For at least 200 years there have been sporadic but vivid sightings of a large water-creature up and down the coast of Lake Ontario. From Kingston mariners to Toronto beach goers, many people claimed they’ve caught a glimpse of a dark slithery animal. While at least one sighting has since been debunked as a hoax perpetrated by opportunistic fishermen looking to capitalize on the Loch Ness myth from across the pond, most historic events remain unexplained.
Sightings in the last couple of decades have caused many people to pause and wonder: could there be a lake monster prowling the depths of Lake Ontario only meters away from our favourite beaches and fishing spots?
Sea and Lake Monsters – Foundations of the Mythical Beings
Nearly every culture around the world has long-developed myths of large creatures in local waters. Whether its local villagers who refuse to go near particular lakes, or weathered seamen who claim they’ve seen creatures poke out of the ocean depths, sea and lake monsters are common cultural lore in every corner of the globe. Descriptions have filled books, tales have been retold and imaginings have illustrated the edges of maps for centuries, providing consistent fuel for nightmares.
Olaus Magnus’s Carta Marina – 1539
Canadian waters have been the settings for lake creature myths as well. Many Indigenous cultures have ancestral stories about large water creatures of varying descriptions. In some regions, these animals hold special significance and are revered. A few of the first Europeans to explore inland Canadian waters also reported that there were large beings in the water. French fur traders and voyageurs commented on the monstrous animals and incidents were recounted but rarely recorded.
The fear of the unknown packed many of these tales with extra mystery. Explorers were unable to survey the depths of dark waters and people wondered what could be hiding there unseen. The uncertainty of the unknown continues to fuel our interest in sea and lake monsters, even as science has attempted to explain their existence. But what is left to be discovered under the waves of Lake Ontario? More than you might think.
Kingston and Area – Early 19th century
One of the first surviving documented sightings of a strange creature in Lake Ontario was reported in 1829. Two children were playing near the lake when they suddenly saw a serpent-like creature “of prodigious dimensions.” The 20-30 foot snake was spooked by the children and immediately dove back under the water. The Kingston Gazette proclaimed: “This, we believe, is not the first one of the kind that has been seen in Lake Ontario.”
Only a few years later in 1833, a ship captain and numerous crew and passengers claimed to have seen a 175 foot blue serpent in the water as they were nearing Kingston harbour. The gripping account purported that the creature slithered under the stern of their ship before making its way towards the St Lawrence River. The writer of the column in the Oswego Palladium warned readers: “This gentleman has related to us such a tale of wonder, a tale so incredible, that we scruple some… lest [our readers] might think it but the creation of your imagination.”
Waterfront – Kingston, Ontario – 1919
Nearly a decade later, the monster made another appearance, this time near Gull Point not far from Belleville, Ontario. Two boys described seeing a huge serpent that was as thick as a human body. The boys rushed home to get their father and a neighbour. Upon returning to the spot, the group found the serpent partially out of the water but too far to reach. As they returned home, they observed the serpent eerily hugging the shoreline and following their path for nearly two miles before it disappeared into the depths. As with the other accounts, the newspaper warned readers: “We have the truth of this from undoubted sources, and we further learn that such a monster has been frequently seen by the people along the lake shore.”
Throughout the 19th century, a mysterious creature was spotted in Lake Ontario numerous times. Usually described as a serpent, the animal made an appearance in the local press every once in a while, and each generation was further captivated by the lore. But as news of the sightings spread, the location of the monster seemed to shift further south.
Southern Lake Ontario – Late 19th century
By the late 19th century, witness accounts of sea or lake serpent monsters were becoming popular throughout North America. The commonness of these sightings is captured in an 1872 article in the Toronto Globe where a Buffalo paper is quoted: “Another sea ‘monster’ has been discovered.” This sighting was in Olcott, New York, (right across the lake from Toronto) where multiple citizens reported a monster shooting nearly 50 feet into the air just offshore before returning to the depths and turning northward.
Only five years later, it appeared that a serpent-like creature was now stalking Burlington Bay (now known as Hamilton Harbour). Numerous fishermen were interviewed by a Hamilton Spectator reporter and they all described a snake-like presence in the water. Some explained the creature had large teeth, while others claimed it had fins near its head. Some of the details varied between tellings, but all of the fisherman described a serpent creature with an elongated body that didn’t match any known fish in the bay. The seasoned men had slightly different encounters but were collectively unsure of what mysterious being was beneath their boats.
In 1882, an elusive serpent creature was spotted in Toronto. The incident was reported in the Toronto Mail and even reprinted in the New York Times. Three separate witnesses described the animal as at least 50 feet long and as thick as a human. Similar to many encounters over the years, the creature became timid when it noticed the onlookers, but it didn’t immediately disappear. Instead it lingered for a moment before diving into the depths.