Some places in the world just seem to be magnets for the strange. Meandering along with the Frasier River, in British Columbia, Canada, stretching from the Coast Mountains en route from the Interior Plateau of British Columbia to the Fraser Valley is an expanse of cliffs, crevices, deep chasms, high plateaus and rocky gorges overlooking the rapids below known as Frasier Canyon. It is a place of great natural beauty, surrounded by a wide river valley patchwork of barns, dairies, and fields flanked by steep mountains and steeped with a rich history, drawing to it visitors from all over North America. It is also a sacred land for the Natives of the region, with the Frasier River having been an important source of food, transportation, and a trading route for Indigenous Peoples for centuries. Here among the picturesque, scenic vistas there are also strange stories of UFOs, ghosts and monsters which have managed to permeate the beauty of this mysterious place.
One very odd story comes from the May 1961 issue of the magazine Fate, in an article titled Phantom of the Cariboo Trail, and dates back to the time of the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush of 1858–1860, followed by the Cariboo Gold Rush of 1861, during which over 10,000 miners and countless other workers and settlers descended upon the area looking to strike it rich. Such was the influx of gold seekers that the British Army’s Royal Engineers constructed a perilous wagon trail winding along the craggy mountain cliffs called the Cariboo Road in order to ease their passage and allow acces to this uncharted new land. Among the first of these brave prospectors was a man named John Fillmore, who embarked on the treacherous journey and would come across something bizarre out there in the wilds. According to the report, in the summer of 1861, Fillmore was traveling along the Cariboo Road with 50 pack mules loaded with supplies for miners, and they made camp near a place called Spence’s Bridge. The original report reads:
They unloaded their packs and set a guard for the night. Then something unusual happened. In the dark sky, high above them a strange white light appeared and moved back and forth several times before vanishing again. The camp guard reported that nothing else unusual occurred during the remainder of the night. However, at daybreak it was discovered that three of the mules were missing.
A similar incident allegedly happened just a few nights later, when prospector George Lateau made camp near Yale and witnessed “weird-looking lights which moved in a half-circle above him and then disappeared.” As with Fillmore, the following morning three of Lateau’s pack mules were nowhere to be found. It did not take long before the bizarre phenomenon was hitting newspapers, with rumors of the “Cariboo Phantom” starting to make the rounds among miners, and whispers of others who had vanished going around. Some said it was the work of spirits, strange creatures, or even demons, while others thought it was nothing more than vivid imaginations and perhaps a crew of highwaymen. At one point a posse was supposedly put together to go out and find out who or what was responsible for the mysterious disappearances, and they too had their own bizarre experiences. The article reads:
The men slept very little on the night they camped along the trail, mainly because of the unusual activity taking place. They all witnessed those weird white lights moving above them, as had been reported in all the previous cases. Other than that, and also as in the previous cases, nothing else unusual was reported by the alert guards. Nevertheless, in the morning, three of the mules had vanished. Once again, efforts to catch the ‘phantom’ had failed.
What was going on here? Was this ghosts, phantoms, UFOs, or just merely a bit of creative journalism common for the era? Who knows? Whatever it was, it certainly is not the only instance of weird happenings in the Frasier Canyon. Scots-Canadian anthropologist James Teit spent years researching and living among the indigenous Thompson tribe of the region and uncovered quite a few tales of mysterious beasts here. One of these was a race of “Dog People” that apparently lived underground in subterranean tunnel systems near the Thompson Indian village called Spuzzum, which lies at the lower end of the Fraser Canyon. According to Teit:
The Dog people lived in an underground lodge near Spuzzum. Their house was called kaxae’lx (‘dog house’), and had a false door. Strangers upon entering, and when about to leave the bottom of the ladder to step on the floor, tumbled down into a pit of great depth, where they were killed and eaten by the Dog people, who never came forward except at night.
