Ponik

The following is an excerpt from my book:


Ponik

The waters of Lake Pohenegamook in southwestern Quebec are said to be the home of a large and mysterious serpent-like creature. The cryptid was given the name Ponik by locals during a centennial celebration of the community of Saint Eleuthere in 1974.1 The first documented sighting of the creature by white settlers occurred a century earlier when a lumberjack spotted an unusual black creature in the lake.2

Although documented reports date back less than 150 years, the indigenous people of the area have legends of a ‘Great Beast’ with a serpent body that lives in the lake.3 The name Pohenegamook has Native American origins. The name is said to mean, “Rest and wintering, sheltered from the Northern winds.”4

A Strange, Haunting Body of Water

Nestled in the Notre Dame Mountains, Lake Pohenegamook lies just north of the International Boundary with Maine. The mountains which surround the lake are very rich in iron, causing the lake to fill with rust.5 The rusty waters have very low visibility, so much so that divers have called the dark waters “frightening.” More frightening than the rusty, dark water is an eerie rumor—the lake is said to never give up its dead. This has held remarkably true; bodies claimed by the lake have never been recovered.6

It is thought by some that Lake Pohenegamook is fed by a subterranean lake or river. The reasoning behind this idea is that the lake remains at a consistent water depth, about 135 feet deep, even in periods of heavy snow melt and prolonged periods of drought.7 The possibility of an underground lake or river is an intriguing thought—there are long periods on Lake Pohenegamook without Ponik sightings; however, during those periods of inactivity, lake monster sightings often occur at nearby Lake Temiscouata,8 about 40 miles to the northeast. Could a monster be accessing two different lakes using a subterranean lake, river, or system of caverns?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is possible. The Loch Ness Monster, as well as other cryptids, are speculated to travel using subterranean waterways—in some instances, the underground rivers are believed to have access the ocean.

Sightings

Descriptions of Ponik are in many ways typical of many other lake monsters. The creature is dark in color, up to 40 feet in length, multi-humped, with a horse-like head.9 However, the similarities stop there. Ponik is said to resemble a Chinese dragon, with whiskers10 and a saw-toothed crest running down its spine from head to tail.11 A set of ventral and pectoral fins have also been noted by witnesses. Another major difference with Ponik, when compared to other lake monsters, is that it might be able to move on land. Round, horse-like tracks on land have been reportedly associated with the creature.12

Sightings of Ponik have been a constant since Europeans settled around the lake. In addition, legends of the monster by the native inhabitants of the region tell us that people are seeing something in and around Lake Pohenegamook. As more people settled around the area and a road was built around the lake, sightings predictably increased.13 As more areas of the lake become accessible, more encounters are bound to occur. This has been the case in other lakes such as Loch Ness and Okanagan Lake.

Notable Ponik encounters were recorded in the 1950s. In 1957, there were two reports by eyewitnesses claiming to see a strange creature in Lake Pohenegamook. One of the sightings was a creature that resembled a “long, overturned canoe crossing the lake, leaving a wake behind.”14 The “overturned” canoe reference is a common theme with Ponik sightings. In 1977, Gilles Lavoue and Regis Bouchard saw a creature on the lake. Again, something resembling an “overturned canoe” was how they described the creature.15

Ponik was investigated on behalf of the Quebec Department of Game and Fisheries in 1958. Vadin D. Vladykov traveled to Lake Pohenegamook to investigate a multitude of reports that the Department had received. The reports were of a black or brown creature, measuring 12-35 feet in length, with a saw-toothed fin running along the creature’s backbone. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, Vladykov’s investigation yielded nothing of substance, and his reports were inconclusive.16

Reportedly, a multi–humped creature was observed in the lake in the late 1970s. In 1976, and again in 1977, a creature with three humps was spotted. In 1978, Louise Briand claimed to see a large, black object rise and fall in the water in front of her house before disappearing.17

The late 1970s brought technology into the equation. A sonar trace of a large, serpentine creature was obtained in 1977. Robert Murray, Donald McPhee, and Josef Vykydal were on the lake when a 25-foot long creature was spotted at a depth of about 25 feet. The wary creature disappeared when they started the boat’s motor and tried to follow it.18

Ponik does not have a history of photographs and video footage associated with it the way that the Ogopogo and many other cryptids do. I have heard of one photograph, taken on June 16, 1981, by Sylvie Theriault-Lavoie. She claims that the creature was “moving at a good speed.”19 I have not seen a copy of the photo and cannot comment on its authenticity or whether or not it shows anything definitive regarding the physical characteristics of Ponik.

Allegedly, a mass sighting took place a few years ago. Father Calixte Berube and about 15 other people saw an unusual creature shimmering in the sun. The animal spotted at about 4:00 PM, was said to have saw-toothed back and dorsal fins. It frolicked like a fish, disappearing and then appearing again as it made its way further out in the lake.20

Conclusion

What is Ponik? The descriptions of the creature are certainly unique; the animal seems to fit the description of something prehistoric. In many ways it resembles other serpentine lake monsters, but the differences are noteworthy and striking. The saw-toothed fins running along the backbone, and tracks left on shore would indicate that this is a different species than Ogopogo, Champ, Nessie or others.

What could Ponik be? If it is not something uncategorized, the most likely explanation would be that of a sturgeon. However, in my mind, a sturgeon really doesn’t go far enough to explain the multitude of reports dating back to over a century and a quarter. Furthermore, sturgeons do not walk! If the ‘monster’ is merely a sturgeon, then the tracks that have been reported on shore are unrelated. So then a new question arises; how are the tracks to be explained? What kind creature is leaving tracks along the lake shore?

The monster in Lake Pohenegamook is not spotted as regularly as many other cryptids, so there is not enough data available to come to any firm conclusions about its identity. However, I believe that it is wise to always keep an open mind. Maybe the beast is a large sturgeon, after all, they do have a prehistoric look. However, it would be foolhardy to simply dismiss the numerous eyewitness accounts and Native American legends that date so far back just because a large fish lurks in the cold, murky waters. Keep an open mind, the world is full of possibilities.


End Notes

  1. Scott Francis. Monster Spotter’s Guide to North America. (Cincinnati, Ohio: HOW Books, 2007).
  2. George M. Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. Vol. 2. (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2002), 438.
  3. Tabitca Cope. “Ponik the Monster of Lake Pohenegamook.” Cryptozoo-oscity. July 18, 2009. Accessed January 27, 2015. http://www.cryptozoo-oscity.blogspot.com/2009/07/ponik-monster-of-lake-pohenegamook.html.
  4. Cope, “Ponik the Monster of Lake Pohenegamook.”
  5. Ibid.
  6. “Ponik.” My Etherworld. Accessed January 27, 2015. http://www.myetherworld.com/ponik.htm.
  7. My Etherworld, “Ponik.”
  8. Cope, “Ponik the Monster of Lake Pohenegamook.”
  9. Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, 438.
  10. Francis, Monster Spotter’s Guide to North America.
  11. Cope, “Ponik the Monster of Lake Pohenegamook.”
  12. Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, 438.
  13. Cope, “Ponik the Monster of Lake Pohenegamook.”
  14. Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, 438.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Cope, “Ponik the Monster of Lake Pohenegamook.”
  20. Ibid.

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