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8 Mythical Canadian Monsters

It’s got a reputation for friendly faces and impeccable manners, but Canada is still, by and large, a vast and wild place. So it should come as no surprise to hear that it has its very own cultural pantheon of legendary beasts. Although some of them seem awfully similar to certain European creatures of lore and began as folktales brought across the ocean by settlers, other legends stem from aboriginal myths. A few have originated in the modern era, describing monsters that were first sighted—and sometimes even photographed—within recent memory.

1. CADDY

For over 200 years, people in the coastal region of British Columbia have been spotting this Pleisosaur-looking sea serpent (supposedly pictured above) with the head of a horse or sometimes a camel, small flippers in the front, and either a large pair of flippers in the back or a powerful tail with a flipper on the end. Cadborosaurus, or “Caddy” for short, is named after Cadboro Bay on Vancouver Island, where it supposedly likes to hang out, and theories on it abound: Folks have explained it away as a pipefish, a giant oarfish, a basking shark, and even a sea lion. At least nine carcasses have surfaced that people have purported to be “caddies,” although they usually turn out to be sharks or small whales. In 2009, fisherman Kelly Nash took a video of what he claims to be Caddy. Interestingly, the native tribes in Alaska, just to the northwest of B.C., tell a tale about a similar creature, and they once painted its image on canoes in hopes of warding it off.

2. WENDIGO

Wendigo, or sometimes windigo, is an evil human-like demon who, it was believed by the Algonquin tribes of the Great Lakes region of Canada, can turn humans into cannibals by possessing them. It was thought that a human could also become a wendigo just by participating in cannibalism, and as such, it was considered preferable by the native people to kill yourself rather than resort to cannibalism, if the necessity should arise.

Wendigos are easy to spot: They’re extremely tall and emaciated, with yellowed, rotting skin and sunken eyes, and they hang out in freezing forests, looking for people who might be starving enough to eat another person. The wendigo was also a symbol of greed, and the legend was clearly terrifying to some: In 1907, a Cree chief and medicine man named Jack Fiddler and his brother Joseph were charged with the murder of 14 people—the brothers claimed they were all wendigos or about to turn into them. Despite widespread appeals for his release, Jack either hung himself or died of consumption (sources differ) soon after, age 87.

3. MUSSIE A.K.A. HAPYXELOR

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Canada loves its lake monsters, which makes sense for a country that has about 2 million lakes. Named after its home of Muskrat Lake, about 70 miles northwest of Ottawa, Mussie’s most interesting attribute is that nobody can seem to agree what it looks like. Sometimes Mussie looks like a walrus, sometimes a big sturgeon, sometimes a three-eyed Nessie. Sometimes it has legs and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it has a mouth full of sharp teeth and sometimes it just has a single glorious one in front. But all accounts agree that it’s a creature named Mussie—probably because it was originally called Hapyxelor and everyone agreed that that was too hard to say. Although no one can explain what Mussie is, no one seems to be afraid of it either, with nearby villages treating it as a cultural mascot and referencing it in travel pamphlets.

4. WAHEELA

Waheelas are gigantic wolves with wider heads, spread-out toes, and long white fur, much like the prehistoric dire wolves. They are said to hang out in the Northwest Territories, specifically the remote Nahanni Valley, and their hobbies include ripping your head off. So established is this rep, in fact, that the area has been nicknamed “The Valley of the Headless Men,” due to more than a few cases of decapitated corpses turning up there. All of these murders, of course, have been blamed on the wily waheela, who allegedly stands 4 feet at the shoulder. Like Caddy, this monster bears a strong resemblance to a mythical Inuit creature, one called an amarok: They’re pretty much the same idea, except the amarok is gray and is less about ripping your head off than it is about just eating you for being dumb enough to hunt alone in the dark. Tough but fair.

5. THE THETIS LAKE MONSTER

This is another lake monster, but it’s not your standard-issue dinosaur-in-a-lake. This creature is known as “Canadian Lizard Man” and he looks like a sleestak mixed with Gill-Man, a.k.a. the Creature from the Black Lagoon (above). Located (supposedly) in Thetis Lake on Vancouver Island, he’s really just a short guy with silvery-blue scales and barbed fins down his back. He’s only been sighted once, by two teenaged boys in 1972, one of whom said he was slashed by the monster’s webbed claws. (Four days later, two men said they’d seen the same thing on the other side of the lake, but they later recanted, and in 2011 a Canadian fisherman supposedly encountered it, but that account is vague.) The story may have caught some air because of its similarity to a native legend from nearby Haidi Gwaii (a.k.a. the Queen Charlotte Islands) that is essentially the same concept, except the Haida monster has two tails and a hat.

