by Brian Roulston
Almost every culture around the world has myths and legends of large snake-like creatures in their local waters. Hamilton Bay, or rather Burlington Bay as it was called then is no exception.
Most of us are familiar with the story of “Nessie”, an evasive snake-like creature supposedly living in the depths of a Scottish lake. Could Nessie have cousins living here in Lake Ontario or even in our bay? Hmm…maybe.
In the sightings below the description of these creatures have been more or less consistent over the years. They are described as being dark blue or brown, as wide as an adult male, long and tapered at both ends with fins near the center of their bodies. Some have mentioned scales, warts or stiff bristles covering their backs.
The Hamilton Spectator ran a story on August 17th, 1877 of an “Extraordinary Monster”. There were three sightings just off Carroll’s Point in Burlington Bay the previous afternoon. The first was from a fisherman trolling for pike. He saw water bubbling on the lake’s surface about 15 metres away. The fisherman rowed towards the bubbles, but before he got halfway, a creature came out of the water and started towards him. It simply swam past him and disappeared.
A second fisherman some distance away saw something lurking around just under the surface. A third fisherman claimed he saw the same creature as the first two gentlemen. He too was out on the bay when a large snake like creature grabbed one of his oars and took off with it. The next morning he found his oar embedded with teeth marks.
As the article said, “Take these stories for what it’s worth and you decide if they were real or not.”
For over two centuries there have been other random, but unforgettable sightings of large water-serpents up and down the coast of Lake Ontario. From Kingston to Toronto, then Hamilton.
The first ‘recorded’ sighting of a “lake-serpent” was by the French explorer Jacque Cartier in the 1700s. He was mapping the area when his crew observed a “giant finned like snake’ moving through the water like a caterpillar, propelling itself with the aid of its fins. Cartier and his men tried to catch the creature but it was much too fast and it dove under the water. The Seneca, called this creature Gaasyendietha aka the Seneca Dragon and often referred to as the Meteor Dragon. Some say it could fly on a stream of fire, breathe fire and that it was born from a serpent’s egg or it fell from a meteor as it streaked across the sky.
The next known encounter with the creature occurred in 1805. Four fishermen saw what looked like an overturned rowboat floating on the lake. The closer the creature the men moved towards this “overturned boat”, the more nervous the fishermen became. In addition to the description above they said it had a large frightful-looking mouth.
On August 14th, 1829, The Kingston Gazette & Religion Advocate reported that two children, ages 10 and 14, were playing on a beach near St. Catharines and spotted the creature swimming in the lake.
On July 1st, 1833, according to the Oswego Palladium, the schooner Polythermus piloted by a Capt. Abjah Kellogg and his crew spotted a serpent just outside of Kingston Harbour at around 7:00pm. The creature started swimming torpedo-like toward the ship. Instead of striking the ship the serpent safely passed alongside the ships bow and kept going toward the St. Lawrence.
The Toronto Mail reported the Burlington Bay creature was seen basking on the shore of Fort York for some time. It made several snorting sounds as it headed back into the water.
This mysterious creature showed up again in Kingston off Gull Beach in 1842. Two boys were playing when they spotted something out in the lake that frightened them. They ran home and told their father who along with a friend, quickly grabbed a shotgun and went to the area where the boys were playing. Fortunately, for the creature it didn’t stick around long enough to get shot.
Another sighting of this elusive creature was by a group of people standing on the shore of Olcott, New York on June 25th, 1872. They heard a low rumbling or bellowing sound coming off the lake that lasted about 10 minutes. The group saw something leap through the air like a giant whale. It lashed around for several minutes before it made one final splash then disappeared.
The stories of Gaasyendietha even reached as far south as Galveston, Texas. The Galveston Daily News was sent a story from The Union & Advertiser in Rochester N.Y about a sighting that took place ten miles west of the Genesee River in Parma, New York. Several people were socializing just after sunset when they watched a herd of cattle approach the water to get a drink. A large head emerged above the water, looming dangerously, as if it was going to grab one of the cows. The creature made a noise that frightened the cattle away. The cattle decided to try their luck a few hundred metres downward. The monster was once again waiting for them and just like the first time, he scared the cattle back into the field.
The last plausible sighting according the website the Mysteriousuniverse.com occurred Sept 5, 2011. A couple of friends posted on the website about their own experience as they attended a concert at or near the Toronto docks. They claimed to have seen something slithering across the lake’s surface. One of the two friends said he/she saw the creature three times during the concert, the other friend supposedly saw it twice.
Could it be that some dinosaur-type creatures somehow survived the last ice age; and for thousands of years have been or may still be living deep in our Great Lakes and coastal waters? Some have speculated large Lake Sturgeon which are the largest and longest-lived fish dating back some 200 million years. However, on may 28th 2020, the largest sturgeon ever caught was just over 2 metres long and weighed 106kg. This falls far short of the lengths reported of being between 15 to 53 meters in these sightings.
On a final note, like every good fish story, the tale tends to get longer and more impressive with every telling. Before you know it the lowly lake serpent may sprout wings and spit fire.