From a lookout above the Harrison River Valley in southwestern British Columbia, dense forest stretches to the snow-capped Coast Mountains on the Pacific coast. Thick with towering western red cedars, hemlocks and Sitka spruces, the wilderness continues almost uninterrupted as far north as Alaska.
Beyond roads and hiking trails, the terrain quickly becomes impassable, punctuated by rugged mountains that plunge into glacier-carved lakes. This secluded valley 130km east of Vancouver evokes an ancient land filled with mystery and possibility, and some believe it is home to the world’s most famous cryptid – Sasquatch, Canada’s Bigfoot.
I had arrived at the viewpoint in an all-terrain vehicle with Bhima Gauthier, who leads tours to places in the area where sightings have been reported.
“I can’t say for sure that they’re real,” he said. “I feel like there has to be some truth behind it all. And there are a lot of stories, especially here, we have a very rich mythology.”
There have been 37 notable sightings of Sasquatch near the town of Harrison Hot Springs since 1900. Called Bigfoot in the United States, and Yeti or metoh kangmi (“wild snowman”) in the Himalayas, Sasquatch is a tall, hairy, bipedal, primate-like creature of contested existence. Regular sightings have kept the popular legend alive, but it is now told from an Aboriginal perspective. The change is driven by public interest in the idea of a Sasquatch rooted in spirituality and symbolism, rather than sensationalism. The creature is considered sacred to West Coast First Nations, especially the Sts’ailes (sta-hay-lis), who have lived in the Harrison River Valley for at least 10,000 years.
To sate growing curiosity, Harrison Hot Springs opened a Sasquatch Museum inside its visitor center in 2017 and worked with Sts’ailes member Boyd Peters, who provided insight into Sts’ original acquisitions. wings, including a drum and a replica of Sasquatch’s wooden mask. . Other exhibits explain the Sts’ailes’ belief in Sasquatch as guardian of the earth and totem of their nation (a stylized image of Sasquatch is found on the flag of the Sts’ailes). These exhibits are juxtaposed with casts of Sasquatch footprints, news clippings of sightings dating back to 1884, and a logbook of reported local encounters. Since the museum opened, tourist numbers at the visitor center have doubled to 20,000 a year, and the resort community has received a C$1 million government grant to build an expanded museum and visitor center that will aim to balance the storytelling of Western observation. stories with the stories and mythology of the Sts’ailes. Its opening is scheduled for 2023.