Just beyond the mouth of British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon, at the narrow end of the vast funnel of open farmland that is the Lower Fraser Valley, the Fraser River intersects a smaller vale called the Agassiz-Harrison Valley. At the northern end of this enchanting pastoral corridor, flanked on both sides by forest-covered mountains, sits a long, narrow body of water called Harrison Lake. Long before British and Chinese prospectors used it as a highway on their way to the goldfields of the Fraser Canyon; before explorers first paddled its length on behalf of the Hudson’s Bay Company; Harrison Lake was shared by two distinct First Nations. The lake’s northern shore was the home of the Lillooet Indians, an Interior Salish tribe with ties to the indigenous people of British Columbia’s Interior Plateau. The southern half of Harrison Lake, and the Harrison River itself, was the domain of the Chehalis, a Coast Salish people who had more in common with the natives of the West Coast.
Despite their differences, both the Lillooet and Chehalis nations told stories about giant wildmen who lived in the mountains beyond Harrison Lake, who occasionally descended from their alpine abodes to raid fish traps and drying racks in Native settlements in the lowlands. The Lillooet have several names for these giants, including “Lalqec” , “People of the Earth,” and “Ticks”. According to ethnologist James Teit in a 1906 treatise, the Lillooet described them as being exceptionally large and strong. “They dress in different kinds of bear-skins,” he wrote, “and are so fleet of foot that they can run down deer and catch them with their hands. They live in caves in the mountains. Sometimes at night they steal fish from the weirs and fishing-stations. A strong and disagreeable odor emanates from their bodies, and even from their tracks. People who happen to smell them get sick and vomit.”
The Chehalis, on the other hand, according to anthropologist Wilson Duff in a 1952 paper, described the mountain giants of Harrison Lake as typically solitary creatures who appeared “as men, covered with dark fur, more than 8 feet tall, who leave footprints about 20 inches long.” According to several traditional Chehalis stories, these creatures speak a human-like language which bears some resemblance to the Lillooet tongue. The Chehalis called these wildmen “Sasquatch,” one of the words by which we know them today.
The Ruby Creek Incident
One Sasquatch appearance in the Agassiz-Harrison Valley occurred in mid-October 1941, when Chehalis homesteader Jeannie Chapman watched a huge hairy man emerge from the forest and approach her home on Ruby Creek, southwest of Harrison Lake. Concealing her children from the wildman’s gaze behind an unfurled blanket, she fled along Ruby Creek and sought refuge in the home of her father-in-law. Two hours later, George Chapman, the man of the house, returned home to find that his shed had been broken into, and that a heavy barrel filled with dried fish had been torn apart, as if rent by powerful hands.
The Sasquatch made several nocturnal visits to the Chapmans’ home in the days following its first appearance, tramping outside the cabin and emitting mournful howls from the nearby woods. When the terrifying intrusions persisted for over a week, the Chapman family abandoned their cabin and left Ruby Creek.
Flight from Port Douglas
The harrowing tale of George and Jeannie Chapman, though far from Canada’s most famous Sasquatch story, has nonetheless appeared in several literary collections of classic Sasquatch sightings. Less well known is another frightening Sasquatch encounter which took place about two weeks later, at the opposite end of Harrison Lake.
One chilly evening in late October, 1941, residents of town of Harrison Hot Springs, on the lake’s southern shore, were hailed by the occupants of three canoes approaching from the north, all of whom were clearly suffering from some terrible shock. The newcomers proved to comprise the family of Jimmy Douglas, a Lillooet clan from the community of Port Douglas, which lies at the northernmost end of Harrison Lake. Locals treated the newcomers to typical Chehalis hospitality, and received in turn a hair-raising tale.
Earlier that day, without any warning, an enormous hairy wildman emerged from the forest and strode directly into Port Douglas. No such creature had been seen in the area for years, and the suddenness of its appearance and the boldness of its actions would have been sufficient to send the entire town into an immediate panic. What struck pure terror into the hearts of the locals, however, was the creature’s unbelievable size: this particular specimen stood an appalling fourteen feet tall- nearly twice the size of any Sasquatch Jimmy Douglas had ever heard of.
