USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Canadian’
general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Sidehill Gougers

The informant is my mother, who was born and raised in North Vancouver, Canada. She has two older brothers, and both of her parents immigrated from the United Kingdom when they were adults. She worked in accounting until she retired at the age of 50. She is widowed and has two children: myself and my brother, who has Cerebral Palsy.

This is a story her father used to tell her to explain the ridges in the sides of hills in England.

“So, when I was 15, I went to England with dad, and my girlfriend Laurie came with us. And when we were driving along through England, it was all these various hills, and they all had sort of…what looks like rings going around the hills. Um, and I said to dad, “What causes those rings?” And dad goes, “Sidehill gougers.”

And I went, “What?” And he said, “Sidehill gougers. Haven’t you ever heard of Sidehill gougers?” And I said, “No..?” And he said, “Oh, of course you have.” And I said no. “Oh, well I’ll just have to tell you all about Sidehill gougers, then. Okay, so, Sidehill gougers are this unusual animal that are born with one side of their legs shorter than the other side. And as a consequence, they can only go one direction up a hill. And they go around and around the hill and as they climb up the hill, they eat their way up and as they get older and older and older. And then they die right at the top and that’s how the hill starts to grow up.”

Of course, my father’s story was a little more elaborate and went on for a lot longer. And occasionally, most Sidehill gougers have shorter right legs than left legs and are always going around the same direction. Occasionally, though, there’s a Sidehill gouger that may be born with shorter left legs than right legs, and then he’s going the opposite direction from all the rest of them and he ends up bumping into them and causing a big havoc. But a Sidehill gouger’s life is going around, and that’s what makes the rings on the hills is these Sidehill gougers as they make their way up slowly up the mountain as they’re aging, they eat their way up and as they slowly climb their way to the top of the hill, the Sidehill gougers.

I said, “Well what happens when they get to the top?” “Well, that’s where they die, isn’t it?”

And then the generation of Sidehill gougers continues. And the predominant ones are right head leg—right leg short side gougers, and left—and I believed him. I believed this story.”

Do you know if he learned that from someone else or if he made it up?

“I don’t know where he learned it from. I’m probably sure that someone would have told him but he was very good at making up stories as well. And he always did like to…he was a bit theatrical, so of course when he told this story it was very elaborate and very long, and very intricate on the whole lifespan of Sidehill gougers and how they developed.

And of course because of the elaborateness of the story I’ve quite shortened it, um, I believed the whole story and was asking him questions, and he was giving me answers you know, “Oh, are they all born with short right legs?” “No, some of them are born with short left legs and they have to walk the other way, and they cause all kinds of havoc. But they end up dying out in the long run because there aren’t as many of them.” So it was a big long process.”

Analysis:

The Sidehill gouger interests me because as a folkloric creature, it has a fairly small impact on humans in their everyday lives. Unlike fairies or leprechauns or other such creatures, all the Sidehill gouger does is walk around hills in circles. As a result, it seems more as though they are used to explain unusual geographic features, in this particular case, the ridges on British hills. I would be interested in collecting different versions of this piece of folklore to see if they have a larger roles in other contexts.

Game

Red Rover

The informant is my mother, who was born and raised in North Vancouver, Canada. She has two older brothers, and both of her parents immigrated from the United Kingdom when they were adults. She worked in accounting until she retired at the age of 50. She is widowed and has two children: myself and my brother, who has Cerebral Palsy.

This is a popular children’s playground game that she played when she was younger.

“Well, Red Rover. You stand in a line, holding your arms together, and then you call someone over and they try to break through the line. “Red Rover Red Rover we call…Jennifer over.” And then Jennifer will come running through and try to choose the weakest spot between the arms that she thinks she can break through, and… if she breaks through, I don’t what, I don’t remember what happens if you break through. I think you get to go back. If you don’t break through, you have to join the line. You’re part of the row—you’re part of the line.”

What’s the goal of the game?

“To be the last man standing, to be the person who breaks through all the time. To be the strongest [laughs].”

