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So… Ogopogo

Or at least, here be something that feeds our collective appetite for big scary monsters. Belief sold separately


Story and photos by Leslie Anthony

I am a stranger here. I did not even know such things existed. But I saw it so plainly. A head like a cow or horse that reared right out of the water. It was a wonderful sight. The coils glistened like two huge wheels...there were ragged edges like a saw along its back. It was so beautiful with the sun shining on it. It was all so clear, so extraordinary."

-Mrs. E.W. Campbell of Vancouver, July, 1952


Let's get one thing out of the way: with proper framing and the right photographic technique-blur, zoom, silhouette, ineptitude-even a rubber duck floating in a Canadian Tire wading pool can be made to look like a towering aquatic beast.

Add this fact to the now decade-old debunking of the iconic photo of Loch Ness's infamous monster-you know, that grainy shot with no point of reference that shows a dark, dinosaur-like head and neck swaying above an amorphous body just barely breaking a choppy surface-and there's no reason to believe that any story or theory ever advanced about the world's 250-plus lake monsters holds either water or a nano-grain of truth.

Why then, I wonder, am I peering expectantly into the depths, casting questioning glances toward every ripple as I kayak over an otherwise mirror calm Lake Okanagan on a sunny September day, feeling vaguely nervous and, with my ass below waterline, somewhat vulnerable despite my absolute certainty that there's no such thing as the mythical creature called Ogopogo?

Maybe it's this: Sometimes a myth's subject is less important to the human psyche than the existence of myth itself. If I'm not paddling to a spot where a giant Mesozoic reptile lurks, I'm most certainly paddling toward the leviathans of human imagination and conviction. These are what break the mental surface, swim through consciousness, submerge into memory. In the way one dismisses the illogic of a mermaid but yearns to understand what spawned it, what I'm really searching for in the water are traces of other people's beliefs. I am, I assure myself, merely seining for an idea.

As ideas go, Ogopogo is no withering notion. Large, serpentine, green (or brown...or black...or grey), it persists in the face of both scientific scrutiny and rabid development. Subject of books, television specials and movies. A celebrated phantom of national record, local gestalt and abundant iconography. Indeed the horse-headed, lolling-tongued animal featured on a hundred roadside signs is also working overtime in Kelowna's Yellow Pages, shilling everything from jet-skis to dental surgery to its own candy-flavoured feces. A veritable Logopogo.