6. OLD YELLOW TOP

Old Yellow Top is just a blonde Sasquatch who hangs out in Ontario instead of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. Originally reported in a newspaper in 1906 and sometimes called a “pre-Cambrian shield man,” OYT is often mistaken for a bear, until people get a load of its yellow mane and talent for running around on two legs instead of four. The beast’s fur is dark everywhere except its head, and it’s said to rock a shoulder-length hairdo. For a while, it was sighted about once every 20 or 25 years, but its last cameo was in 1970, when it walked across the road in front of a vehicle carrying a group of miners and almost caused the driver to plunge down a rock cut.

7. ADLET

Adlets are another Inuit invention—they’re human people with dog’s legs, who can run fast like dogs, and are said to be the product of a union between a woman and a giant dog. When this legendary woman birthed 10 puppies, she let five of them run across the ice, which, the story goes, became the original Europeans. The five that stayed behind became abominations and spent their time infighting and wandering the tundra, searching for Inuit villages to feast upon. Ethnologist Franz Boas recorded several native tales about adlets while traveling in Baffin Island and published them in 1889. Correlations were made to other cultures’ stories of half-human/half-dog creatures, including those of the Dakelh tribe of British Columbia and the indigenous Chukchi people in Siberia.

8. LE LOUP-GAROU

The French word loup-garou translates to werewolf, but in French Canada, it denotes a very specific kind of werewolf. The Quebecois know le loup-garou as the unfortunate soul who failed to complete his religious duties in time for Easter—not once but seven years in a row. His miserable state may also be punishment for the crimes of either making a pact with the Devil or planting potatoes on a Sunday.

Despite the name, the loup-garou doesn’t have to be a wolf and can take the form of a pig, a cat, a calf, an ox, or another animal. Most of the other werewolf rules apply to this monster, though: He takes on his animal form only at night, then goes around trying to eat people. If a loup-garou attacks you, you’re supposed to throw rocks at it or stab it with a knife—if you can manage to draw blood, the curse will be broken and the monster will revert to its human form. Afterwards, neither side can talk about it or you both run the risk of turning into loup-garous.

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Food
A Brief History of Poutine
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Walk down a street after a hard night of drinking in Montréal and you’d be hard-pressed not seeing someone gorging themselves on poutine, a high-calorie classic staple of Québécois casse-croûtes—or “greasy spoon”—cuisine.

Just what is poutine, you ask? The delicious Canadian dish is comprised of a holy-hoser trinity of ingredients: French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Try some yourself and you’ll be hooked. It’s become so popular that it’s readily available at certain restaurants in the U.S. (Lucky New Yorkers can get their hands on some traditional poutine at Brooklyn restaurant Mile End.) Otherwise, the dish has become so ubiquitous in its home province that even McDonald’s and Burger King sell it as a side.

Much like the debate in the U.S. about the origins of the hamburger, poutine has similarly unclear beginnings. The most widespread claim for inventing poutine comes from the small dairy-farming town of Warwick, Québec, where, in 1957, a customer asked restaurateur Fernand Lachance to throw cheese curds and French fries—items the owner sold separately at his restaurant L’Idéal (later renamed Le lutin qui rit, or “The Laughing Elf”)—together in one bag because the customer was in a rush. Legend has it when Lachance peered into the bag after the two ingredients were mixed together, he remarked, “This is a ‘poutine,’” using the joual—or Québécois slang—for a "mess.”

Noticeably absent from Lachance’s cobbled-together recipe is the gravy ingredient, which was added to the mix in 1964 when a restaurant-owner in nearby Drummondville, Quebec named Jean-Paul Roy noticed a few of his diners ordering a side of cheese curds to add to the patented gravy sauce and fries dish at his restaurant, Le Roy Jucep. Roy soon added the three-ingredient item on his menu and the rest is delicious, gravy-soaked history.

Eventually, poutine spread across the province and throughout Canada—with different combinations added to the fries, curds, and gravy recipe—but the original remains the most recognized and honored. It even initially made its way to the United States by way of New Jersey, where an altered recipe known as “Disco Fries” substitutes shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese for the Canadian curds.

But if you ever find yourself in Montréal and have a hankering for greasy food, be sure to order it correctly. Anglophones usually pronounce the word as “poo-teen,” but if you want to pass for a real Québécois, it’s pronounced “poo-tin.”  

This story originally ran in 2013.

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language
15 Colorful Canadian Slang Terms
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Americans looking to take a trip across their country's northern border might find themselves bewildered by some Canadian turns of phrase. It is, after all, a place where people go out for a rip to the beer store and plunk down their loonies to pick up a two-four. Pretty confusing, eh? But fear not. For all you keeners who want to learn how to speak like a Canuck, here’s a handy chart to help you master Canadian slang, courtesy of Expedia.ca.

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