Lake Simcoe is a mere hour’s drive north of the thriving metropolis of Toronto, Ontario, Canada which boasts a population of three million people. Yet despite its proximity to Canada’s largest city and its many denizens, Lake Simcoe holds a secret that has been revealed to only a select few over the years.
Canada is an unusual country in that it contains more lakes containing unidentified swimming animals than any other country in the world. Lake Simcoe is one of those lakes. Its unusual inhabitant has been given the nickname Igopogo – an obvious parody of the name bestowed upon the aquatic marvel of Okanagan Lake, British Columbia. As Igopogo has been frequently sighted in Kempenfelt Bay on the northwestern side of this roughly circular lake, it is also known as Kempenfelt Kelly.
Those who have obtained a sighting of the reticent and elusive beast have described it as having a stove-pipe neck with a head resembling that of a dog and with a face to match. The largest specimen sighted was a mere 12 feet long – a small enough creature when compared with the lurking hulks said to dwell at Loch Ness and Okanagan Lake. This midget-sized monster is also a much slower swimmer than the other more illustrious denizens of cryptid-infested lakes. Igopogo only appears to amble along at a leisurely pace when spotted by surprised humans. the animal has a penchant for gliding up to startled picnickers on shore and has manifested itself to unwary boaters who are frequently overwhelmed by the creature’s sudden manifestation.
However to add confusion to the mix, a few sightings and a couple of sonar contacts have revealed an animal that is larger than the one described above. A Handful of people have described a more serpentine creature so the question that begs to be asked is: Does Lake Simcoe, like Storsjon in Sweden and Flathead Lake in Montana, contain more than one type of cryptid?
It is thanks to a boater that the mystery of Lake Simcoe may have been partially solved. For years Igopogo would mesmerize all and sundry who saw the cryptid, but the eyewitness descriptions of the beast did not tally with those of creatures seen elsewhere. It was readily apparent that what was being described was more mammalian in appearance than the reptilian or amphibian-type cryptids seen at Lakes Champlain, Pohenegamook, Memphremagog and Okanagan. The brown colouring and the dog-like face were at odds with the horse or sheep-like heads of other freshwater cryptids and the shortness of body length in comparison with the bigger creatures seemed to indicate that this was not your run-of-the-mill lake monster or sea serpent of yore. Instead the scenario featured a mammal which seemed to be very unusual and extremely shy. Igopogo sightings are very rare and only surpassed for infrequency by that other low-profile beast – Manipogo of the Manitoba lake systems.
Few cryptozoologists had probed the waters of Lake Simcoe in search of Igopogo and one of those who did investigate was BCSCC President, John Kirk. Having circled the entire periphery of the lake as well as the fringes of adjacent Lake Couchiching, Kirk found no trace of any unusual activity at the lake and was of the opinion that whatever once dwelt in Lake Simcoe had died or had migrated elsewhere. Few reports had emanated from the lake since the 1970s so it was not unreasonable that Igopogo was no longer resident in the lake.
Kirk’s opinion changed in 1991 when he was shown a videotape of a cryptid in Lake Simcoe shot the same year. In March of that year, Kirk had appeared on a television talk show along with a panel of cryptozoologists and eyewitnesses to anomalous zoological phenomena. Among the participants was an Englishman named Don Hepworth who spoke of his encounter with a pair of Sasquatch crossing a remote Idaho highway. Kirk, who is also British was pleased to meet a fellow countryman who had had his own experience with a cryptid in North America. The two men spoke about general cryptozoological topics after the program and then parted ways. Several months later, Hepworth called Kirk with the news that he had been contacted by a viewer who had seen the cryptozoological chat show. The viewer indicated that he was in possession of a videotape of mystery animal in Lake Simcoe and “would Hepworth like to have a look at it?”
Naturally, the former British army officer leapt at the chance and a meeting was arranged to view the tape. It seems the cameraman was enjoying a day of taping a friend as he raced his powerful hydroplane around the lake in preparation for a future race. During the trials the hydroplane experienced a breakdown at the southern end of the lake and was forced to make repairs while still out in the lake. As the racer lifted the front hatch of his boat, those on shore watching and recording the scene noticed a sudden disturbance in the water immediately in front of the boat. Suddenly, a large animal rose vertically out of the water, shocking the driver of the boat and bemusing the others on shore. There was a moment of panic and indecision amongst the viewers as they pondered what to do about what was clearly a monstrous animal much larger than the beavers sometimes seen in the lake. After gazing at the driver for a few moments the creature sunk downwards and peered upward with only its head visible above the surface. Shortly thereafter, the creature sank out of sight not to return.
Hepworth was sufficiently impressed by the footage that he contacted Kirk and asked him to examine the videotape and let him know what he thought was causing the unusual apparition in the lake. On receiving the tape Kirk immediately got down to the task of identifying the mystery resident of Lake Simcoe and ran the tape over and over again as he attempted to make sense of what he was seeing. Having worked at an oceanarium for four years Kirk was familiar with most of the pinnipedia (sea lions, seals, elephant seals and leopard seals amongst others) and was convinced that what was seen in the video was one of the types of pinniped named above. As to its exact identity, there was insufficient clarity in the video to precisely identify the species. this seal or sea lion was a big specimen possibly measuring between 9 and 12 feet long and had the muzzle so often associated with Igopogo, but it was also very sea lion-like at the same time.
Kirk got back to Hepworth who then asked him what he thought the creature resembled and the BCSCC president immediately replied he thought it was a pinniped of some sort. Hepworth said that it was exactly what he thought it was. It seems that Hepworth had read of other reports of seals appearing in areas such as the Niagara River, the St. Lawrence seaway and some of the other Ontario lakes that were all hundreds of miles from the sea. How had these seals managed to move so far inland and how did they survive for so long? Igopogo the seal remains somewhat of a mystery, but the probe at Lake Simcoe continues. So far the seals have not been located nor have any traces of their presence been discovered. It may well be that they move around Simcoe and to other nearby lakes and as they are air breathers have no problem crossing areas of dry land from one body of water to the next.
In 2005 skeptics and also BCSCC members, Joe Nickell and Ben Radford, were featured in a Discovery Channel segment on the Lake Simcoe creature. Despite maintaining an open mind, Nickell and Radford were unable to find any evidence of the creature’s recent activity.