Teit also wrote much of a strange race of giants said to roam the land. One of the more prolific stories he heard about was a type of giant said to stand up to 30 feet in height, which the Thompson said had once been common but had all but died out by the 1850s and ‘60s, around the time of the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. These giants were said to dress in animal skins and live in caves in the cliffs, only descending from their lairs to hunt for prey, which they would run down in enormous strides and strangle with their prodigious strength. They were said to be usually smelled before seen, exuding a “strong and disagreeable odor” that could blanket the area for miles around. Teit would write of them:
According to the beliefs of the Upper Thompsons, giants about thirty feet tall inhabit the Okanagan country, and were quite numerous in the Upper Thompson until [the 1850s and ‘60s]… The Lower Thompsons believe that these giants do not live in their own country, but that they come down occasionally from that of the Okanagon and Upper Thompsons. The Thompson said that they could carry a grizzly bear or an elk on their backs with the greatest ease. The smallest of these creatures is four or five times the height and strength of an ordinary man, while the largest are only comparable to trees… They are able to carry four large buck-deer on their backs at one time with the greatest ease, and it is said that one of them killed two black bears, and shoved them one into each side of his belt, as an ordinary man would do with two squirrels.
Teit managed to compile a great many accounts of supposed encounters with these creatures, with one of them coming from his Volume II of the Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, in which he gives the account of a band of hunters chased by the beasts. He writes:
Once, a giant is said to have chased two hunters, who sought refuge in a large fir-tree. Presently this giant was joined by two very tall friends, who tried in vain to reach the hunters. The latter shot at the giants, who caught the arrows in their hands and broke them. After a while one of the giants discovered that he had lost his dogskin apron, and seemed very much concerned about it. They all concluded to go in search of it, and left the hunters, who then came down from the tree, and went home.
Another of his stories is about two girls who were allegedly abducted by a giant in Upper Thompson Country. The girls had apparently been playing near their camp when two giants swept in to grab them and carry them off under their enormous arms. The giants supposedly took them to a distant river island, where they provided them with food and generally treated them well, but the girls missed home, and after four years of living with their captors they decided to make a run for it while out picking berries. The giants supposedly chased them across the countryside, with the girls hiding whenever they drew near, and they were eventually rescued by a Thompson hunting party. Other tales of giants in Fraser Canyon seem to describe a hairy beast more like a Bigfoot. One such tale revolves around a Thompson elder named Chief Dick, who was on a hunting trip deep in the mountains east of Spuzzum when he saw an amazing sight. An account from village elder Annie York reads:
Chief Dick’s eyesight was unfailing and his nerves were solid as a boulder, and he wasn’t a man given to imagination… The animal, human or whatever it was, appeared to sense the presence of the hunter. This did little to pacify his fears and for full minutes, ‘Chief Dick’ prayed and pondered whether to retreat or shoot. Despite his great anxiety and agitation, he noted that the other being resembled a human or man with generally gray medium hair covering it from head to feet and displaying a massive width of shoulders with long powerful arms. The face, he states, was hairy and wide and the eyes piercing and searching in their probing efforts to locate his position. A slight movement on the part of the hunter climaxed the suspense, and as Chief Dick watched as he never had before, the great creature faded silently from sight and was soon lost among the shadows of the timber.
Chief Dick supposedly gathered together a hunting party to return to the scene, where they found gigantic footprints nearly twice the size of their own. Reverend John Booth Good, an Anglican missionary, also wrote about such tales, and claimed to have heard many during his Fraser Canyon tenure from 1866-1882. He would write of it:
On three different occasions in successive years, and in entirely different points of observation, the most startling reports were circulated far and wide, that when camping out for purposes of hunting, fishing, gathering wood and berries, certain of our Indians had been visited in the dead of night by something that seemed half man half-beast, which had come into the tents whilst sleeping or prowled around their encampment, producing the greatest consternation and amazement. The idea prevailed that certain wild men of the woods were at large in the less frequented parts of the country, and were exceedingly dangerous and might one day invade the settlements.
The area has long been a hotbed of Sasquatch sightings, so could this be early reports of that? In addition to mysterious giants there also supposedly dwarves that inhabit the canyon and beyond. The Thompson tribe had a rich tradition of these beings, and Teit would write of it:
They are just like men, but their skins are pale, and their bodies very gaunt. They are only about two feet tall. They wander around the mountains, sometimes shouting, groaning, or weeping. Their eyes are sunk very deep in their heads. They run away from hunters, and go into inaccessible places…The Lower Thompsons say that they can make themselves visible or invisible at will. According to their ideas, the dwarf women do not exceed three feet in height. A few of the men, however, are tall, surpassing the tallest Indians in stature; but none of them are of medium height. All wear clothes similar to those formerly worn by the Indians, but have never been seen with bows and arrows. They are rather fond of joking, and playing tricks on people.
