the water, as if something was hunting them down; they told of overturned boats, people disappearing, swimming horses being sucked underwater and consumed by a great beast.

It all seems pretty dramatic, but I think I understand. Looking left or right reveals a vastness that begs for more than a few squirming fish. Big lakes breed mystery. Like oceans, their unknown depths demand to be honoured. Fear and fantasy take over. Simple.

I wander back down to the cove and find a sheltered place to set up my tent. Then, nearby, I discover half a deer-torn down the middle like a sheet of paper. Jeezuz. Strange things are always washing up along this lake, but what could do something like that ? I move the tent. Then I move it again. Heat from the rocks is making me dizzy. I want to jump in the water but part of me resists leaping into the dragon's lair. I see nothing but churning water and the mist flying off it between here and Squally Point, and for a moment there's a strange feeling of being perched on the knife-edge of belief, feeling the weight of the unknown, and I can see how it happens to people-two parts of yourself locked in battle, and only one way for rational mind to win over hopeful heart...

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