Note:This text was written originally in French and translated in English by Carmen Gauvin-Côté. It was published in a book entitled : EN PASSANT PAR LES CANTONS - it is reproduced with the permission of its author Mme Sonia Bolduc.
infography: Normand Langlais
Sonia Bolduc - University of Sherbrooke (1997)
MEMPHRÉ: MYTH AND REALITY
Summary: Ignoring International boundaries, several insolent and unexplained phenomena have been reported throughout the centuries, arousing suspicion, interest research and legends. Among these oddities, Memphré, a creature living in the immense Lake Memphrémagog, has taunted skeptics for more than 180 years.
Famous for its « Traversée Internationale », for the beauty of the surrounding mountains, for some of the celebrities who live there, Lake Memphrémagog is also special because one of the most famous and mysterious creatures on the continent resides in it's waters.
Officially baptized Memphré, the sea « monster », it resembles a sea serpent (1) and has been widely talked about for almost 200 years. A myth that has been upheld or a reality unrecognized ? That is the question...
Until the beginning of the XIXth century, the only inhabitants of the area of Memphrémagog were the Indians, because of the abundance of game and fish. When the first white settlers arrived, they were warned by the Indians not to swim in the lake because of the presence of the sea serpent. Several accounts of all kinds have discussed it's presence, often taking the form of fables, poems or legends. In each of these histories, this strange marine creature is given a major role and sometimes is the principal character. Among the varied descriptions, it is said to be more or less aggressive and on several occasions, is said to reside in a cave at the base of Owl's Head mountain, on the shore of the lake.
Among these stories, THE SEA SERPENT LEGEND, written by Norman Bingham at the beginning of the XIXth century, revives an old Indian legend. The deciding role played by the serpent in the tragedy involving two Indian lovers is revealed as well as a concise description of the animal:
They saw a monster dark and grim
Coming with coiling surge and swim,
With lifted head and tusk and horn,
Fierce as the spirit in Hades born.
(Bullock, 1926 p. 71)
Dark colored, threatening look, the monster swims with a powerful spiral movement towards the unfortunate victims, his raised head equipped with a horn and tusk as threatening as the noxious spirits of hell. That is a rather alarming description of the creature. The author concludes his poem as follows:
The Serpent e're now in the depths did roam
Under Owl's Head to his cavernous home,
After digesting this horrible meal
His snakeful majesty did out again reel,
Next to appear to Uncle Ri Jewett
In one of his visions that made him a poet
(Bullock, 1926, p.82)
Uncle Ri Jewett, was actually Uriah Jewett, a poet known to occasionally imbibe alcohol, settled in Georgeville at the beginning of the XIXth century. His talents as an orator were widely known through the area. One of his poems was written after an encounter with a swindler who was passing through the area at the time and then rapidly fled to the United States. His poem is the scoundrel's own account of his escape. We can ascertain the omnipresence of the sea serpent in the lives of the settlers living near the lake.
I took a quick dive, caught the serpent by tail,
His speed was like lightening, or the swordfish in gale;
My passage was through Owl's subterranean bluff,
I popped up with money enough.
(Bullock, 1926, p.121)
The first « non-fictional » document describing the apparitions of the creature dates back to 1816 and is signed by Ralph Merry IV. He describes four experiences as lived by the citizens of Georgeville and which he finds to be totally credible. He, however, was not a witness to any of these phenomena but only reported the facts as he knew them. He reports what individuals and groups of individuals saw in different areas and at different times. The descriptions usually coincide as to the length and appearance of the serpent like creature. In his accounts Mr. Merry does not refer to the sea serpent but rather to one of the sea serpents of Memphrémagog.
Also, on several occasions since 1847, The Stanstead Journal has published several articles on this phenomenon, some relating numerous sightings which the lakeshore residents have witnessed. These sightings continued throughout the years. « I do not know if it is common knowledge that these strange dwelling creatures like giant sea serpents inhabit Lake Memphrémagog. » (Excerpt from The Stanstead Journal as reported on the Internet site of The International Society of Dracontology of Lake Memphrémagog).
To date, more than 215 sightings have been reported and documented with great care. Each account is signed and recorded; hear say accounts are simply refused. There are on the average, eight sightings annually which have been confirmed by about twenty witnesses.
Thus in 1961, two fishermen, heading for Newport observed for about forty seconds a black creature, about 20 feet long, swimming partially submerged. According to these men the creature that was about 200 feet from their boat, had a round back and an indescribable head. This scene was accompanied by a strange sound.
In July 1996, four persons witnessed it's presence after observing it for more than a minute. According to them, the creature had several humps, was about 20 feet long and swam about 50 yards between their boat and the shore. This sighting which took place about 7 p.m. is similar to one that took place about 4 p.m. some 10 miles away as observed by three other persons.
