The Centre for Fortean Zoology was founded in the UK in 1992 - nearly 20 years ago. Over the past two decades it has expanded to become a truly global organisation. We opened our American office in 2001, our Australian office in 2009, and now - in our 19th year - we are proud to welcome CFZ Canada to the CFZ global family.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Monsters don’t live in your closet. They live in your backyard.

Markham Ontario is not really a suburb of Toronto—it is a city in its own right that lies across the top of Ontario’s largest city. It is home to over a quarter million people as well as businesses like IBM, American Express, and Johnson & Johnson. Settled by American Germans in 1792, it’s habitation by humans grew from the initial 64 families to a primarily Oriental population in its current makeup. The area has evolved from native hunting grounds through agriculture and into tertiary industry.

Within Markham is the 305 acre Milne Dam Conservation Park. The park is lush with vegetation and the Rouge River flows through it, providing fish plentiful enough to support both wildlife and sport fishing. Nicholas Miller purchased the area from a Daniel Cozens who had received the land from the British Crown. The original 200 acres sold for 100 British pounds. Miller, one of the earliest recorded settlers in the area, had already been granted another lot upon his arrival in the Township in 1793, but chose to construct his saw and grist mill on the Rouge River site, largely because of the availability of water power. The property changed hands several times before Peter and Alexander Milne purchased it in 1824. The mill was close to the present site of the Milne Dam and from this mill and its additional fulling mill, woollen mill, ashery and General Store, the town of Markham was born.

The mill was destroyed by fire in 1866. Peter's grandsons, Grant and Archie, rebuilt the gristmill and operated the site until 1933. Near the turn of the 20th century, they produced a famous breakfast cereal call "Wheateen". In 1911, Archie built the first concrete and steel arc dam in Canada on this site. He believed this dam could generate the power for the village but the dam was washed out in 1929 and again in 1954 when Hurricane Hazel hit the area.
The park is nearly surrounded by single family homes, especially on its north and west sides. Fingers of parkland separate cul-de-sacs in several places. In one of these areas, a nightmare lurks. In December 2001, with snow significant on the ground, a couple experienced something that to this day remains unexplained. New to Canada, one
of the witnesses assumed what they saw was a bear—it was dark, stood on two legs, and seemed quite tall. What is now known as “The Markham Monster” was too thin to be a bear.
From the witness:
“ -it's body was svelte--narrower than an ape would be across the shoulders and torso. It was solid as opposed to an apparition, and walked entirely upright with casual stride. If it was human it would be unusually large-at least 6.5 feet but probably closer to 7 or even more. It had a distinct neck area and was able to rotate it's head toward

us clearly. If it was clothed, the clothing was formfitting and not bulky.”

It uttered a deep growl that was more felt than heard. Most significant was the intense fear felt, even in the safety of a car. The couple quickly left. Discovering through further research that bears were unlikely in that area, especially in midwinter, the couple returned several times to try to capture the creature on film with no success. Four years later they encountered this thing in a similar location. This time they were exploring a new housing development in the Stouffville Road area, considerably west and north of the Milne Dam. The area shared some of the same qualities—a housing development bordering on a conservation area through which the Rouge River flows. It is also technically in Markham, although in the Richmond Hill area. This time, the thing rose up slightly in a snow drift and looked directly at the couple with red-orange eyes, possibly reflecting the car headlights. Terrified, the couple left.

When researchers returned to the Stouffville area, the sensation of something present and the intense fear were still present. The couple no longer explores these sorts of areas. Theories abound, but the logical ones are that the creature, whatever it is, probably travels the Rouge Valley which is rich with plenty of sustenance for either an herbivore or a carnivore. It does not hibernate, as it has been seen in the winter. It is not intimidated by urbanization and it doesn’t shy away from interaction. Several residents of the area have also reported something dark and upright that left them feeling terrified.

It doesn’t shy away from human interaction and it lives in their backyards; The very definition of a monster.