Joining the ranks of Fraser canyon weirdness are the various ghosts, phantoms, and less definable entities said to lurk about here. Teit wrote of strange pale ghostly entities lurking about, of which he would say:
They are of the same size and height as ordinary people, but naked… and of a ghost color. They are very gaunt, the shape of all their bones and joints being visible. Their eyes are very large and round, and protrude from their heads. Like ghosts, they chase people, but are more persistent. Another creature is a human body of a white color, without any limbs, which occasionally rolls over the ground, uttering cries like an infant. A person who sees any of these monsters will die shortly afterward.
There are plenty of haunted locales here as well. One supposedly very haunted place in Fraser Canton is a place called Hell’s Gate, a harrowing narrow passage between the sheer rock walls of the Fraser Canyon where the canyon walls rise about 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) above the river. Despite this ominous name, Hell’s Gate is home to a tourist attraction where visitors travelling the Gold Rush Trail can enjoy an airtram ride through the canyon. Unfortunately, the airtram and its station are said to be intensely haunted. For some reason, the airtram has attracted to it a wide variety of spooks. The gift shop is prowled by the apparition of a petite woman wearing a bonnet and old-style blue dress, usually accompanied by the phantom smell of fresh apple pie. There is also the phantom of an Asian man on the deck thought to be the ghost of a Chinese immigrant worker who died during the Gold Rush, the apparition of a lonely little girl wandering the halls of the Upper Terminal, a ghostly man seen casually smoking a cigar in the far corner of the restaurant, a phantom dark and shadowy man, who has been seen lurking below the deck near the Gold Panning station with a pair of red-eyed dogs on a leash, and assorted ghosts of dead miners. Why should this place keep all of these entities tethered here? It is hard to say. Another haunted place is called Devil’s Lake, which has all manner of strange things associated with it, and is said to be prowled by a wraithlike evil hag. One account says of this place:
Between three mountains near Foster’s Bar is a lake is situated in which strange mysteries may be seen, such as logs crossing the lake with dogs running backward and forward on them, canoes crossing without occupants, and ice changing into people who run along the shore, all of which finally vanish. To see these is considered an evil omen. Devils Lake is an area of powerful spirits according to Indian legend. Even today, native people blacken their faces when passing by the lake in order to avoid being recognized by the devil who lives in the lake. Other accounts tell of herds of goats turning into stone, young maidens dying while swimming, and a bull with a dog on its head attempting to swim the lake and disappearing about halfway across. According to the Lillooet’s traditional stories, there is a very ancient and evil woman who lives at Devils Lake… The natives say that this ancient woman has very long hair and often floats around Devil’s Lake on a log chanting songs that they do not understand. It was common practice for natives who passed by the lake, to blacken any exposed skin with ash so that the evil women would not see them. This legend continues on to say that any man or beast entering the waters of Devils Lake simply disappears. Although Devils Lake is considered by the Lillooets to be the home of this ancient evil woman, she is also said to wander the land in search of souls.
Another haunted lake around the Fraser Canyon was told of by the Thompson, and although exactly which lake it could be is not known, Teit would say of it:
This lake has never been known to freeze over, no matter how cold the weather. There is sometimes seen on its waters an apparition in the shape of a boat with oars, manned by Hudson Bay employees, dressed in dark-blue coats, shirts and caps, and red sashes. They always appear at the same end of the lake, and row across to the other end, where they talk with one another in French. Then they row back as they came, and disappear. If four men are seen in the boat, it is considered a good omen; but if eight men, the reverse is the case, and the person seeing the apparition will become sick, or will die shortly afterward.
What is it about this place that draws such stories to it? Are there forces here from beyond our understanding that congregate here, and if so to what end? It certainly joins the ranks of some of the more mysterious wild places of the world, and whether this is all just lore and tall tales or something more, it is a majestic land full of secrets we may never unravel.