The description of a three humped creature coincides with that of September 1994 given by four persons in two different boats.
The weather was overcast but the lake was calm not a wave, no wind, they observed for at least three minutes from each of their two boats and object 40 to 50 feet longa type of wave shaped like three humps and black in color. (International Society of Dracontology of Lake Memphrémagog).
This adventure ended for them when the creature swam under one of the boats and disappeared into the depths of the lake.
Rare are those who can boast having seen the phenomenon on more than one occasion. This is however the case of two Montrealers who after a first sighting in May of 1995, saw the sea serpent again in August of the same year. Better yet, they were able to obtain a film clip which was used in a documentary on the Canada D channel the following October.
However, with the numerous accounts of sightings, certain discrepancies have arisen as to the description of the creature. These differences can be explained in several ways. First of all, human nature being what it is, requires that we allow for a certain margin of error. Therefore, if we agree that each is highly credible and has the best intentions in the world, it remains that we are all susceptible to an optical illusion. This is especially true when one comes face to face with a strange, unexplained and almost magical phenomenon. Dealing with the effect of surprise and skepticism, can also be difficult.
However, because of it's size, between 20 and 70 feet, according to different accounts, the creature has never been seen in it's entirety. Some have seen Memphre's head, others the middle section and finally some have seen the serpent's tail.
There is another possibility. By admitting to the existence of the sea serpent, we are opening the door, so to speak, to the probable presence of various creatures. Maybe Memphrémagog is indeed inhabited by different forms of unknown fish or even other marine monsters living in it's unexplored depths. Moreover, in 1965 Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans, a prominent worldwide cryptozoologist (2), published « Le Grand Serpent de Mer » (The Large Sea Serpent), a veritable bible on the subject, where he discusses a large range of alleged marine monsters.
For him as well as for many other researchers and scientists world wide, the existence of these creatures is not a possibility but a reality. However Dr. Heuvelmans made the following statement regarding the probable identity of our friend Memphré:
I maintain that Memphré is part of the family of
long necks. It is the only logical explanation,
considering all the sightings of animals undulating on
a vertical plane. Those which, in reality, form the
majority. (Québec insolite, Internet, 1995)
Dr. Heuvelmans maintains the long neck to be a sea serpent that usually lives far from shore, on the high seas. It is about 18 meters long, has a long, thin neck and can swim at speeds up to 55 km/hr. This description from an expert coincides with those from the witnesses of Memphrémagog.
Memphré, in spite of his longevity and his many sightings has not attained the popularity and the recognition of his counterparts. We are, of course, referring to Nessie of Loch Ness, but also Ogopogo, a sea serpent living in Lake Okanagan in British Columbia and the legendary Champ of Lake Champlain.
In spite of the fact that the photo taken of Nessie in 1994 was categorically proven to be a fake, the 10,000 or so, accounts catalogued over the years, tend to confirm the presence of this Scottish celebrity in the waters of Loch Ness, right in the heart of the country. The most popular theory on Nessie's identity categorizes him as being a member of the plesiosaurus (3) family. However, because this species has no respiratory system permitting it to live for long periods submerged, scientists have discarded this theory.
In reality, the numerous searches undertaken in the waters of Loch Ness, have not turned up any skeleton that could have belonged to such a marine creature. It is possible therefore, that Nessie belongs to the Salamander family or other giant amphibians. These species can live permanently under water, and their bodies disintegrate after death.
From the description of Ogopogo, one of these numerous creatures living in the many lakes of British Columbia, he more closely resembles Memphré. Thousands of people are said to have seen this 50 foot long sea serpent with a head resembling that of a horse, having several humps and a elongated form. Some of these witnesses are scientists and researchers from the British Scientific Cryptozoology Club (4) (BCSCC) who had organized several expeditions to Lake Okanagan, in the south central part of the province. They even had the pleasure of filming Ogopogo in action on several occasions.
These sightings have become more sporadic over the last few years and we believe that the species survival is threatened by the humans who are invading his environment. The provincial authorities have enacted laws to protect him by making it illegal to pursue, capture or hunt him.
In the waters of Lake Champlain, on the border of Quebec and the states of New York and Vermont, Champ enjoys the same protection. It is strictly forbidden to disturb his existence. Since the first sightings occurred around the time of the first settlers, it is believed that Champ and species like him are able to reproduce and thus account for his presence in these waters for centuries. The fact that the lake is some 200 km. long makes this hypothesis all the more plausible.
Closer to home there are strange phenomena in the lakes around Memphrémagog, such as Massawippi, Bowker and Brompton. Even though certain factions might be inclined to exaggerate, we are led to believe that the presence of these unknown lake creatures is plausible.