Interestingly, an area of Florida that is boundaried by Markham Woods Road and Bridgewater Road (Bridgewater Rd is the Stouffville are where this was experienced) also lies adjacent to a conservation area. This Lake Mary, Florida area is located in Seminole County, about 18 miles north of Orlando. The area has had problems with cattle mutilations since 1996. Do these areas have something more in common than the “coincidence” of location names?

Further Reading:

Monday, 22 August 2011

Waheela Watching

In the Nahanni Valley in Canada’s Northwest Territories lives a legend called the Waheela.

The Nahanni Valley is about 300 miles (500km) west of Yellowknife, and is extraordinarily beautiful. 500-200 million years ago the region was covered by an ancient inland sea. The three mile deep rock and sediment is full of fossils that tell the tale of ancient aquatic life. When the North American and Pacific plates collided, the layers were lifted, giving rocky ridges and ranges and volcanoes pushing molten lava up into igneous batholiths. Glaciers that followed eroded much of the top layer leaving granite towers, gorgeous canyons, and breathtaking waterfalls. Flora and fauna including aspen and spruce forests and alpine tundra provide a home for protected or endangered species like grizzly bears and wood buffalo. The rare plant Nahanni Aster can only be found in this area.

Human habitation began in this area about ten thousand years ago. Evidence has been found of the Naha tribe, a group that mysteriously disappeared. During the Yukon Gold Rush, prospectors who travelled the valley told stories of hauntings and treasures hidden in the area’s 250+ caves. Dehcho First Nations and the Canadian Government oversee the area and maintain it largely as a park system.

The Dene Indians oral history sustains mid 20th century reports of the strange beast called Waheela. This is described as a large, heavy wolf that is also part canine and possibly part bear. It is said to have supernatural powers and to be responsible for many unexplained deaths in the area. Standing three feet high at the shoulder, this large animal is several inches taller than any known wolf with a broad head rather than the narrow wolf head.

Cryptozoologist Ivan Sanderson designated this animal as Amphicyonidae, or beardog. Thought to be extinct, these animals roamed not only North America, but also Europe, Asia, and Africa. These animals were carnivorous and could certainly explain the sudden disappearance of humans. Are they extinct? Some say not in this area of the world. Beardogs live in burrows, so they could easily remain hidden in such a sparsely habited area. Additionally, they are said to have heavy white fur which would help camouflage them in the cold and snowy climate. The cryptozoological label might be in question though; Alaska and most extreme northern areas have white wolves (C. lupus) so it could well be that the sightings can be attributed to unusually large (or erroneously perceived as overly large) perfectly normal wolves.

A hunter friend of Ivan Sanderson once attempted to shoot one of these creatures and the bullet failed to penetrate the thick fur. Local legend states that the Waheela literally bites the heads off of its prey. To further complicate matters, the Waheela is sometimes said to be able to shapeshift into a human form. Regardless of what form it takes, it’s not something you want to encounter.

Monday, 15 August 2011

PSICAN Crypto Day: Lessons Learned

Saturday August 13, 2011, PSICAN (Paranormal Studies and Investigations Canada) held its second Study Day. The topic was, for the first time ever, Cryptozoology. The planning began in the spring, and the room booked and the media blitzed in July. Since I am the division director, this was my baby. Thankfully, my wonderful skeptic of a husband financed the venture (PSCIAN has no source of funding beyond what the members contribute or the occasional donation). Almost immediately my panic began.

I have a great staff. They contribute to this blog, they do papers, they do research, they take witness testimony and when possible, they go into the field. They are some of the brightest folks I have ever met. I had no doubt they would be able to field questions and “talk Crypto” with little trouble. But presenters they are not, with the exception of Dr. Steve, who is a professor. Steve was tasked with putting together a presentation on Aquatic Cryptids and a second on Known/Discovered Cryptids. He did an amazing job putting together a power point but had to learn how to add audio, which proved to be a bit of a challenge. He succeeded with one, and sent the dialogue for the other—so Dana stepped up to the plate and narrated the presentation. Dana has never done audience work and was really nervous. He pulled it off though, and learned a LOT about being in the spotlight! Elvis came with Bigfoot shoved in his car. He had crafted a life sized bigfoot for folks to be photographed with and discuss. Elvis also did a brief talk on Bipedal Cryptids and fielded some tough questions. I think he probably learned that folks are a lot more educated than he thought! For my part I did a history and general overview of Cryptozoology.

