New Brunswick, one of the smallest Canadian provinces at 72,908 square kilometers, is nestled on Canada’s eastern shores between Nova Scotia and Quebec, sitting atop the American state Maine like a pompadour. First Nations peoples have lived in the area since at least 7000 BCE. New Brunswick was also part of Vinland, a section of North America explored by the Vikings around 1000 CE. The province is covered by 15 million acres of forestland, more than 60 rivers, and boasts the Bay of Fundy where tourists flock to watch whales. New Brunswick’s Saint John was the first incorporated city in Canada. Famous people from New Brunswick include two Fathers of Confederation, Peter Mitchell and Samuel Leonard Tilley, founders of Canada’s oldest candy company Gilbert and James Ganong, actors Walter Pidgeon and Donald Sutherland, father of Canadian poetry Sir Charles G. D. Roberts, and Brenda Robertson, the first woman elected to the Canadian legislative assembly. It’s also home to unexpected creatures.
Mountain lions exist. We know this; we see them in zoos, on nature programs, and sometimes – at least in Western North America – up close and personal. European farmers who immigrated to North America killed the Eastern Mountain Lion (also called the Eastern Cougar or Eastern Panther) to protect their livestock, much like the Australians did to the Thylacine. By the late 1800s, the Eastern Mountain Lion was considered endangered. A specimine was last seen in New Brunswick in 1932 and in Maine in 1938. By 1940, this subspecies was gone, although it wasn’t declared extinct until 2015.
But is it extinct?
Naturalist Bruce Wright was bigger than life. A life-long outdoorsman, Wright became a forester through the University of New Brunswick, working as a forest biologist after graduation. During World War II he came up with the idea for “frogmen” who would use scuba gear to infiltrate enemy territory. During the war, he used his disposition in Myanmar (then Burma) to study marine life. After the war, he studied black ducks in the Canadian Maritimes (eastern provinces), but one of his personal interests was extinct species he believed could still be alive. One he was particularly interested in was the Eastern Mountain Lion.
During Wright’s quest for the endangered (and assumed extinct) animal led him to collet hundreds of sightings and indeed discovered what is widely considered as the last Eastern Mountain Lion. When that cat died, the entire species was considered dead as well.
Since then, there have still been reports of mountain lions in New Brunswick, although they are credited to a species of mountain lion from the western portions of North America that have wandered far afield.But are they?
Lake Utopia, in Charlotte County near the Maine border, is a seven-kilometer-long, three-kilometer-wide body of water that reaches an average depth of around 11 metres. A popular destination for recreation, Utopia Lake is also known for the Lake Utopia Lake Monster, Old Ned.
Stories of the creature began before the arrival of European settlers when the local Maliseet First Nations tribes claimed a large underwater creature that looked somewhat like a whale would chase people canoeing on the lake. European settlers began reporting encounters with the monster in the 1800s, and they continue to this day, usually every three to five years. Although the whale explanation is a stretch, it could be possible. Lake Utopia is connected to the Bay of Fundy via the Magaguadavic River, although it wouldn’t exactly be smooth swimming for a whale.
One of the most famous sightings was in 1867 when sawmill workers saw a nine-metre long, three-metre wide creature splashing in the lake. Similar sightings occurred a year later in 1868, again in 1872, and 1891. Modern sightings include a 1996 report from a couple, Roger and Lois Wilcox, who saw a 15-metre-long creature swimming in the lake. It swam up and down like a mammal, not side to side like a fish or reptile.
The Tote-Road Shagamaw
From the early days of the European settlement of New Brunswick, workers in lumber camps began to report a creature with the front paws of a bear and the back legs of a moose – the Shagamaw. To confuse anyone who followed it, the Shagamaw would switch off walking on its hind legs to its forelegs. One set of tracks would extend on tote roads (trails used to carry supplies to a lumber camp) only about 440 paces because that’s as high as the Shagamaw could count. Then it would switch to the other legs and go 440 more paces before switching back.
According to the book, “Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods,” by William T. Cox (1910), the Tote-Road Shagamaw was a horrifying creature to see, but it was shy and harmless. The Shagamaw also had a peculiar diet; it ate discarded boots, mittens, and anything else lumbermen dropped along these desolate roads.
Canada wouldn’t be Canada without Bigfoot reports. There have been more than seven Bigfoot sightings in New Brunswick during the past 35 years.
According to the Bigfoot Field Research Organization, more than twenty Canadian and U.S. soldiers, based in the 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, were training near Laverna Wood in 1990 when unidentified noises from the trees stopped them in their tracks. The soldiers heard an enormous creature thunder through the brush and could feel its impact when its feet hit the ground. When it vocalized, it sounded like a baby’s cry amplified “500 times louder.”
Although the creature remained hidden by the forest, whatever made that noise was nothing the soldiers were familiar with. One soldier said, “it wasn’t a bear.”
Another sighting occurred in 2008 when two couples from Anfield and Saint John, New Brunswick, saw a“pitch-black, approximately eight-and-a-half-foot sasquatch” at Skiff Lake, according to an article in the WoodstockBugle-Observer. “I know a bear can stand on its hind legs and move around,” one of the men told the newspaper, “but a bear can’t walk on two legs the way this human-like form (did).”
Next up: Newfoundland and Labrador.