Lake Okanagan and the Ogopogo

By: Robert Thomson

Lake Okanagan is a long and relatively deep lake which is located in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada. The lake's maximum depth is believed to be around 232 meters near Grant Island. It has a surface area of 321 square kilometers, measuring approximately 135 kilometers long and between four and five kilometers wide. Grant island is one of two islands on the lake; the other is located further south near Squally Point and is known as Rattlesnake Island. The lake is central to several communities. Cities found on the lakeshore include: Vernon on the north shore, Pentincton on the south shore, and Kelowna and West Kelowna located on the central shoreline. Several smaller communities include Peachland, Lake County, and Summerland. The lake is a popular recreation and vacation destination. There are launching areas for boats, swimming beaches and picnic facilities all round the lake shore.

Origins of the Legend of the Ogopopo

Lake Okanagan is reputed to be the home of a legendary monster called the Ogopogo. This giant serpent-like sea monster is depicted in early cave drawings found on the lakeshore. The native Indians of the area called the creature Naitaka. Fearful that they might become a victim to the monster, the Indians never ventured out on the water in stormy conditions without taking a small animal with them. It was believed that if their presence angered the creature, they could appease it by throwing the animal into the lake and thereby save themselves. There was a long oral tradition telling tales of the serpentine monster and these included tales of a how the rocky beaches were sometimes littered with remnants of animals that the creature was believed to have attacked. The natives were always weary about going to the southern part of the lake and would never fish near the cliffs at Squally Point.

Settler Sightings of the Ogopogo

The first mention of the Ogopogo by European settlers was in 1860. Although the creature was not physically seen, it is believed to have caused the demise of horses swimming in the lake. A man was busy crossing the lake in a small boat and towing his horses behind by allowing them to swim. The story goes that suddenly the two horses were pulled under the lake and the man only managed to save himself and his boat by cutting the attached line. Several years later a Mrs. Alison recorded a sighting of the Ogopogo from the shoreline. In the early 1900s, there were several sightings of the creature. The most significant sighting occurred in 1926 at Okanagan Mission Beach. More than 30 cars and their occupants report seeing a serpent-like creature breaking the surface. Shortly afterward, the editor of a local newspaper made a comment that too many reputable people had experienced sightings of the creature to ignore the fact that the legend might be true.

Is Ogopogo Fact or Fiction?

Some people believe that the sea monster legend is mere myth and many scientists and researchers have conducted studies to either prove or disprove its existence. During the 1980s and 1990s, the BCSCC conducted no less than five investigative expeditions to the lake. The president of the organization claims to have personally made more than a dozen sightings. The investigative team also made several sightings and recorded video footage. Many other people throughout the years have recorded dark elongated shapes in the water and have photographs of standing humped waves occurring. The images however never seem to accurately capture an image of the creature. The evidence of Okopogo's existence therefore appears to be subjective. While many locals firmly believe in the creature's existence, others remain stubbornly skeptical. It's up the individual to decide if it's fact or fiction.

Okopogo Is Part of the Culture at Lake Okanogan

Regardless of your personal opinion of Okopogo, the creature is nevertheless very much part of the lake's history and culture. Souvenir stores sell miniature impressions of Okopogo and all around the lake shore, you can find t-shirts and other souvenirs depicting the creature. Many local sports teams are named after Okopogo and numerous films and TV programs have been filmed in the area. Some people relate Okopogo and Okanagan Lake to Loch Ness and its infamous inhabitant. Curiously enough, the two lakes are strikingly similar in size and shape and lie more or less on the same latitude. But like Nessy, Okopogo remains elusive and so you'll never know for sure whether or not to believe in the legend.

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