In honour of the 10th anniversary of Lake Simcoe Living, we look back at a century-old Lake Simcoe story that still draws interest today!
By Rod Urquhart
“I’m not pulling your leg. I wasn’t drunk and I’m not going nuts, but it was there. Believe me!” a woman told a local newspaper reporter in August, 1979.
The many fishermen, boaters and local residents who have spotted a huge creature creeping up from the depths of Lake Simcoe also believe it exists. It has been called Kempenfelt Kelly, Beaverton Bessie or the Loch Simcoe Monster. In Huron First Nation folklore, it is called Igopogo, and is described as a massive, long-necked serpent that surfaces on eerie, moonlit nights.
The woman who saw the monster in 1979 had been driving along Lake Drive past Willow Beach with two friends when they spotted “a big hump in the water” moving in toward shore.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, before or after,” Mrs. Black (not her real name) is quoted as saying in The South Shore edition of The Newmarket Era (August, 1979).
The many fishermen who have had their lines mysteriously snapped by some unknown force and boaters who have spotted a huge creature creeping up from the depths of Lake Simcoe also believe it exists. It has been called Kempenfelt Kelly, Beaverton Bessie or the Loch Simcoe Monster.
In Huron First Nation folklore, it is called Igopogo, and described as a massive, long-necked serpent that surfaces on eerie, moonlit nights.
In August 1979, The Era newspaper received a report that a strange creature was seen off Willow Beach in Georgina. The three local residents involved did not want their names used, so the story was dropped.
A week later, however, a Snake Island cottager, fishing not far from shore, felt something brush underneath his small craft, and then it partially surfaced approximately 10 feet away.
“It was the ugliest thing I have ever seen,” he exclaimed in an interview as reported in The Era.
This witness, too, did not want his name used. He was a businessman and feared losing his professional credibility.
Mr. Quint, not his real name, told The Era that the monster from the watery depths of Lake Simcoe was approximately 20 to 30 feet in length, with a head like a boxer dog.
Mr. Quint also noted that it had a sporadic array of flippers or fins along its body.
“It looked like three trout mated together with a boxer dog,” he continued, trying to explain its appearance. “It just didn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen before … it was pretty scary.”
The comment which opens this feature was made to The South Shore edition of The Newmarket Era (August, 1979) by one of three woman who spotted the creature moving in towards shore as they were driving along Lake Drive at Willow Beach.
Mrs. Black (not her real name) stated, “I’ve never seen anything like it, before or after.”
The trio were driving past the beach when one of them spotted a “big hump in the water,” moving in to shore.
Her companion, Mrs. Shultz (not her real name), remembered saying to herself, “My God, what is that? … All I could think of was that there is no bloody rock that big out there that big …You just couldn’t take your eyes off it.”
She said that the monster was about 100 yards off shore, when they first spotted it. Then it came into shore and “scared the hell out of us.”
“It looked like a big rock (the hump) and about 10 feet from that was another sort of little rock. They both looked like they had been in the water for a long time and turned brown,” she continued.
“We just sat there and watched it submerge and the water rippled around it and then it started towards shore. The water rippled in big circles and it came in to about 25 feet. It made an abrupt turn and headed right back out into the lake and we watched it as far as could see.”
“When it went out, there were foot-high waves coming in on the beach, but if you looked further down the beach there weren’t any waves,” she remarked.
Mrs. Shultz also stated that there was a young girl in a canoe with a friend on the shore at the time. The creature came very close to her, she said, and “She was mesmerized. After it went back out into open water, they just pulled the canoe out of the water and left.”
Mrs. Shultz noted it was about 6:30 p.m. and the water was “like glass” when their sighting of the monster took place. The next night she heard a news report about a Barrie woman who said she had spotted such a creature approximately one hour later the previous day, while sailing on the other side of the lake.
“I know the area and when that came on it really scared me. Whatever it was, it wasn’t small,” she said.
She and her two friends decided to tell The Era their story but only if they could remain anonymous.
The best account of a sighting of Kempenfelt Kelly was by a minister, a funeral director and their families who were boating in Cook’s Bay in 1963, as reported by the late John Slykhuis in the now-defunct Bradford Witness.
Rev. Bill Williams, formerly of Mount Albert (he has since moved to Winnipeg), and his wife and two children joined Neil and Marjory Lathangue of Bradford and their child for a leisurely day of boating on the Lathangues’ cabin cruiser.