Analysis:

This common children’s game may seem fairly innocuous, but I think that it sheds a lot of light on social hierarchies in North American societies. The goal of the game is to keep breaking through the wall of people standing before the player. Not only does this mean that the social currency gained from winning the game is given to the “strongest” player, but it also establishes that one should be looking to break through barriers; those who don’t become part of the conglomerate. This may reflect some of the social values found in capitalist societies.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Eve Pyjamas

The informant is my mother, who was born and raised in North Vancouver, Canada. She has two older brothers, and both of her parents immigrated from the United Kingdom when they were adults. She worked in accounting until she retired at the age of 50. She is widowed and has two children: myself and my brother, who has Cerebral Palsy.

This relates to a Christmas tradition where everyone in the family is given a pair of pyjamas on Christmas Eve, while the rest of the gifts are opened on Christmas Day.

“The pyjamas came from Kerry [informant’s sister-in-law]. That was started by Kerry, Kerry had that as a tradition in her family and she, uh, told me about that one and now we include it as a tradition with our family, um for you guys so we all got up on Christmas Day and we all had nice little new jammies to be worn for getting our photos taken in.”

So, what exactly happens with the Christmas pyjamas? Could you explain it as if to someone who had never heard of this?

“Well, what happens with the Christmas pyjamas is that, of course when you’re little, you’re all excited about having a present to open, and when you’re going to bed on Christmas Eve, you’re looking at, you know, the tree, and you know there are presents from your family and you know Santa’s coming, but we used to always let you guys open, or the kids, open one present on Christmas Eve. The thing was, is that they knew exactly what the present was going to be after the first couple of years cause it started to become, “Okay, yeah, know what this is now.”

But it was still the idea of having something special to open up on Christmas Eve and that was opening up the pyjamas and having that little ritual and it almost became… um, if it is to be not pyjamas, that would have been not good—it had to be pyjamas after a while, because that’s what one wanted, was just another new pair of pyjamas to put on in that evening. And that actual tradition got picked up by another family when they heard me telling them about that tradition and now they do it as well. And Anne and Brad [informant’s friends] do that with Robyn. And someone else I know started that tradition after I was telling them about it, but I started doing it because of Kerry.”

And why pyjamas?

“Why pyjamas. Well, so you’ve got something nice and new to sleep in that night, and then when you wake up in the morning and you’re doing all your unwrapping of presents and they’re taking pictures, you’ve got your nice new clean pyjammies. So you look cute!”

Analysis:

This tradition ties into the larger Christmas present tradition, and combines the “open on Christmas morning” scheme with the “open on Christmas Eve” scheme. I find the picture justification interesting as well; in a sense, it coordinates and moderates the children’s wardrobe. Additionally, allowing the children to open one present early might help take the edge off of the children’s excitement for presents, which would give parents a more quiet and peaceful night’s sleep, giving it a strategic element as well.

This was one of my favorite traditions when I was younger, and I intend to continue it.

Legends
Narrative

The Ogopogo

The informant is my mother, who was born and raised in North Vancouver, Canada. She has two older brothers, and both of her parents immigrated from the United Kingdom when they were adults. She worked in accounting until she retired at the age of 50. She is widowed and has two children: myself and my brother, who has Cerebral Palsy.

The Ogopogo is a legendary creature, native to British Columbia in Canada.

“We have Ogopogo. Ogopogo is in, uh, um…the interior [of the province]. In Shuswap Lake, no? Is it Shuswap? ….Yeah.

And it’s been photographed and it’s like a big long snake, it’s similar to the Loch Ness monster in Scotland. And there’s rumors that there’s Ogopogo, who is exists similar to the Loch Ness monster underwater, a big huge snake, and it’s been photographed several times.

I don’t believe any of these urban legends, but they do exist. Whenever we went up to Lake Okanagan in the summertime, to go camping, that’s—everyone would talk about the fact that it had the Loch Ness—uh, the Ogopogo. I think it’s Okanagan Lake, actually. Not, yeah it’s Okanagan Lake.”

