Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He wrote for IHPVA magazines and raced these vehicles with his father (who builds them).
There are two things a visitor must never say to the residents of greater Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada: Lake Okanagan Valley is not a desert, and the lake monster, Ogopogo, doesn’t exist. Such statements may get one in deep trouble with the citizens of this fast growing area.
The claim to being a Canadian “desert” is plausible. It has a semi-arid climate and has far less yearly rainfall averages than the rest of British Columbia. It makes for an ideal summer escape for Americans and Canadians alike (still, the snow-capped mountains, vineyards, wooded areas, and the 84-mile long lake itself is not exactly typical of a desert).
Ogopogo, on the other hand, doesn’t need any explanation. The legendary “Loch Ness” of North America is possibly the first thing that many tourists from around the world hope to see when they visit Lake Okanagan, even if it’s on one of those sunny days the residents like to boast.
And the people in the fast growing metropolitan area of Kelowna are well aware of that curiosity. Gift shops are filled with Ogopogo statues, toys, and post cards. Even parks, buildings, and the city’s minor league hockey team—Kelowna Rockets—have logos or caricatures depicting the legendary beast from the lake’s depths
Ogopogo’s legend is nothing new to this area. The Salish speaking tribes of the First Nations (aboriginal people of Canada) were allegedly the first to see this creature. They called it Naitaka (n’ha-a-itk), which translated to “Lake Demon.”
Supposedly, the first documented account of Ogopogo was made in the late 1800s when European settlers arrived in the region. Some believed that the first sighting was made in 1872. Other proponents believe a strange incident in 1860 was the first contact white settlers had with it.
The 1860 account is possibly the most dramatic. It would also center on a place often associated with the monster’s future sightings: Rattlesnake Island. The story has it that a man was helping to lead several swimming horses across the lake near the island. Suddenly, several horses were “pulled” underwater by a force he described as being “unknown and “unseen.”
This account, however, wasn’t the one that started Ogopogo sighting craze. That honor goes to an incident in 1926 when more than 30 people claimed they saw the creature near one of the area's beaches.
This particular sighting soon gained some credence when Roy W. Brown, editor of the Vancouver Sun, had the story of the incident published in his newspaper. He followed it up with a commentary of his own, stating: “Too many reputable people have seen [the monster] to ignore the seriousness of actual facts (Chorvinsky, 2011).”
Incidentally, this supposed sighting occurred seven years before the first sighting of Nessie in Loch Ness, Scotland (this is a claim many Ogopogo proponents will point out in numerous websites on the subject).
By this time, the name “Ogopogo” was beginning to be used by this time. Its source was believed to have been a popular 1924 song. Another source claimed that it was named after the pogo stick. Either way, this creature was making a name for itself.
The sightings continued throughout the early 20th century; however, it wasn’t until 1968 that an alleged sighting was caught on film. Art Holding’s grainy film showed something “propelling” itself just a few yards off shore (a still on Ogopogomonster.com it isn’t very convincing, however. It’s not clear what is in the water).
Another well known film was made in 1989 by a used car salesman named Ken Chaplin. This particular film had a dubious history. Chaplin and his father stated they filmed a creature they claimed was 15 feet long. The film was so compelling that they decided to sell it to the American show, Unsolved Mysteries. This proved to be a mistake; many people watching this film footage pointed out that creature in the water looked and acted like a beaver. The Chaplins still insist that it was the creature.
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While Canada may call Lake Okanagan its only desert community, most tourists know it as the home of Ogopogo. The residents don’t mind being known for that...
In truth, descriptions of Ogopogo vary. The most common one is that of a sea serpent about 15 to 20 feet long. Other accounts claim it looks like a plesiosaur—an aquatic reptile of the Triassic and Cretaceous period.
The most interesting description came from cryptozoologist Karl Shuker. He claimed Ogopogo had many humps and was similar to the Basilosaurus (a serpentine, whale-like creature).
Still, not much can be made from the photographic evidence. In fact, many believe that Ogopogo is merely a misidentified fish such as a lake sturgeon or an inanimate object such as a log.
Other parts of the Ogopogo legend come from folktales that have grown over the years. Many of these particular myths center on the area it was believed to have dwelled.
Rattlesnake Island (also known as Monster Island, according to Indian legends) was believed to be where Ogopogo lived. The Indians—as one account claims— believed that this was a cursed place. They never fished there, and tried to appease the beast by sacrificing an animal to it.
One account from 1914 claimed that Nicola Valley and Westbank Indians discovered the decomposing body of an unidentified creature on land across from the island (Chorvinsky, 2011). The body supposedly was five to six feet in length with an estimated weight of 400 pounds. Also, it had a tail and flippers. Many people claimed it was the carcass of an Ogopogo; others speculated it may have been a badly decomposed salmon or sturgeon. Nobody knows, considering that the carcass was never preserved.
Is There Proof?
The problem with validating the existence of Ogopogo is that there isn’t much to go on. Many of the photos or films taken of the creature are poor in quality. Many of them seem to show huge ripples or windswept waves; things that can be easily explained as acts of nature.
Another problem with the sighting on this particular lake is that there are numerous things that can disturb the lake’s surface. To start, there are usually several boats or jet-skis on Lake Okanagan, especially during the summer (as this writer witnessed on one of two visits made to there).
Still, trying to point out the inconsistencies in eye-witness accounts as well as a lack of compelling evidence is a moot point. Ogopogo attracts tourists, as well as giving the region its own mascot.
While Canada may call Lake Okanagan its only desert community, most tourists know it as the home of Ogopogo. The residents don’t mind being known for that; after all, legendary monster in one’s backyard is more interesting than living in a semi-arid zone in an otherwise very rainy province of Canada.
© 2015 Dean Traylor
John Hansen from Gondwana Land on January 15, 2015:
Dean I find stories of legendary and mythical creatures fascinating. This one of Ogopogo is no exception. I have written a hub about some of Australia's legendary creatures so it is good to read about one from Canada.
Chris Neal from Fishers, IN on January 14, 2015:
Very interesting! I'd never heard of Ogopog0 before! Thank you for the great hub!