2023 marks the 100th anniversary of the first documented encounter with Saskatchewan’s Turtle Lake Monster, based on my research.
Fishermen complained that something was creating large holes in their fishing nets over the winter (See “In the Domain of Lake Monsters: The Search for the Denizens of the Deep,” John Kirk, 1998, page 195.)
The TLM legend may go back even earlier in First Nation Oral Tradition.
Fast forward to the 1970s . . . My family had a modest cabin up at Turtle Lake between 1978 and 1987. My brother Dave and I were graced with a sighting of the Turtle Lake Monster once during that era.
It was the summer of 1985. As young pre-teens (12 and 10, respectively), we were out enjoying our newly granted freedom of heading out on the lake ourselves – with a canoe and four-horsepower engine.
On this particular quiet day (still water; quite rare on a decent-sized lake roughly 28 km long and up to five km wide), we spotted what we thought was half a telephone or power poll -floating out in the calm waters just a few hundred feet off the Kopps Cove shore.
Knowing full well the damage a log could do to passing boats, we decided to head over there and tow the pole out of harm’s way. (What else would go through the heads of two young pre-teens with unlimited time, a powered boat, and a rope at their disposal?)
We approached what appeared to be a dark oil-soaked telephone pole when we realized it wasn’t anything of the sort; instead, it was a large fishlike creature, perhaps seven to 10 feet long.
We saw bumps on its back that were dark in tone, wet/reflective in texture and appearance. It lay quite still, barely moving. Dave remembers seeing the dorsal/tail fin. We knew instantly that we were witnessing the famous Turtle Lake Monster (stories about which we had heard for many years). As kids, our first gut instinct (rather than sit and watch this majestic creature) was to give the engine some throttle, get ourselves safely away, and run up to tell our parents.
Mom and dad were back at the cabin preparing supper. We raced up Coon Avenue as fast as permissible. (It so happened I had broken my ankle earlier that spring on a motorcycle – also up at Turtle Lake; I had a cast and crutches; as counterintuitive as it sounds, the canoe gave me much-needed freedom that summer; I just had to bag my cast. It wasn’t the smartest thing, but hey, I was 12).
Excited, we hauled our parents down to the beach as fast as we could get there (where the creature would have still been visible out in the bay) only to find still water and a flawless, calm lake surface; no log, no creature, not a ripple.
Our story is not the only account of the TLM; far from it. Sightings of the Turtle Lake Monster happened regularly amongst locals and lake people, as had been the case for decades. The 1970s and 80s seem to have been the heyday of Turtle Lake Monster experiences, as is backed by a comparative plethora of newspaper articles it generated back then.
The predominant theory of the TLM is that it may be a River Sturgeon (perhaps two or three of them) which travelled up the Turtle River during a year of high outflow (Turtle lake slowly drains into the North Saskatchewan River some 80km away). The creature(s) became stuck and made Turtle Lake their home.
Sturgeon can live up to (and over) 100 years -which fits our timeline – and this theory aligns nicely with what Dave and I saw. In short, we would tend to agree with it.
Local, independent, in-depth.
Our Prairie stories.
Since the 1980s, newspaper articles and published experiences have gradually diminished.
Where are you, monster? Still out there teasing large holes in fishermen’s nets? Or did a hundred years of legend finally take its toll, and you are now mere history yourself? Saskatchewan’s very own monster you will always be; we promise to keep your memory alive for future generations.
Our Prairie stories matter too.
The Flatlander takes a closer look at the stories that unite us, and make us unique, in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Will you help us tell our stories?