With Halloween just around the corner, it is officially the season of the creepy.
From the Scottish Highlands, to the northern forests of Nova Scotia, to the Slavic countryside, nearly every country has its own mythical monster whose tales frighten children and whose existence causes debate among even the most skeptical of adults. Our resident monster is, of course, the Ogopogo, and year after year a new story of this slippery serpent emerges.
In August 1926, while at a Rotary lunch held on the shores of Okanagan Lake, W. H. Brimblecombe decided to break out in song with a popular British music hall hit. He sang, “I’m looking for the Ogopogo, the bunny-hugging Ogopogo. His mother was an earwig, his father was a whale. I’m going to put a little bit of salt on his tail. I’m looking for the Ogopogo.”
By the time of this club luncheon, stories of a mysterious creature living in the depths of Okanagan Lake were already popular. Moreover, legends of a sea snake named N’ha-a-itk had existed for generations among the Okanagan Syilx people. But after this delightful lunchtime performance in 1926, the Okanagan’s resident monster would come to be known as the Ogopogo.
The first “modern” sighting of the Ogopogo occurred in 1873, when a woman named Susan Allison reported seeing a snake-like creature moving through the water near her home in West Kelowna.
A few years later, during the 1880s, the infamous Captain Shorts discovered a large vertebrae bone in the shallows of Okanagan Lake, which would be determined to be from a whale. How a whale bone came to lie in Okanagan Lake remains a mystery. Could it perhaps be a bone belonging to Ogopogo’s whale father?
While fishing one morning in August 1925, a man named J. Mitchell Boyd allegedly saw a strange creature with the head of a sheep moving languidly through the water (this is apparently quite the trustworthy account; as reported in the Vernon News a few days after the sighting, “Mr. Boyd stated, for the benefit of those who may have doubted his statement, that he had not partaken of cheese the night before, nor anything else which might have caused an optical delusion”).
Nearly 30 years later, in 1959, the Miller and Marten Families also described a close encounter with a large, snake-like creature while out for a day of boating.
In 1978, while driving across the Okanagan Lake floating bridge, Bill Steciuk and 20 other onlookers witnessed a dark head and three black humps protruding out of the water.
The year 2000 would bring about another sighting, when marathon swimmer Daryl Ellis was accompanied by two large creatures during his swim past Rattlesnake Point (perhaps Nessie was down for a visit?)
In 2004, John Casorso recorded the first alleged video of Ogopogo; from a vantage point on his family’s house point, Casorso was able to capture grainy footage of a dark creature, about 15 metres long, emerging from the still waters of Okanagan Lake.
And, less than two weeks ago, a Calgary resident celebrating Thanksgiving in the Okanagan recorded a video of a strange formation of waves that some viewers thought could have been another sighting of the Okanagan’s most elusive resident.
Whether you believe in the sea serpent or not, one thing is for certain; the Ogopogo is a lot of fun to talk about.
Gwyneth Evans is community engagement co-ordinator with the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives.