BC’s Okanagan Wine Valley has a cryptic charm

The legendary Ogopogo is not the monster attraction of yesteryear, but it still causes a lot of waves among mystery lovers.

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The powerful search engines that put the world at your fingertips, combined with the rise of mass tourism, have removed most of the travel mystery, even for the darkest corners of the planet.


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But as a recent pandemic-related spike in UFO sightings will attest, we’re as drawn to the inexplicable as ever.

Look no further than the wine-growing Okanagan Valley of central British Columbia, where between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay there is, we are told, the long-in-the-tooth but still captivating Ogopogo.

Like Nessie, the mythical creature said to inhabit the shadowy depths of Loch Ness in Scotland, the Ogopogo has been variously described as long and serpentine, with the head of a serpent, a horse, or a sheep. Alleged sightings have reported multiple humps moving rapidly through the water.

Known as a cryptid, or animal whose existence has yet to be proven, Ogopogo is one of hundreds of these beasts that are reported to roam the Earth. The world’s lakes are an especially rich breeding ground for cryptids, and approximately 1,000 are said to have recorded monster sightings of the lake.

It takes its name from the lyrics of a music-hall song in English: “His mother was an earwig / his father was a whale / a little head / and almost no tail / and Ogopogo was his name.”

Although definitive proof of its existence has never been found, Okanagan Lake, a thin, murky body of water that is 120 kilometers long and up to 230 meters deep, could be hiding anything.

So what are people seeing? Theories run the gamut: it’s a hundred-year-old giant sturgeon; a prehistoric whale; a long-lost dinosaur; misinterpreted wave patterns; a log that sways harmlessly in the water.


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In an attempt to solve the mystery, an exhaustive search was launched in 1991 using a remote-controlled mini-submarine that traveled the deepest part of the lake. It came out empty. But for many cryptozoologists, who investigate the lower worlds of our imaginations, Ogopogo is a star candidate: the best documented and most likely to be real.

The first of hundreds of sightings by early European settlers of what the Salish people called the “snake in the lake” occurred in 1872 when a woman reported a reptilian creature in the water near her home in Kelowna. Folklorists soon spread stories of a bloodthirsty snake that required live animal sacrifices to ensure safe passage through the water. Nervous settlers patrolled the lake with guns pointed at the rippling waters in fear of the beast attacking.

In the 1920s, in the absence of monstrous attacks, Okanagan officials renamed the creature Ogopogo to capitalize on its tourism potential, launching a century-long marketing legacy that includes a hockey team mascot, a parade floats, a sculpture by the beach. – and thousands of coffee cups, tea towels and stuffed animals. Gift shops flogged Ogopogo’s “eggs” and even his “droppings.”

The hype reached its zenith in the 1980s when tourism executives offered a $ 1 million reward for a taste of the lake’s most enigmatic inhabitant. Reality producers from the US flooded the north, and Greenpeace stepped forward to declare Ogopogo an endangered species.


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For the indigenous people of the Okanagan Valley, however, the Ogopogo obsession is downright wet. Among the Syilx Nation, the legend of the N’ha-a-itk dates back thousands of years and is not a serpentine threat to fear or a cartoonish marketing stunt, but rather a benign guardian.

“It’s not really a monster,” explains Pat Raphael of Westbank First Nation in Kelowna, speaking to the BBC. “He is a lake spirit and protects this valley from one end to the other.”

For curators at the Sncewips Heritage Museum, which delves into the indigenous origins of the Ogopogo legend, what started as a “misunderstanding” by the pioneers turned into “misappropriation” with the million-dollar reward campaign. and the Greenpeace endangered species declaration.

“What was once a benevolent water spirit became this virgin-eating sea demon because when the settlers came and saw what they saw, they were scared,” said museum assistant Coralee Miller, speaking with Infotel, a media outlet. BC multimedia serving the Interior of BC.

The visitor office in Kelowna, the largest settlement in the Valley, no longer actively promotes its most legendary ambassador. But that hasn’t stopped interest in the legend, nor has it ended the sightings.

Recently, in May of this year, a woman walking in Summerland, south of Kelowna, noticed something disturbing the calm waters of the deserted lake. She insists it was the Ogopogo. “It was huge and it was black and it was moving quite fast, and it had a wake behind it,” he told the Castanet news service.


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And in 2019, a southern Okanagan man captured what he told Global News was a “definitive” sighting of a snake-shaped beast about 35 meters long, with at least seven synchronized paddling fins. “I can’t wait for everyone to see the video,” Jim La Rocque said. “It will make you a believer.”

Robert Young, an environmental scientist at the Okanagan campus of the University of British Columbia who has studied the Ogopogo myth, isn’t so sure. People recoil from the inexplicable, he told Global, so they make up legends. “It doesn’t surprise me that people want to cling to the idea of ​​a mythical lake monster.”

Monster or myth? Who knows? But keep this in mind if you find a huge one at the end of your fishing line – the Ogopogo was listed in 1989 under the BC Wildlife Act, making it illegal to hunt or disturb the species.

And that is a fact.

– Andre Ramshaw



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