“This is neither a story nor a log; it is just an account of many long sunny summer months, during many years, when the children were young enough and old enough to take on camping holidays up the coast of British Columbia.”
These were the opening words given by Muriel Wylie Blanchet, the legendary Canadian travel writer in The Curve of Time, her only published book, which appeared in print in 1961. Blanchet was born in Montreal, Quebec, and after the death of her husband in 1926 she began traveling along the coast of British Columbia by boat with her five children. The stories of her family’s adventures sailing along the Northwestern coast are recounted in The Curve of Time, which remains today one of the all-time bestselling books in Canadian bookstores.
Some of the stories Blanchet tells are of the hair-raising variety, too. For instance, on one occasion she and her children had disembarked on a stretch of British Columbia coast, where she left them on a beach for a short time while she followed a stream up into the forest in search of trout for their dinner.
“I didn’t have a rod,” she recalled. “[Y]ou can’t cast in this kind of growth, there is no room. I didn’t use worms, I used unripe huckleberry. An unripe huckleberry is about the size and color of a salmon egg–and trout love salmon eggs. Almost at once I landed a fair-sized one on the mossy rocks. Another… and then another. I ran a stick through their gills and moved to another pool.”
However, her fishing was interrupted by a strange, startling sensation. She was suddenly “seized in a kind of panic… I simply had to get back to my children. I shouldn’t be able to hear them from where I was, if they called. I listened desperately… there was just no sense to this blind urge that I felt.”
She fought her way through the thick underbrush, so focused on getting back down to the beach that she was completely unaware of the briars and other heavy growth tearing at her body and clothing as she charged in the direction of her children.
“What was I going to rescue them from?” she remembered thinking. “I didn’t know, but how desperately urgent it was!”
By the time she reappeared on the beach, here hands, face, and legs were torn thoroughly by the thick northwestern forest growth she has just plowed through. At the sight of their mother–now looking understandably worse for the wear–her children were frightened, and her two youngest even began crying.
Things calmed down, and her girls took the trout she had caught down to ocean to clean while her two boys stayed with Blanchet while she washed her feet in a nearby stream, removing poisonous spines of devil’s club, a spiny plant that grows in the Pacific Northwestern forests; although it has several medicinal uses, its spines are generally an irritant, and Blanchet knew they would be troubling her for days after the ordeal.
It was at this time that one of her boys, Peter, mentioned the strange figure they had seen nearby while she was gone.
“There’s a man,” the little boy said, “along at the other end of the beach. He’s been watching us.”
Peter’s brother John agreed. “All day!” he professed, “and he’s all dressed in black.”
Blanchet looked in the direction up the shore where her children had said they observed this mysterious “man in black,” and she too could now see the figure.
“[A] tall figure was standing there, against the trees, up behind the drift-logs at the top of the beach. Just standing there, arms hanging down, too far away to be seen plainly.” She joked with herself, even despite the intensity of the moment, that it was an odd place for a random clergyman to have been lurking around.
While she went back to washing the blood off her feet, her children began to call her attention to the figure; whatever it was had now begun to head in their direction.
“The man is coming over!” her daughter Fran cried. Blanchet piled her children into their boat and left in a hurry as the figure approached, now moving quickly toward them.
The description of this frightening encounter is evocative of many similar stories from the region of strange and mysterious animals that are said to exist in the remote parts of British Columbia. However, Blanchet and her family hadn’t seen one of the shy creatures known as Sasquatch on this occasion.
“The man was coming–but he was coming on all fours,” she wrote of the incident. Indeed, as they passed adjacent to the shore in their boat, the large “man” that had come lumbering toward them was actually a large bear, who had been watching the small party for the duration their stay on the beach. They watched as the bear now began to consume the dinner Blanchet had gone to the trouble to catch during their stay on land; hungry, but happy to have gotten out of danger’s way.
The way Blanchet tells this story, it is hard to imagine that she hadn’t intentionally presented the account with the knowledge that it would likely bring to mind notions of “Sasquatch” in the reader’s mind. Published in 1961, such stories were certainly popular at the time, having erupted into the public consciousness with newspaper accounts that began to appear only a few years earlier around Bluff Creek, California. Indeed, the initial description of a large man “just standing there, arms hanging down, too far away to be seen plainly” might otherwise have passed for a Sasquatch report, had the bear not eventually come down into plain view.
Although Blanchet’s account falls short of being cryptozoological, this isn’t to say that there aren’t some passing references to things in The Curve of Time which do bear some relationship to Sasquatch in British Columbian folklore.
In one part of the book, she gives an account of her family’s landing at the deserted winter village of a Pacific Northwestern First Nations tribe. “[E]very summer the tribe goes off for the fishing,” Blanchet wrote. “So, when we landed, no chief came down with greetings, no one sang the song of welcome, only a great black wooden figure, standing waist high in the nettles up on the bank, welcomed us with outstretched arms.”
Blanchet describes the figure’s “fallen breasts, the pursed-out lips, the greedy arms,” which frightened her smallest children as they looked at it.
“It was Dsonoqua,” she adds, “of Indian folklore, who runs whistling through the woods, calling to the little Indian children so that she can catch them and carry them off in her basket to devour them.” Dsonoqua is, in essence, a wild woman in Native American folklore, and according to many interpretations, she is equivalent to what is recognized today as Sasquatch in this same part of the world.
Blanchet gives another unique account in her book, in which a prospector at Knight Inlet shared a harrowing account of having taken refuge in a cave one night, while a pair of grizzly bears stomped about outside:
“He told us of one night… when he had barricaded himself in a cave, with his rifle across his knees–and two grizzlies had prowled outside all night, standing up and drumming on their huge chests, the way gorillas do. He hadn’t exactly enjoyed that night.”
Needless to say, the description given by the prospector here doesn’t sound very reminiscent of grizzly behavior, since these animals don’t beat their chests in the fashion popularly associated with gorillas.
The late John Bindernagel, a longtime advocate of Sasquatch research, noted the following about this account:
“The prospector’s attribution of chest-beating to grizzly bears is surprising because, although chest-beating is a normal response on the part of gorillas when they feel threatened, and has similarly been reported for sasquatches, it is (of course) not recorded for bears.”
The accounts that appear in Blanchet’s classic collection of traveler’s tales, indirect though they are at times, nonetheless do cater to the broader mythos of ape-like creatures in the Pacific Northwest. One can’t help but wonder about such peculiar little details, especially when they turn up in popular nonfiction works about this part of the world, where the persistent mythos surrounding large, monstrous creatures seems to remain ever-present.