Mr. Lathangue told The Bradford Witness in 1963 that the incident occurred around 7 p.m. when the water was “just like a mirror.”
“I was operating the boat and sitting up higher than everybody else,” he recalled. “I guess they were talking to me and as it came up alongside of us, I turned my head and they also turned around and I remember the Reverend’s first words, ‘Great Scot, it’s a lake monster’!”
He estimated its length between 30 and 70 feet, comparing it to their 26-foot cruiser.
“He was just travelling at the water line and he had a blunt head which the water was just rolling over,” Mr. Lathangue said. “[From the head] it went back about six or seven feet and then there were four dorsal fins out of the water about 10 inches, charcoal and scaly looking. Then it went back another eight feet and there was another identical set of dorsal fins,” he stated.
“I’m convinced it’s a lake monster or whatever you want to call it,” he remarked. “We got a pretty good look at it.”
The group decided not to say anything about the incident because they feared people would think they were a little “crazy,” but the word got around and the Reverend gave his report on a Barrie radio station a day later.
Mrs. Lathangue also told the Bradford Witness, “It wasn’t a dream or our imagination, there is definitely something in that lake, there just has to be.”
The Lathangue incident was reported in a book entitled In Search of Lake Monsters by Peter Costello (released in print in 1974 and now available for Kindle). It remains one of the best sightings of the monster.
The official scientific community calls it Igopogo – a legendary cryptozoological creature that is rumored to dwell in Lake Simcoe. The creature’s name is ostensibly based on the Ogopogo of Lake Okanagan, B.C. and also the title of a 1952 book, I Go Pogo. It is also called Kempenfelt Kelly after the bay that extends from the lake into the City of Barrie.
According to legend and reported by the scientific community, Igopogo is described as having a relatively canine-esque head, differing from other well-known cryptozoological creatures. Because of this, many believers have speculated that it is related to such canine-like aquatic animals as the Irish crocodile. According to eyewitness accounts, the creature has also been seen basking in the sun for extensive periods of time, implying that it is able to breathe air.
Futile attempts have been made by a number of nations to locate the evasive and much more famous Loch Ness Monster, to no avail.
Sonars, high tech submarines and submersible microphones have been used, but there is no concrete evidence that the Loch Ness Monster or Messiteras Rhomboptteryx exists.
Like sightings of Nessie, as she is affectionately known, there is a bevy of information in historical data of sightings of the Loch Simcoe Monster.
In the Barrie Examiner, Centennial edition, in 1953, it headlined a story, “What happened to the sea serpent of Lake Simcoe?”
As it recalled, “local citizens were inclined to scoff at the idea of such a leviathan in the water of the lake … and great arguments were carried on throughout the town as to whether such a creature existed, but it was actually reported sighted at the beginning of May 1900.”
“A group of young boys decided that they would spend the evening fishing, so they went down to the wharf at the foot of Mulcaster Street one Tuesday night. They were actively engaged in their sport when one of the youngsters let out a scream, at the same time pointing out over the water.”
“A large, dark object was seen approaching the wharf and as it came in, lifted itself partly out of the water. This was too much for the youngsters. They dropped their fishing rods and bolted as fast as they could.”
However, as fate would have it, their shouts were heard by some passersby, who went down to see what was happening.
One man described what he saw in the following way: “The monster lifted from the water a head like that of a horse and flapped the surface from time to time with its huge fan-like tail.”
Some of the stout-hearted citizens who went down to watch this phenomenon actually threw stones at the serpent, but, as reports tell, “these did not seem to disturb it in the least, for it took its own time to finally sink beneath the surface and disappear in the bay.”
And then, there the story from the Northern Advance, of May 1903. “A couple of badly scared Grand Trunk detectives landed at Carley’s boathouse on Tuesday claiming that Barrie’s famous sea serpent had suddenly appeared out in the bay within a few rods of their boat. The agitation of the men was such that there is no doubt they saw something. But the statement that it had a head as big as a dog’s and had horns will have to be taken with a grain of salt. It is thought that one of Cliff Carley’s muskrats bobbed up suddenly near the boat and as suddenly went down again, giving the detectives hardly enough time to form an idea as to the appearance of the monster of the deep.”