As the giant sauntered leisurely through the village, the Natives of Port Douglas promptly abandoned their outdoor activities and fled into their houses with their families, locking the doors behind them. Jimmy Douglas made to do the same, but his trembling fingers fumbled with the rusted bolt which secured his front door. To his growing horror, the Sasquatch slowly approached his home, easily pulled the door open, stooped low, and began to work his way through the entrance. Like the Chapmans before them, the Douglas clan relinquished their home to their unwanted guest. Fleeing out the back door, the family members piled into three canoes and paddled desperately down the lake.
The Sasquatch of Nelson, BC
Harrison Lake, of course, is not the only Canadian locale to produce reports of Sasquatch sightings. On the other side of British Columbia, beyond the Cascade Mountains, the Interior Plateau, and the Okanagan, lie the Kootenays. According to the traditions of both the native Kootenay and Okanagan Indians, this secluded appendage of the Rocky Mountains was once haunted by wild giants. A local woodsman named John Bringsli believed he may have seen one of these giants while picking blueberries in the Kootenays in September 1960, in rugged country about six miles east of Nelson, at the head of a stream called Lemon Creek. An account of his experience appears in the February 1961 issue of the magazine Fate.
“I was just starting to pick berries,” he is quoted as having said, “[and] had only been there about fifteen minutes. For no particular reason, I glanced up and that’s when I saw this great beast. It was standing about 50 feet away on a slight rise in the ground, staring at me.
“It was seven to nine feet tall with long arms and short powerful legs with hair covering its body. The first thing I thought was ‘what a strange-looking bear.’
“It had very wide shoulders and a flat face with ears flat against the side of its head. It looked more like a hairy ape.
“It just stood there staring at me. Its arms were bent slightly and it had hands- not claws! It was about 8 A.M. and I could see it very clearly.
“The most peculiar thing about it was the strange bluish-grey color of its long hair. It had no neck. Its ape-like head appeared to be fastened directly to its wide shoulders.”
Bringsli- a veteran hunter and fisherman who had lived in Kootenay Country for over 35 years at the time of his encounter- was sure the creature that stood before him was no bear. After staring at the animal for about two minutes, the wildman suddenly began to shuffle towards him. Terrified, Bringsli made a dash for his truck, leapt into the driver’s seat, and tore down an old logging road, leaving his blueberries behind.
The Hairy Man of Alaska
Far northwest of Kootenay Country and the Agassiz-Harrison Valley, the “Hairy Man,” as he is sometimes called, has appeared to natives of the American state of Alaska. One such native was a middle-aged Aleut named Ted Angasan, who hailed from Bristol Bay not far from the Aleutian Islands. In 1985, while on a commercial flight from Kulukak Bay, near Alaska’s southwestern end, to the easterly community of Dillingham, Angasan spotted an unusual figure standing in the bush outside the village of Manokotak. “There was this giant thing in the trees,” he told Bill Sherwonit, a nature writer from Anchorage, Alaska. “He looked like, not quite like a gorilla, but dark and full of hair. I’d say, from the trees around him, he’s between 7 and 10 feet tall… He was looking at us, watching us fly by; he didn’t seem bothered at all. But he was a Hairy Man, all right.”
Instead of making his sighting known, Angasan decided to remain quiet. “I didn’t want the pilot to go down there and scare the daylights out of him,” he said. “I figured it would just make the thing go crazy, so I kept it to myself. But he exists, the Hairy Man. And he looks exactly like he’s called.”
“Most of Alaska’s Native groups include some version of Hairy Man in their worlds…” wrote Bill Sherwonit in an article in the October 1995 issue of the magazine Alaska. “For some, the Hairy Man is gentle; for others, menacing. But whether dangerous or harmless, human- or apelike, the creature most often seems to be dark-haired, larger than people, reclusive, solitary, nocturnal, and a forest- or mountain-dweller. It doesn’t speak, but may scream, whistle, or imitate animal sounds.”