Analysis:

The Ogopogo does bear a striking resemblance to the Loch Ness monster; it was interesting that the informant’s descriptions often relied on explaining how the Ogopogo and the Loch Ness monster were similar. As far as this informant knew, the primary defining characteristic of the Ogopogo is its location in British Columbia. The informant was not too familiar with the legend, so I would be interested to hear more about the Ogopogo from an informant from that part of British Columbia, who would probably have heard more about the creature itself and how people engage with this legend.

 

Legends

Ogopogo: Canada’s Loch Ness Monster

Contextual Data: After talking about how birthdays were celebrated in Canada, I asked my friend if there were any other “kooky” Canadian traditions or stories. She mentioned that there was this one story she had heard growing up about the “Canadian Loch Ness Monster.” I asked her to tell me more about it, and the following is an exact transcript of her response.

Informant: “Okay, um. So… My relatives all live in Canada, and ay aunt and uncle—well, a lot of my relatives live in British Colombia—um, my aunt and uncle live in Kelowna, which is like a small city. And it’s around a lake. The city is built around a lake called Lake Okanagan. Um…O-K-A-N-A-G-A-N. And, so it’s like… Obviously there’s lots of First Nations people around the area—they actually own a lot the land in Kewlona. So I think it’s like—I don’t actually know really where the story comes from, but there’s lots of, like, myths about the lake and stuff. Um, and the big one is that there’s sort of like a Loch Ness Monster type creature living in Okanagan called Ogopogo, which is an anagram I guess—like the same spelled backwards. It’s just like a a…Just um… The myth is that there’s like this friendly monster with kind of like a serpent, but really big with lots of humps, and um, there’s a statue of it, like, in the town, and stuff. It’s in like children’s books—like everyone knows about Ogopogo. And um, it’s sort of like the mascot of Kewlona, and so there’s all these, like—throughout the times where people claim to have seen it, and like, kind of like, what’s it called [Snaps]… Bigfoot, where they’ll be like this shadowy picture and it’ll be like, ‘See that’s Bigfoot.’ It’s the same with Ogopogo. They’ll be like, ‘That’s Ogopogo right there.’ And it’s like, ‘Where?’ [Laughs.] Like, it’s not exactly—it’s very unclear. And so a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, it’s just two logs’ or ‘That’s just…It’s obviously not real.’ But, um… It’s still like a really big mascot—All the kids in Kewlona know about it…Oh! Not an anagram. A palindrome. Ogopogo is a palindrome. The same forward as it is backward [Laughs].”

Me: “And it’s supposed to be a friendly monster?”

Informant: “It’s a friendly monster, yeah… So it’s—In all the depictions I’ve seen of it. I had little books growing up with like Ogopogo. Like my aunt will give me like Ogopogo or a work of Ogopogo being a friendly monster and guiding boats in the ocean or stuff like that.”

- End Transcript – 

My friend really wasn’t too sure about why people might feel inclined to share this story or perpetuate this legend.

One thought is that it might have to do with the element of the unknown that exists with lakes and other such bodies of water—people can’t see too far below the surface, and so they may invent stories about what exists below, or they might catch glimpses of creatures that they are unfamiliar with and don’t know how to describe, and so they create stories about what they are. The fact that Ogopogo is a friendly monster could speak to the relationship that people in Okanagan feel to the place and to the land—they don’t perceive it as dangerous or threatening, in spite of the fact that what lies beneath the surface of the lake is unknown; they perhaps perceive that whatever is on the other side of this unknown is something positive.

From the sound of it though, Ogopogo also seems very much to be a part of the tourist culture of Kewlona—especially given this idea that it is the town’s mascot. Part of Ogopogo’s prominence in the town could therefore be the residents of the town taking control of this legendary creature as a point of pride and as a way of asserting their identity and identifying what might make Kewlona and the Lake Okanagan area special.

