Alberta is one of ten provinces and three territories that make up the nation of Canada. It is the sixth-largest province or territory at 661,848 square kilometres (slightly smaller than Myanmar), the fourth most populous with a little more than 4 million people, and boasts a diverse geography. Alberta contains prairie, desert, forest, lakes (more than 600), glaciers, and mountains, including the Canadian Rockies. Alberta was a territory until 1905. The province produces 79.2 per cent of the country’s oil, 59.6 per cent of Canada’s feeder cattle, and averages $6.1 billion in wood production each year. Two Canadian professional hockey teams play in Alberta – the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames – as do the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos. The Calgary Stampede is one of the top rodeos in the world. Famous people from Alberta include Calgary Stampede founder Guy Weadick, aviator and founder of Wardair Airlines Maxwell “Max” William Ward, “Calgary’s first citizen” Samuel Livingston, the first woman elected to the Canadian legislature Louise McKinney, actors Tommy Chong, Nathan Fillion, Michael J. Fox and Fay Wray, professional wrestler Bret “The Hitman” Hart, and musicians Joni Mitchell, K. D. Lang and the group Nickelback (please don’t hold Nickelback against the good people of Alberta). This is the first of thirteen ventures into Canada to stomp around forests and dive into deep cold lakes looking for the country’s monsters.
With a surface area of 373 square kilometres and a depth of 99.1 meters, Cold Lake is one of the largest and deepest lakes in Alberta, and is split between the Alberta and Saskatchewan border. The lake features recreational sports, including fishing and boating. The early Chipewyan Indians called the lake Big Fish Lake, although it was the Cree Indian title of Coldwater Lake that gave the body its name.
It was also the local First Nations tribes that gave white settlers to the area the story of the great fish Kinosoo.
According to local legend, a young First Nations man often paddled a canoe near the shores of the lake to visit a young woman he hoped to marry. Although sticking near the shores was a safer way to travel over the often turbulent lake, one night when the winds were low, the young man decided to cut across French Bay when he was attacked. An enormous fish rushed at his boat and bit it in two, pulling the man to his death – all while the woman he hoped to marry watched helplessly from the far shore. The only thing that remained were a paddle and pieces of the broken canoe.
Fort Kent, a tiny town 32 kilometres south of Cold Lake, has its own story of a monster. Tales of the Fort Kent Wendigo begin in the 1870s when farm animals begin to disappear from around Fort Kent – and so did the farmers.
According to First Nations legends across North America, the wendigo is a creature that was once a man that succumbed to the whims of an evil spirit and resorted to cannibalism. A wendigo appears as a tall, furry, emaciated creature with bones pushing against its skin. The beast has glowing red eyes and the head of a deer.
The story of the Fort Kent wendigo began when the Cree Indian trapper Swift Runner returned alone to the area from his winter camp, although his family had gone to camp with him. Swift Runner explained his wife killed herself and his children starved to death. When North-West Mounted Police forced Swift Runner to lead them to his camp, they found the remains of the trapper’s family with evidence they had been butchered. Swift Runner admitted to eating his family, but blamed the horror on the spirit of a wendigo. He was tried for the murders of his family and sentenced to hang. Swift Runner was executed at Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, on 20 December 1879.
Whether the spirt of a wendigo possessed Swift Runner, or he had simply succumbed to ravenous hunger during the winter, is debatable. However, if it were a wendigo, the spirit didn’t leave the tiny town of Fort Kent.
Small pox hit the town in 1921, decimating the already small population and overwhelming the town doctor Thomas Burton. When Burton’s wife died during the outbreak, he ate her. Then he ate more people. Once he was out of readily-dead people, he began killing the town residents for food. When the few remaining townsfolk confronted the doctor, he fled into the forest and disappeared from history.
Legends of bipedal dogs stretch across North America. Alberta is no exception. Researcher Rona L. Anderson told the Edmonton Examiner of a reported werewolf-like two-legged dog running across the road in front of a car.
“It had the shoulders of a man and the head and face of a dog, with very, very short hair which was almost a grey colour,” Anderson told the Examiner.
The monster, or something similar, has been seen in the area before. It’s described as standing six feet tall with short fur that ends in a long, bushy tail. Besides the fact it stands on two legs, the dogman’s most frightening characteristic is its human hands.
People have seen Bigfoot throughout Canada, in 49 of the 50 United States (none in Hawaii), and across the world.
The earliest report in Alberta is from 7 January 1811 when David Thompson, a Northwest Company surveyor, saw something in the Rocky Mountains he didn’t understand. He wrote about it in his journal (spelling and grammar not corrected).
“I saw the track of a large Animal – has 4 large Toes abt 3 or 4 In long & a small nail at the end of each. The Bal of his foot sank abt 3 In deeper than his Toes – the hinder part of his foot did not mark well. The whole is about 14 In long by 8 In wide & very much resembles a large Bear’s Track. It was in the Rivulet in about 6 In snow.”
Thompson addressed the prints decades later in his memoirs. “We were in no humour to follow him; the Men and Indians would have it to be a young mammouth and I held it to be the track of a large old grizzly bear; yet the shortness of the nails, the ball of the foot, and its great size was not that of a Bear, otherwise that of a very large old Bear, his claws worn away, the Indians would not allow.”
People have since interpreted Thompson’s descriptions of the track to be not from a bear, but from a Bigfoot.
Reports of the enormous, hairy, ape-like human have continued across the decades. According to the Alberta Sasquatch Organization website, there have been at least 87 Bigfoot reports in the province since the 1940s. One Alberta man is so serious about the existence of the creature, he’s sued the state of California and plans to sue Alberta next.
Todd Standing of Edmonton, director of the documentary “Discovering Bigfoot” (2017), has established a group that has filed a lawsuit for the American state to recognize the reality of the creature.
“We’re going in with PhDs, with wilderness experts beyond myself, with wildlife biologists, with fingerprint experts. We’re going to prove so beyond a reasonable doubt that this species exists,” Standing told Canada’s Global News. “When we prove that and we’re successful, the species will be recognized as an Indigenous wildlife species and then fish and wildlife — in California, in Canada, in the United States, everywhere.”
The group claims to possess Sasquatch DNA samples that will definitively prove it exists.
“Half of my evidence is from Alberta,” Standing told Global News. “I’ve had lots of success in Alberta.”
The first hearing is set for March 19.
Stories of hyena-like creatures in North America are not as uncommon as they should be. This wouldn’t be surprising if we were in the Pleistocene Epoch when the giant hyena Chasmaporthetes roamed the land. But the time is now, and Chasmaporthetes has been extinct for about 780,000 years. The descriptions of the big, dog-like creatures also suggest the dire wolf, which died out about 9,440 years ago, the hyena-like dog Borophaginae (which died out 2.5 million years ago), or the much longer extinct Hyaenodon (which died out 23 million years ago). But whatever the improbably historic possibilities of the cryptid canines sighted in Canada and the United States, the name it goes by in Ioway Indian folklore is Shunka Warak’in (“carries off dogs”).
Although the Shunka Warak’in is best known for the creature shot by rancher Israel Ammon Hutchins in 1896 in Montana, it has also been seen in the bordering province of Alberta. The most notable Alberta sighting was near the small town of Legal, just north of Edmonton, in 1991. Several people saw a creature that resembled a hyena pacing near the entrance to a park.
Next up: British Columbia.