Monster myths?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 12:00am

When in crisis, a nation turns to its enduring myths. The US has the Alamo and Wyatt Earp. Canada has Bigfoot. While the rest of Canada was agonising over the latest revelations in the 'sponsorship' scandal - taxpayers' money being illegally channelled to political parties - Bobby Clarke, of northern Manitoba, was standing one morning near a riverbank with his video camera.

He noticed a black figure walking along the opposite bank. It was massive, and hairy, standing 3 metres tall. Mr Clarke, who always carries a camera, started filming. The creature turned and looked at him, causing him to panic and drop his camera in fright. But he had two minutes and 49 seconds of startling footage.

Over the next week, hundreds of people in the town of Norway House viewed the video. Missy Flett was one. She used to be a sceptic. She had heard all about the sightings along the Pacific Coast that date back to the 1830s. But now she was convinced that the creature was authentic. 'It's awesome,' she said. Mr Clarke, meanwhile, is too stressed to talk. It is a good thing, too. Bigfoot believers, like alien abductees, do not get much respect in the press. Bigfoot is also known as Sasquatch, a North Coast Indian word for 'barely glimpsed creature'. The most famous image of Bigfoot is on a 16mm film shot 40 years ago in California. The black monster is seen striding through a forest clearing.

Anthropologists are dubious. They are looking for bones, a body, an authentic footprint, or some hair. Bigfoot believers point to Homo floresiensis, a 1-metre-tall hominid whose skeleton was recently found on an Indonesian island, as a possible precursor. Even primatologist Jane Goodall has been quoted as saying she would not be surprised if an undiscovered primate like Bigfoot exists. But the experts say they need more than 'Hobbit' bones and speculation. They dismiss Bigfoot as a 'cryptid' - rumoured or mythical animals, like the yeti and the Loch Ness monster.

But the scientists have yet to explain the odd correlation between cryptid sightings in Canada and times of political turbulence. Years ago, during the separatist crisis in Quebec, people in the village of Pohenegamook began seeing a bizarre creature in a lake, with a cow-like head. Ponik, as he was called, alarmed the tourists, but he disappeared shortly after a referendum in which Quebeckers voted to remain in Canada.

A coincidence? Maybe, but stranger things have happened in Canadian history. Political stress seems to bring all kinds of curious creatures out of the ground - politicians with blank memories, and businessmen who cannot account for millions of dollars. Next to them, Bigfoot is easy to believe in.