Nova Scotia, one of the four provinces of the Atlantic Canada region, is small. Really small. With an area of 55,284 square kilometres (which includes nearly 4,000 islands), it is the second smallest province, just after Prince Edward Island. To put it in perspective, Nova Scotia is about the size of the state of New York with a population (nearly 950,000) close to that of San Jose, California. The province is within the Appalachian Mountains and features low mountain ranges and hills, along with forests, lakes, barrens and sea coast. The province is known for its fossils, the rock group April Wine, the first man to sail solo around the world Joshua Slocum, the first black world boxing champion George "Little Chocolate" Dixon, Samuel Edison (the father of Thomas Edison), singer Anne Murray and lots and lots of sea creatures.
Sea monsters are not just tales from the imaginations of superstitious sailors. Encounters with these aquatic beasts have been reported by motorists, vacationers, and working people, like this 2003 encounter a lobster fisherman reported near the lighthouse at Point Aconi, Nova Scotia. Wallace Cartwright saw what he thought was a floating log until one end of the log rose from the water – and it had a head.
"It looked to me like it was a brown animal. It had a head … something shaped like a sea turtle,” Cartwright told CBC Radio’s ‘As It Happened’ program. “And it had a body on it like a snake, and the girth on the body would be something like about like the size of a five-gallon bucket."
The brownish snake-like creature, about eight metres long, eventually dipped back into the water and disappeared.
“I have been lobster fishing for 30 years. This was one distinct animal,” Cartwright told the CBC. “One I’ve never seen before.”
Stories of sea monsters in the waters of Nova Scotia date back to First Nations legends. Zoologist Andrew Hebda, curator of zoology at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, wrote in his book, “The Serpent Chronologies: Sea Serpents and other Marine Creatures from Nova Scotia's History,” that the local Mi'kmaq people carved images of these beasts into stone.
"If you go down to Keji you can actually see three petroglyphs that clearly have sea serpent motifs," Hebda told the CBC.
The first sea monster encounter by a European in Nova Scotia was recorded by Irish monk St. Brendan who travelled to Canada in the sixth century. He wrote in his diaries of a water beast so enormous he and the other explorers didn’t recognize it as a living creature – at first. The group landed on an island that turned out to be Janconious, a legendary monster of the region.
Hebda told the CBC there have been 31 sea monster reports from Nova Scotia during the past 140 years. He dismisses most of them as misidentified basking sharks.
The Sea Monster on the Northumberland Strait
Although sea monsters abound in the waters off Nova Scotia, a monster was busy on the Northumberland Strait in the mid-1800s. The Northumberland Straight separates Nova Scotia and New Brunswick from Prince Edward Island. It’s between 17 and 65 metres deep and has some of the warmest ocean waters in Canada.
Millwright William Barry fished off a pier in the small village of Arisag, Nova Scotia, in October 1844 when he saw something unusual. An unknown living beast, about 18 metres long and one metre around, swam near the pier. “It had natural humps on the back, which seemed too small and close together to be bends of the body. It moved in long undulations, thus causing the head and tail to appear and disappear at intervals,” per The New Glasgow News.
A similar report came from Merigomish Harbour west of Arisag the next August. Several people on the beach reported seeing a 24-metre-long serpent in the strait. “It was dark in colour and very rough and it raised its head frequently from the water, and its back was either covered with humps or they were caused by the motion of the body,” per newspaper reports. People observed this creature frolicking in the water for an hour. “It withered about continually and would bend its body into a circle and unbend it with great rapidity. It eventually succeeded in getting off into deeper water.”
Captain Sampson of the ship Louise Montgomery reported seeing the creature in July 1879 16 kilometres east of Pictou Island.
Lake Ainslie Monster
Cape Breton Island’s Lake Ainslie is Nova Scotia’s largest natural freshwater lake. At 20 kilometres long and five kilometres wide, this 18-metre-deep lake has plenty of room for the Tcipitckaam (or Jipijka’m – the horned serpent), a monster out of Mi'kmaq legends.
Wilson D. Wallis wrote of a man’s encounter with a group of the Tcipitckaam of Lake Ainslie in his book, “The Micmac Indians of Eastern Canada.” This man was at the lake with his family when the Tcipitckaam rose from the water.
“The male was black and probably was larger; the other, brown, was the female. The head is shaped somewhat like that of a horse, but is larger.”
This water creature often appears as a tiny worm, but when hungry or threatened it can transform into a ferocious monster the size of a bison, per The New Glasgow News.
Green Hill Creature
What would a Canada monster story be without Bigfoot?
In 2003, teenager Myles MacKenzie heard a noise in the woods that rumbled through his body. It came from a living creature, but no living creature he’d ever experienced, per The New Glasgow News.
Myles ran cross country for his high school team and one day his father, track coach Stephen MacKenzie, drove Myles and some other boys to Green Hill Provincial Park to practice. Myles' life changed that day.
As the boys ran through the woods, the day suddenly went silent. The sounds of birds, insects and even the wind had died. Then something screamed nearby.
“It scared us half to death,” Myles told the press.
The boys took off toward the top of the hill and the van Stephen had driven them in, but the screaming beast ran too, chasing them.
Myles and his friends suspected the beast that followed them was a Sasquatch, but became convinced when he heard the stories of a monster that reappears in the area every 50 years.
A 5 August 1913 article in The Thorburn Post reported a monster that drinks milk from cows and raids chicken coops leaving deep 15-inch-long human-like footprints.
Mrs. Ervin MacKay of rural Thorburn told The Thorburn Post in 1913, “There’s something evil out there. Something big and shadowy and it scares the bejeebers out of me.”
Next up: Ontario.