By Rodger Hunter, Co-ordinator, Cowichan Watershed Board
January 29, 2011
As we ate the haggis and sipped a wee bit of whisky to celebrate Robbie Burns’ day last week conversation drifted to Scots, Loch Ness, the Loch Ness monster (Nessie) and then our own giant sea serpents.
Nessie is a world renowned tourism attraction but Scotland doesn’t have a monopoly on lake monster sightings. We have our own in BC –Ogopogo, the recently topical Cameron Lake serpent, and of course Cadborosaurous or Caddy which lurks offshore behind the tweed curtain in Victoria. And then there is the Cowichan Lake monster. Surely Cowichan Lake sightings make sense. Although it’s not as deep as Loch Ness, it still a very deep lake and its is roughly the same size and shape as the famous loch.
What is the story on the sightings of a giant serpent like creature in the Cowichan watershed? I visited our Kaatza Museum to investigate and then I asked a few local people what they thought. Here’s what I learned.
First there is the First Nations legend of the lake monster known as Stin’qua. One story has it that the serpent-like Stin’qua consumed a canoe and three young Indian women as they were returning across the South arm from Bald Mountain.
Newspaper reports of a giant serpent at the lake apparently date back to 1885 when the Victoria Daily Colonist reported a sighting of a giant creature with a 20 foot neck.
A Duncan newspaper article in 1930 summarized a number of sightings from 1928 to 1930. In September 1928 two men from Duncan went hunting at Bear Lake and saw what looked like a flock of ducks in the mist. Then they saw fish jumping so they began to fish. Their fishing was interrupted however when they apparently saw an 8 foot long tapering neck with a serpent like head poking out of the water where Bear Lake meets Cowichan Lake.
After that the proprietor of the Riverside Inn at Lake Cowichan reported a number of giant serpent sightings while he and others were travelling up the lake. He also noted that another man named Rundquist had reported seeing a giant serpent. Rundquist in turn knew another man who had seen a giant serpent at the lake but had been afraid to report it in case people were “tempted to believe poor liquor was responsible.”
In June 1930 another two men reported seeing a whitish coloured giant serpent at the head of the Lake. The serpent’s estimated length was 30 to 35 feet.
Reports of serpent sightings seemed to go quiet until 1960 when a fisherman from Honeymoon Bay reported snagging some giant creature. Something had definitely happened to the fisherman because in his struggle his fishing line had cut deeply into his hands. The Duncan Dive club came up to the lake to investigate but found nothing. There have been occasional news paper stories since but not much in the way of recent documented sightings.
Mayor Ross Forrest says the Cowichan Lake is monstrously awesome but he doesn’t buy into the idea of a lake monster. Ted Burns a biologist who certainly knows a lot about the lake suggested that there may be a remnant population of white sturgeon. White sturgeons have been recorded up to 6.1 meters in length. They are known to occur in the Cowichan and nearby watersheds. They have a pre-historic appearance with ridges of bony like plates along their backs and they are somewhat eerie looking. Ted has seen whitish looking shapes belonging to sturgeon basking in Harrison Lake. Add an ingredient called imagination (assisted or not) and maybe you’ve got a monster. Tom Rutherford another well known local fisheries biologist agreed with Ted’s theory and also suggested that groups of river otters playing together can form unusual looking silhouettes. Tom wouldn’t completely rule out the notion of a giant being though because as he said “The Cowichan Watershed is a magical place.” As for a couple of other knowledgeable people, Hazel Beech and Howard Smith fall into the see it to believe it camp, -although both had some sympathy for the sturgeon theory. One fellow that I spoke with outside city hall said he didn’t believe in giant serpents but felt that if there was one it might be good for tourism.
Elsewhere in the watershed -Roger Hart of the Quamichan Lake Stewards has heard of no recent (present day) monster sightings at Quamichan Lake. Paul Fletcher of the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society is a self described monster skeptic. However, he noted hearing rumors of giant-being sightings at Somenos Lake. He has been hoping that a native species would come to the fore and consume the bullfrogs that were introduced to the area.
Perhaps the haggis, the whisky and giant-being sightings are closely linked. One thing that it’s easy to agree with is that the Cowichan watershed is a magical place.
For more information about watersheds and the Cowichan Watershed, please visit www.cowichanwatershedboard.ca