Therefore, if we believe certain theories, the opacity of the waters in the region could facilitate the survival of these unknown fish at unexplored depths. Some divers maintain that in the waters of Brompton Lake, the visibility at a depth of 10 meters, is almost nil. Others maintain that immense species of fish live at even greater depths. Going beyond that to discussing monsters is a step that some people do not hesitate to take. Others believe that there are giant underground caverns that connect certain lakes in the region like Brompton-Bowker-Larouche and Lake Memphrémagog and Massawippi. Even if this fact is difficult to verify, it is not impossible and would explain the presence of these marine creatures in the different bodies of water.
Even though he has never been an eye witness to the presence of Memphré, Jacques Boisvert is both an expert on the subject and founder of the International Society of Dracontology (5) of Lake Memphrémagog. Effectively these two passions led Mr. Boisvert to embark on this adventure, being both a historian and an ardent scuba diver. His historical research has enabled him to gather many accounts dating as far back as the last century, on the existence of the sea serpent. Mr. Boisvert has always hoped to encounter the creature on one of his daily diving explorations.
In 1983, after about 1000 dives, and having still seen nothing, he decided to write an article for The Newport Daily Express to see if he would get any reactions. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Barbara Malloy of Newport contacted him to tell him of a sighting to which she personally had been a witness. As a result of this, she had worked closely with Mr. Boisvert on subsequent sightings.Having started out as a simple file in Mr. Boisvert's historical research, the search for Memphré became a priority. From « La Société de Dracontologie » which he founded in 1986, he catalogues all the accounts and discoveries in order to further his research. Mr. Boisvert have since baptized the creature « Memphré », and holds the international copyright of the name and logo.
Although he has been diving since 1979, and has more than 5000 dives to his credit, Jacques Boisvert has not yet seen the creature that so many witnesses have described to him. He believes, however that he touched it once during one of his dives. While accompanied by his son, he put his hand down on what he thought was a tree stump. When the « stump » felt his touch, it took off in a cloud of mud, leaving the diver to catch his breath. « I couldn't say that it definitely was Memphré, because I didn't see it. It could have anything or it could have been his tail ». (Boisvert Quoted by Bolduc 1997)
What adds to Jacques Boisvert's credibility, aside from his passion for history and diving, is that he harbors some doubt regarding the phenomenon. Even though his research tends to confirm Memphré's existence, and he believes the numerous witnesses that he has heard, he leaves room for a little doubt and doesn't attempt to convince anyone. It does not prevent him from discussing the subject with enthusiasm, and to have acquired a certain notoriety on the entire continent.
« La Société de Dracontologie du lac Memphrémagog ». Which he founded, is based at 446 Principale ouest in Magog, J1X 2A9, where the curious, researchers, students and journalists may visit by appointment. Furthermore, the Society has recently developed a pictograph representing Memphré in his natural environment. Not only is it the official emblem for the Society, but it has been placed at various points around the lake in order to increase people's interest in the phenomenon and to encourage them to keep a watchful eye on the lake for a possible sighting.
But maybe you are already an amateur dracontologist, who boldly navigates the waters of Lake Memphrémagog, hoping for a face to face encounter with the sea serpent. Or maybe you are one of those sceptics who only believes what he can see. One thing is certain, each time you have an occasion to gaze upon this great lake, or better yet to sail upon it, or fish in it or even dive in it, bear in mind all that you have heard, that all of this is a myth... and a reality!
1- the sea serpent is defined as being a fabulous marine animal, large sized and badly identified.
2- Cryptozoology, founded about 25 years ago by Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans, is the study of hidden animals.
3- The plesiosaurus is a marine reptile fossil (au Secondaire) which reaches about 5 meters long.
4- A club founded in 1989 by author James A Clark and scientist Dr. Paul LeBlond to facilitate the study of yet unidentified animals by science.
5- A branch of Cryptozoology which deals only with unidentified lake creatures. A Benedictine monk created the toponymy as requested by Jacques Boisvert and accepted by Dr. Heuvelmans and made official by (l'Office de la langue française du Québec) and The American Heritage Dictionary.
Bolduc, Sonia (1997) Interview with Jacques Boisvert on 30 September in Magog, duration 1 hr. 30.
British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, Internet site: http://www.ultranet.ca/bcscc/, (1997)
Bullock, William Bryant (1985) Beautiful Waters: devoted to the Memphremagog Region in History, Legend, Anecdote, Folk, Poetry and Drama, composed and printed by William Bryant Bullock, Derby Line, Vermont, Ed. Pigwidgeon, 239 p.
Québec Insolite, internet site http://www.generation.net/
International Dracontology Society of Lake Memphremagog, Internet site: http://www.interlinx.qc.ca/memphre/, (1997).
Sonia Bolduc: A strange creature of the same family as Memphré... A Myth or a reality !!!!