And from a Fred Grant scrapbook, came this article from the Barrie Examiner of 1950: “David Soules recalled some experience which he and a brother had with a sea serpent. There used to be a sea serpent which spent much of its time in the water and on the shore near here. It was up around Orillia at times too, because we would hear frequent reports that someone had seen it. The first time ever I saw it was years ago. My brother and I were washing sheep down at the shore. We heard a loud splash in the water and a short way out we saw a huge long thing go through the water like a streak. It went around a little point and we followed it.”
“Apparently, it had gone into the swamp around the point and we followed it. When we got there, we found a deep wide trail in the mud.”
He described it as having fin-like appendages and being very large and very ugly looking.
“It was as long as from here to the other side of the road,” said Soules, indicating a distance of about 35 feet.
And people also have fun with the monster theory. When The Era ran a story on the Loch Simcoe Monster in its August 8, 1979 edition, Sutton businessman Rolf Engler picked up on the idea and approached Georgina town council.
Engler told a township industry and tourism committee he planned to market T-shirts, hot plates and other items with a drawing of Igopogo on them along with a map of Lake Simcoe, with towns around the lake marked.
Engler suggested the township use the same theme of Igopogo’s existence for signs at Georgina’s borders saying, “Welcome to the home of Igopogo.”
Industry and tourism committee chairman John McLean said the design was “cute” at the time.
The committee deferred any recommendations about the Igopogo theme and has yet to pick up on the idea.
However, Barrie did. According to the Toronto Star of March 13, 1985, “The Lake Simcoe beastie has been named the official mascot of Kempenfest, a holiday weekend event that winds up tomorrow.”
Festival T-shirts and posters were designed depicting Kelly as a “sort of dumb dinosaur, wagging its tail above the waterline. He has a goofy grin and goo-goo eyes.”
However, in the same Star story, it related the tale of two Toronto fishermen who said they saw the monster while fishing on Cook’s Bay.
“It was over 15 feet long and must have weighed close to 1,000 pounds,” said Jean-Claude Bergeron of Logan Ave. He said he and his companions feared they would be devoured by a beast with a “camel’s hump and a tail about seven feet long.”
Andreas Trottman wants to hear from you if you’ve seen something.
As a member of the International Society of Cryptozoology, the science of unknown or mysterious animal structure, Trottman is part of an organization which has researched Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster.
According to the Barrie Examiner of Nov. 11, 1989, Trottman, wants to know what residents here have seen in Lake Simcoe.
“Loch Ness is not the only lake with sightings, only the most famous, “said Trottman, who’s been involved in this sort of thing for about 17 years.
Trottman makes it clear he’s not searching for sea monsters or anything prehistoric in the chilly waters of Lake Simcoe and Kempenfelt Bay, but something just a little more believable.
“It could be a big fish or it could be a metamorphosis of a different kind of animal,” Trottman said, while noting he wants to look at the situation with “both feet on the ground.”
“On the other hand, the mysterious side of the whole situation is very interesting,” he added.
What makes sense to Trottman and his society is that some form of fish or reptile or mammal – or something evolved from them – could have ended up in Lake Simcoe.
The most recent report on Kempenfelt Kelly, as reported in Barrie Today by Shawn Gibson on Feb. 13, 2016, while on the Shirley Solomon show, a Toronto talk show at the time, it featured John Kirk of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club – an expert on lake monsters – a local resident presented him with a tape of what is suspected to be of Kempenfelt Kelly. Kirk said he believed this video proves something exists in Lake Simcoe. No date was given when the video was shot.
As Kirk explained to Barrie Today, “The video is clear as day of something jumping out of the water and frolicking about. My honest opinion that it looks like a massive seal, a seal of some sorts, but sincerely very big. I’ve never seen anything like it before, but that would be my opinion.”
Kirk has made a promise to the people who recorded it, to not show it publicly without their permission.
As the Barrie Today article concluded its interview with Kirk, “I honestly feel with no sightings for years, that the creature is gone.”
And, as the City of Barrie did erect a Kempenfelt Kelly statue at the waterfront in honour of the serpent, it should be noted that, having a lake serpent can be quite beneficial to an area. In 2012, it was estimated that one million tourists a year put 25 million pounds (almost $36 million dollars) into Scotland’s economy. As Shawn Gibson reported, people travel from afar in order to catch a glimpse of the famous Loch Ness Monster.
After following this story for some 40 years, and gathering as much data as possible, and talking with a number of eye-witnesses of Kempenfelt Kelly, it’s concluded that something did exist, but has not been seen in some 20 years!
Illustration courtesy of artist Sam Logan