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Quite a Fisherman’s tale – A sea monster in the St. Lawrence - 1922!

There has been a long history of tall tales of creatures living in the local waters. Some consider these to be myth or legends, somewhat akin to fairytale stories. One’s imagination can work havoc on one when they are not sure what they have seen. Others have taken these stories much more seriously.   

black and white image of sea monsters

There have been indigenous oral traditions of fantastical creatures in the St. Lawrence River. They were known as Kaniatarowanennah by the Mohawks. According to Mohawk legends, there have long been creatures living in the river, and they were known to be highly territorial. They were allegedly known to attack anyone who ventured onto the river alone. These creatures were known as Wakandagi.The stories tell of long, serpent like creatures which were covered in scales. They were told to be capable of tipping canoes and would focus their aim on those canoes who had only one occupant. 

The earliest official reporting that was noted for a “monster serpent” in the St. Lawrence River took place in 1822. Ten witnesses in a voyageur canoe stated that the saw a sea serpent ascending into the St. Lawrence. Two of these individuals were willing to sign an affidavit in front of a judge as evidence.2 Unfortunately, I was not able to locate said document to confirm. It is not known if any further  investigation occurred. Newspapers of that date do not seem to be available to research.

In 1833 there were numerous reports of a creature seen close to Kingston, Ontario, especially by Captain Kellogg, and several crew members and passengers. In fact, there were so many sightings that the mythical creature was assigned a nick name: “Kingstie.” Most of the reports were of a huge snake-like creature ranging from 20 to 40 feet long.3 Some reports were that it had devilish eyes and horns, others said the creature made a terrible roar.

The next big fish story of the St. Lawrence River was published all the way in Wilmington, North Carolina, on June 11, 1857. The Wilmington Commercial reported an article about such a sighting with the headline of “A monster serpent in the St. Lawrence."4 In this article it states that a resident of Mallorytown has reported a sighting of an “enormous water serpent,” seen numerous times. A Mr. L. Parker of Three Mile Bay and a D. Ladd have also seen such a creature. They described the creature as having raised its body at least 6 feet out of the water and it allegedly pursued the boat and chased them. They further described the creature as being over thirty feet long. There were further corroborating sightings by a boat crew around that time.

Fast forward to 1888 to another story of Kingstie. Two men canoeing near Kingston claimed to see a large water serpent. They reported that “the monster passed us so close that when we stopped, that we could see him distinctly and judged him to be at least 15 feet long. He was six feet out of the water."5 Apparently, the story had enough of a following that young ladies were refusing to go into the St. Lawrence or Lake Ontario.

Dundas County was the hotbed of sea creature sightings in 1922. A search through newspapers of 1922 brings up all kinds of reports on sea creatures around North America so the topic was certainly one of interest to the public.6 There were reports of monsters attacking near Florida, as well as on the Pacific coast and several reports around Newfoundland.7 But more significantly there were several reports at Iroquois in the summer of 1922. While some reports label these sightings as a hoax, such as the Kingston Daily Standard of Monday July 24, 1922,8 said that they failed to find any confirmation to the recent dispatch stating that a monster, resembling a sea serpent has been seen in the St. Lawrence at that point. No person has been found who has seen anything out of the ordinary, in the waters near Iroquois. 

sea serpent newspaper clipping

On August 10, 1922, the Daily British Whig (Kingston) claims there is “No Hoax whatsoever.”9 Quoting the Iroquois Post and Lt Col Lorne Mulloy stating that “the persons who reported seeing such a monster must have been under the influence of homebrew.”10 This was also copied in the Ottawa Citizen, the Cornwall Freeholder and Kingston Daily Whig. Whether you believe the stories or not, there were those who were convinced that they saw a large volume of water rising abruptly in the river. There was no one dynamiting the river at the time, yet several others saw the water disturbed the height of a house. The Kingston Whig states that since there were significant reports of either water being displaced or a sighting of a sea serpent, then it must have been true, “therefore the Whig believes that the story sent to is no hoax, and that some kind of water monster has made it way up the river from the sea.”11 

It is interesting to note that an article that appeared in the Newton Alabama Southern Star blamed climate change for the recent reports of sea monsters appearing in the Northern Hemisphere.12 It was reported that many sea creatures that would normally been only found in the southern hemisphere or deep in the sea are appearing where they were never before been seen. The cause must be “Climate Change.” This was in 1922! Whether the sea monster stories outside Iroquois were to be believed or not, it is certain that the reports gave Dundas County a moment of fame. I could find no other reports of a creature after 1922 in the newspapers. The construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway certainly changed the path of the river and which species would thrive or perish. While sturgeon were prevalent prior to the Seaway, they are rare now. Maybe these people saw a large sturgeon? We will never know for sure. 
Do you have any monster fish stories you might want to share?

Susan Peters
Dundas County Archives

  • [1] Haunted Montreal May 13, 2020, The 57th installment of the Haunted Montreal Blog
  • [2] “Sea Serpent” Written by Lynn E. McElfresh in Thousand Island Life Posted March 14, 2018
  • [3] Lynn E McElfresh “Sea serpent” March 14, 2018, in Thousand Islands
  • [4] Wilmington, North Caroline The Tri Weekly Commercial. June 11, 1857, reporting from the Brockville Monitor
  • [5] “Sea Serpent” by Lynne E. McElfresh
  • [6] Kingston The Daily British Whig Wed March 29, 1922, page 13 Vancouver machine guns and traps set to exterminate sea monsters
  • [7] El Paso Herald (Texas) Friday August 25, 1922, page 1; The Brantford Expositor Brantford Ontario Wed August 30, 1922, page 7; The Kingston Daily Standard Sept 14, 1922; Kingston Daily Whig Sept 19, 1922, page 1
  • [8] The Daily Standard, Kingston Monday July 24, 1922 page 2, citing a report from Brockville
  • [9] Kingston The Daily British Whig. Thursday August 10, 1922, page 6
  • [10] Cornwall Ontario, “Hubub in Iroquois” Cornwall Freeholder 12 Jan 1922, page 2 and Cornwall Freeholder “The Iroquois Monster” 24 August 1922, page 6
  • [11] Kingston The Daily British Whig Thursday August 10, 1922, page 6
  • [12] Newton Alabama Southern Star Wed December 20, 1922, page 1

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