Annotation: http://books.google.com/books?id=EeuXEVththwC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
The legend was used as the basis for a mystery in one of the installments of the Boxcar Children series (#108: The Creature in Ogopogo Lake). Part of story touches upon the tourist culture around the monster, as people travel to “Ogopogo Resort” to catch sight of the it, but it also taps into this idea of the unknown as the monster becomes a part of the mystery. It thus seems to touch upon two key reasons as to why the legend is sustained.

Childhood
Customs
Foodways
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Canadian Tradition: Money in the Birthday Cake

Contextual Data: We had gone out to celebrate my friend’s birthday the day before, and just out of curiosity, I asked her if there were any specific ways that her family celebrated her birthday. She mentioned that she was Canadian and there were some specific quirky things that her family did that were part of larger Canadian traditions. I asked her to explain one, and the following is an exact transcript of her response.

“Okay, so I’m Canadian. All my relatives are Canadian. I was born in Canada. Um, and there’s lots of, like, kooky Canadian traditions that after I moved to the States I realized, like, ‘This isn’t something normal people do.’ Like everyone doesn’t do that here, like, American people don’t know what I’m talking about—whatever. So, um, one of the things I had, like, growing up was, um, on my birthday—or all the birthdays in our family, basically—my mom would make, um, a Layer Cake. So it might be, like, a chocolate cake or whatever. Um, in the cake she would put money. And so she would take coins—wash them, obviously [Laughs]—That’s so… You would usually take, like, um—in Canada the money’s sort of like, you have Loonies and Toonies, so dollar coins and two dollar coins, so there would be like a few of those—it’d be like a really big treat. And then there’d be lots of like quarters and nickels and dimes and stuff. And she’d take these and wash them off and wrap them in wax paper [Presses hands together, miming sandwiching coins between two pieces of paper]. And then when the cake was done, she would take the two layers and insert the coins straight through the cake. Um, and then, put the icing over it and cover all the holes, so you didn’t know, like, where the money was. And, um…Also, there would be another little object—we usually used a button. And so that would be in the cake—with the money. And that would be in one piece of the cake, so only one person would get it. And usually, I think, in the tradition—like I know so many. I think like, this isn’t just my family. It’s Canadian—or probably not all of Canada, but like a big tradition where my relatives talked about this when they were little, too. Like my grandparents and stuff. So I think traditionally, like if you get the button or whatever else was in there, um, you’re an old maid. Or like, ‘Bad luck for seven years’ or something. But obviously for us as kids, my mom changed it to like, ‘It’s a birthday! If you get the button you’re lucky!’ And it’s like good luck if you’re the one who didn’t get the money and got the button, and um, yeah. It’s kind of just like a fun way that, um… It was like really easy. It’s not a lot of work to, like, put money in the cake, but it was like really hot—everyone loved it. I remember as a kid, um, after I moved to the States, when, like, I was hanging out with American kids, they were just like, ‘What? Like, I’ve never had money in a cake before. I want my mom to do this.’ And it was kind of… It was cool. It was really cool.”

- End Transcript – 

When I asked my friend why people might do this, she said that it just kind of seemed like a fun way for people to celebrate a person—it contributes to that air of festivity as everyone walks away from the celebration with a sort of “party favor.”

Part of the reason for performing this tradition, though, also seems to be the element of superstition and  the idea of a birthday as a  transition into a new year, particularly with the good luck/bad luck surrounding the “other object”; people will either be fortunate or cursed in the upcoming year. In particular, in her family, in which the button is seen as a sign of good luck, this tradition also seems to be a way of encouraging people to look forward to the unknown—they might not know what they’re going to get, but more often than not, it is something fortunate and worthwhile.

She says it is a fun surprise that her family still performs with her younger brother, but part of the reason it has seemed so weird to her American friends is because they point out that it is kind of a choking hazard. She can’t imagine it taking off in America because it is such a litigious society, and the tradition could be seen as one that endangers children, though she thinks that misses the point of it being about the fun, “everybody gets to participate in the celebration” aspect of it.

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