We had an amazing venue, but some challenges with our equipment. The projector and laptop, although they have been friends forever and had just run through the presentations the night before, apparently had a falling out and only minimally worked. Many of our folks are also tech geeks so Matthew Didier walked through the audience with a netbook showing the slides while some people viewed them on their iPhones. Lesson: Take the high tech higher and provide a way for smart phones to see the presentation. Also choose a venue that actually is dark with the lights out.

We only charged minimal admission from the public (PSICAN folks get in free to our Study Days but typically contribute some cash to the kitty for costs) and we must have done ok as my husband said we only lost about $50 on the venture. That’s remarkable really since it featured no para celebrities or podcasting ghost busters. Several attendees were people we had only met online via the PSICAN forum or facebook. A couple had just come because they saw an ad or a flier. A good many PSICAN staff with spouses and friends also attended, even though they don’t do the cryptozoology work. A BFRO member was also in attendance and was incredibly well versed. We did manage to teach him something though—we had live demonstrations of how to do plaster foot casting and he got to be the guinea pig. He had never cast before.

As the “experts” though, I think they Cryptozoologists learned more than anyone else. Certainly we learned about the issues with planning and presenting, but we also learned about each other’s specialties. We learned what each other uses in the field—and where we prefer to do field work. We learned that when we are together as a physical team, the possibilities are endless. We learned that there really are intelligent people “out there” who will respectfully listen to what we have to say and share their own thoughts and feelings.

We learned three very important things that day.
We learned that the witnesses and the general public have a lot to teach us.
We learned Cryptozoology is real science, no matter what the “scientists” say.
We learned that we still have a lot to learn.

Photo credits: PSICAN Investigator Tere Altuna

Monday, 8 August 2011

The Canadian Coin Toss

It certainly seems to be the Year of the Cryptid here in Canada. Television is teeming with crypto shows and the public interest in general is increasing. Although actual sightings don't seem to be statistically more than usual, we are getting a lot of "old" reports. These are reports from folks who have experienced something from their childhood or even "last summer on holidays". We can't run out and investigate those sorts of reports, but they are quite valuable. Each report gets archived in our database for use in the study as a whole or for additional evidence should a new sighting occur in the same location. Paranormal Studies and Investigations Canada (PSICAN) is holding its first-ever Crypto Day in Toronto on Saturday (August 13, 2011), open to the public, hoping to help meet the demand for information and education. This week's blog is abbreviated due to our commitment to that event and time constraints.
Additionally, the Royal Mint in Ottawa has begun issuing cryptid-themed coinage for collectors. The first in the series, Sasquatch, is shipped with a map of where the creature was "last seen" which is the first indication that the Mint didn't do much research. The second in the set, Quebec's Memphré, is slightly better researched but the information seems to come from only one source which is troubling. To the Mint's credit, it is marketed under the Nature and Wildlife category rather than something more disrespectful to witnesses and researchers. Sadly, the subcategory is Mythical Creatures and they are marketed as collectibles for kids. This is a three coin set and collectors are speculating that the third coin will be Ogopogo.
Is this set a good thing for Cryptozoology? Will it have any impact at all? Certainly it is not prevalent enough to make an impact worldwide, but putting these coins in hands of collectors is one way to spark interest. Hopefully many who purchase this collection will do further reading and get more factual information than is handed out with the coins. How wonderful it would have been to see a complete set (a better representation of the "beasts" of Canada) issued as circulating coinage.

The Memphré Coin did, however, catch our attention and will lead to an upcoming blog about the creature.

Further Reading: