Wilfred Gibson sighted a strange animal "frolicking among the log booms" at Mill Bay and ran closer for a better look – leaving his camera in his car.
Spring’s almost here, meaning that summer, too, is almost around the corner with its
promise of – we hope – balmy weather for outdoor recreation and…a return of Cadborosaurus.
For many summers (although not for some time), Victoria’s fabled sea serpent, affectionately known as Caddy, frolicked off Cadboro Bay, inspiring legends, jokes and, thanks to an enterprising chamber of commerce, world-wide publicity.
To sceptics Caddy’s a myth, an illusion, a hoax. When they do grudgingly concede that the many creditable witnesses who’ve reported sighting Caddy may have seen something, they suggest floating logs, groups of sea lions or seals. The Royal B.C. Museum has credited such sightings to "bull sea lions".
All of which is quite probable, of course. But is it not also possible that sea serpents do exist? Most experts in the relevant fields of biology, ichthyology and oceanography readily admit that the world’s oceans retain mysteries yet. Why not Caddy? According to Indian legend, Caddy’s origin dates back to when "Vancouver Island first emerged from the sea". At that period the Island’s sole inhabit was a beautiful Indian maiden, Cadboro; she was so lovely that the gods preserved her from "the touch of men". But a reckless brave named Saurus wooed and won Cadboro and they eloped by canoe for the Olympic Mountains.
Whereupon the angered god of air and water transformed himself into a giant eagle, swooped down and carried off Cadboro. For punishment, he turned her to stone – Victoria’s Gonzales Hill. In turn, Saurus was made a sea serpent and "banished for a billion years to the depths of the ocean".
Okay, not very scientific if entertaining. As for Cadborosaurus, the credit for that double-barrelled moniker goes to the 1930s managing editor, Archie Wills (ergo Cadborosaurus willsi), of the Victoria Daily Times. For years, the Times offered a standing reward of $300 for a "legitimate" photo of Victoria’s very own serpent.
The first reported sighting of Caddy is that of seaman James F. Murray who was fishing off the Victoria breakwater in the fall of 1928. Caddy, said Murray, "moved fast, at about eight knots, 25 yards from me, then submerged and came up seemingly only seconds later almost a mile away." One of the most credible encounters occurred on Oct. 5, 1933 when the clerk of the legislature, Maj. W.H. Langley, and Fred Kemp of the Provincial Archives, swore they’d seen the monster. The same month, a telegraph lineman working between Jordan River and Port Renfrew claimed to have shot a serpent. He said that when struck in the head by his .30.30 slug, it thrashed wildly, thrust its head 15 feet above the surface and paddled off.
Prior to 1959, no fewer than 600 people reported sighting the mysterious creature. But no valid photos were taken although well-known public school photographer Wilfred Gibson came close. He sighted a strange animal "frolicking among the log booms" at Mill Bay and ran closer for a better look – leaving his camera in his car.
Another obstacle to obtaining a photograph is the condition of the witness, as explained by a Cdr. Clayards. At the time of his encounter with Caddy, he was security officer at Esquimalt Naval Base. He said, "I don’t mind admitting that I was terrified, especially when he snapped his jaws. If I had had a camera, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have been able to use if as I was so [trans]fixed by the strange sight…"
Either Caddy has an itchy fin and travels about or he has numerous relatives, as similar creatures have been reported around the world. Several other parts of Vancouver Island and B.C. have claimed their own serpents (including Shawnigan and Cowichan lakes), the most famous of these "impostors" being Kelowna’s Ogopogo, said to inhabit Okanagan Lake. He/she answers to the same description as Caddy, as reported by dozens of "sober and reputable" persons who sighted it in one two-year period alone.
In February 1953, the Colonist reported, "Qualicum Bay embraces personal private monster." Nicknamed Qually (for Qualicum Baysaurus, of course), it was first sighted in 1951. For three successive years, it appeared about springtime and was seen by "30 or 50" people each time.
Robert Milne said he’d viewed the monster each time, once from as near – almost too near – as 20 yards. "From a distance it looked black, but from nearer at hand it looked a tawny colour. When I was out in the boat, I got a good look at it. It looked like a serpent of some kind. It was twisting and squirming about, sometimes under water, sometimes above. Its head was small in proportion to its body. The thickest part of the body seemed just about the width a man could reach his arms around. At a rough estimate, I’d say it was 30 or 40 feet long.
"It wasn’t a seal. I go fishing every day, and I’ve seen lots of seals. It wasn’t a sea lion, or any animal I’ve ever seen or read about. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I’d still be sceptical," he concluded.
But no photographs. Months later, it seemed that Caddy had literally come to the end of his rope. The Vancouver seine boat Naceda had docked with "seven feet and 1,000 pounds of something". Described as having "neither tale nor scales and covered with a rough elephant-like skin," the monster had become entangled in the vessel’s net near Port San Juan, on the Island’s west coast.
(To be continued) www.twpaterson.com