"Up there," says Kelsey Charlie, pointing to the cliffs above Harrison Lake,
"is a Sasquatch." Not, alas, a real Sasquatch - the mysterious, apelike
creature, said to inhabit this part of Canada - but a painting of one thousands of years old.
It's too wet for us to climb up and have a look but Kelsey does have a
photo showing a red ochre drawing of a humanoid figure with huge hands and
Fortunately, we were able to visit several other ancient rock paintings, said
to range from 3000 to 7000 years old, illustrating other stories from the area's history.
There is also a scary picture of a Sasquatch on the aluminium boat the Charlie family uses for its Sasquatch Tours cultural experience. "I took one of our artists up there and got him to copy it and make a picture of the Sasquatch we
could use as our symbol and this is what he came up with."
Later in our cruise he also shows us the mountain from which the Sasquatch
"That is the place where, according to legend, the Sasquatch congregate," he
says, pointing to a thickly forested hump rising out of the lake. "It is called Sasquatch.
"The man who publicised the legend of a hairy beast was John W Burns who was the Indian Agent here for 20 years.
"He heard the stories and invited people to come here and look for it. But he
couldn't say the real name which is" - and here he pronounces a word which I
couldn't even attempt to reproduce - "so he used the name of the mountain
where they gather."
Ever since then, people have been coming to this part of the world to try to
find the creature Burns had talked about.
When we first arrive in the little settlement of Agassiz, where the Charlie family is based, the warmth of their huge longhouse with its giant potbelly stove and tables spread with grilled salmon and slices of cake, makes the thought of strange apelike beings seem a bit, well, silly.
But Kelsey's traditional song of welcome, accompanied by the throbbing beat of a hand drum, evokes the spirit of ancient times when spirits walked the earth.
And outside, in a landscape dominated by rugged mountains, gloomy forests and looming mists, it is all too easy to imagine that mysterious creatures could wander here undetected.
Sasquatch Tours doesn't take tourists specifically in search of the Sasquatch but on a journey through the wildlife, rock paintings, archaeological sites and
legends of the Salish people who have lived here for 9000 years.
As the boat moves around the lake almost every landmark inspires a story.
An oval marking on a rock face evokes an ancient legend about a magical mask given to his ancestors by the underwater people. A rocky overhang turns out to
conceal a cave, with numerous ancient paintings, where "the old people went to get power".
Another cliff face carries "the only known picture of the transformer spirit". We clamber over the slippery rocks to see a drawing resembling a white snake
with black dots, a sight so intriguing that we don't notice the boat drifting
away from the shore.
A whale-shaped rock is a whale turned to stone by the powerful transformer spirit because of its greed.
Kelsey also explains that the Sasquatch is one of four spiritual beings acknowledged by the local people, the others being the two-headed serpent, the
thunderbird and the little people.
Many people have seen the Sasquatch, he says, and many more have seen its
Several locals in our group chime in with their own Sasquatch stories. Dr
Linnea Battel, director of the nearby Xa:ytem cultural centre, says, "I've never seen one but my auntie did. She lived in an isolated area where they were often around. She said their odour is so strong you can smell when they are near."
Audry Lochrie, who runs Talking Totem Tours, recalls seeing footprints when she was 11. "I remember my dad taking me to see them and they were huge. I could easily fit both of my feet inside."
What I didn't know until later was that Kelsey has also seen a Sasquatch
though he doesn't like to talk about it.
The Toronto Star newspaper recently ran an interview with his elder brother Willie Clarlie explaining, "My people believe in Sasquatch. We do not require proof because we know he exists.
"I've seen their footprints but I've never seen a Sasquatch. Seeing one is considered a great gift.
"My brother Kelsey and a companion saw an adult and its little one in 2005. He
watched the adult drinking from the creek and offering water to its young, using its hand."
I don't know whether the Sasquatch does exist but I rather hope it does. It would be dispiriting to think we already know everything about the world we inhabit.
Jim Eagles visited Canada with help from Air NZ, House of Travel and Tourism British Columbia
GETTING THERE: Air New Zealand now flies non-stop Auckland to Vancouver. See www.airnew zealand.co.nz, call 0800 737 000 or visit an Air New Zealand Holidays Store.
GETTING AROUND: Harrison Hot Springs is best reached by rental car from Vancouver. House of Travel can provide British Columbia packages including
accommodation in Vancouver and hire of a rental car to explore the area. Ring 0800 838 747 or www.houseoftravel.co.nz.
Sasquatch Tours is at www.sasquatchtours.com.