According to wildlife biologist Larry Van Daele, “I’ve talked to lots of people in the Nushagak and Torgiak drainages, and the stories they tell have many similarities. One thing that’s consistently said about Hairy Men is that they can run incredibly fast. Another is that they can jump long distances, over large rivers or trees.”
One Hairy Man was purportedly sighted near Lake Iliamna, east of Bristol Bay, in October 1957. One night, when the village was asleep, 17-year-old Myrtle Anelon watched her family’s cat scamper up a ladder onto the roof. Shortly thereafter, she heard a crash, which sounded as if something fell through the ladder and through her mother’s bedroom window. Myrtle and her two brothers investigated the commotion and found several tracks outside. These footprints were purportedly “really huge, but narrow, with big tows.”
Later that night, the family’s dogs began to bark. “Mom tells the boys to take a bright flashlight,” Anelon told Sherwonit, “and shine it where the dogs are looking. When they did, they saw two real hairy things; they thought it was two bears, standing on their hind legs. They come running in saying, ‘Give me a gun, a knife, anything,’ but my mom says, ‘Don’t kill anything. You don’t know what they are. They might be human.’
“The boys go back out and don’t shoot, but they start chasing those things all over the place. They said the things ran like humans, not bears, but were full of hair, and fast. They came around three nights in a row, even looked in our windows. Mom said they were probably wild people, and if we don’t harm them, they won’t harm us. So we never bothered them anymore, and they kind of quit coming around. I never saw them, but my brothers did.”
Two decades later, in the mid-1970s, the Hairy Man appeared once again in the wilderness outside Lake Iliamna. According to bush pilot Tryg Olsen, “The thing was supposed to be as large as a moose standing on its hind legs.” A native named Jim Coffee reportedly shot the animal, which ran off into the bush. When he examined the spot at which the creature had been shot, he found the snow stained by a red liquid resembling transmission fluid.
Over the years, several theories have been proposed as to the nature of Alaska’s Hairy Man. Some suggested that they were feral humans who had metamorphosed in the wild, in the same way that domestic pigs bereft of human care grow coarse bristles and sharp tusks in response to nature’s demands. “Through the years,” mused Shirley Nelson, a lifelong resident of Lake Iliamna, “we’ve had people just disappear, with absolutely no trace. The thought is that these people have gone back to the wild, but who knows?”
Other northerners have suggested that Hairy Men abduct lone travellers and transform them into creatures like themselves, while other still have proposed that Alaska’s wildman constitutes a species of undiscovered primate straddling the border between Man and beast. “I have no ideas what stories are behind it,” concluded Ted Angasan, echoing the thoughts of many northerners, both Indian and white. “All I know is that Hairy Man exists.”
- “Harrison Indians Flee: 1941 Edition of Sasquatch Twice as Big as Predecessors,” in the October 29th, 1941 issue of the Chilliwack Progress
- “Hairy Monster Stalks: Here’s That Sasquatch Again,” in the October 25th, 1941 issue of The Province (Vancouver, BC)
- “Sasquatch Return Frightens Indians in British Columbia,” in the November 28th, 1941 issue of the Long Beach Independent (Long Beach, California)
- “Echo of the Ogopogo,” in the November 28th, 1941 issue of the Lethbridge Herald
- The Lillooet Indians, by James Teit, in Volume II, Part V of The Jesup North Pacific Expedition: Memoir of the American Museum of Natural History (1906)
- The Upper Stalo Indians of the Fraser Valley, British Columbia, by Wilson Duff, in Memoir No. 1 of Anthropology in British Columbia (1952)
- Indian Myths & Legends From the North Pacific Cost of America (1895), by Franz Boas
- “Hairy Giant,” in the February 1961 issue of Fate
- “Legends of the Hairy Man: Alaska’s Sasquatch,” by Bill Sherwonit in the October 1995 issue of Alaska