*Note: The informant, Kate, is my mother’s girlfriend. She grew up in Canada but is of Scottish heritage. She now lives in the Bay Area. Here, she describes a legendary creature said to live in Okanagan Lake in British Columbia.
INFORMANT: “Ogopogo is a creature that I learned about when we moved from Saskatchewan to Alberta in 1971. He resides in the neighboring province, British Columbia. People always talked about him in the same kind of conversation as the Loch Ness Monster – he was like our Loch Ness Monster. He lives in Okanagan Lake. There were sightings and newspaper stories and he was all over the lore of Western Canada. He was actually a creature of the Salish nation, a figure of western Canada’s aboriginal peoples. There was a sighting of him sometime in the late 60s, early 70s, and he was in the news a lot then. As kids we always talked about wanting to go and camp at the lake and see him.”
COLLECTOR (myself): “What’s he supposed to look like? Do you remember who first told you about him?”
INFORMANT: “He’s a greenish serpent. I think it was my Edmonton friends who first told me about him. I was 10 when we moved to Alberta and when he came into my consciousness, and by then all my friends already had a deeper relationship with him. People would go to British Columbia for holidays and talk about hoping to see him. He was this kind of mythical creature in my mind because my family didn’t go on vacation there so he became bigger in my mind. He was an aspiration for me from the time I was about 10 until I was in my teens. I wanted to see him and know what they were talking about.”
COLLECTOR (myself): “So would you say you believe in him? Like, personally?”
INFORMANT: “I don’t know if I believed in him or didn’t believe in him, same as the Sasquatch or any other mythical land creatures that appear from time to time. The Sasquatch was also a big idea in our minds. Even more awesome in some ways, because you might actually come across him in the woods! Now, naturally I’m skeptical of Ogopogo and Sasquatch and all that. But back then? It was definitely a possibility.”
The Ogopogo, as Kate points out, is essentially a variant of the Loch Ness Monster legend, the Canadian oicotype. People are fascinated by the idea of creatures they’ve never seen before, especially creatures hiding right in your own backyard. Bodies of water are also great sources of mystery because you can’t just swim down to the bottom and see what’s down there. The Ogopogo story is so ingrained in Canadian culture that just becoming acquainted with the story made Kate feel more at home in her community after she moved. People bond over shared beliefs, so a childlike excitement over the possibility of there being a great beast right beneath our very noses is a great way to bring people together and enrich the lore and culture of a certain place or people.
ANNOTATION: The Ogopogo is one of Canada’s most popular and enduring legends, so it has spawned a number of books and reports, including Arlene Gaal’s 2001 book In Search of Ogopogo: Sacred Creature of the Okanagan Waters.