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Is this what’s behind the legendary Mazinaw Lake monster?

a photo of a lakeside cliff on Mazinaw Lake at Bon Echo Provincial Park Photo by Protasov VL/Shutterstock

Mazinaw Lake is home to towering, expansive cliff faces, waters that reach around 500 feet in depth, and the largest collection of Indigenous pictographs found anywhere in southeastern Ontario. Fitting with the lake’s majestic qualities, it is also home—locals claim—to a monster of mythical proportions.

Dubbed “The Mazinaw monster,” the creature is described as a massive eel-like fish. It is supposedly living out its days in this long, narrow lake in the Addington Highlands, eating fish and scaring innocent cottagers. It also lives in the imaginations of Lake Mazinawians who, while gliding along the lake’s surface on waterskis or doggy paddling out to their rafts, take an extra second to scan the horizon or peer below the surface in wary anticipation of a slithering tail, a toothy maw, or flash of silvery scales.

For some Mazinaw residents and cottagers though, the monster is more than a legend. Steve Smart, owner of Smart’s Marina on Mazinaw Lake, remembers multiple incidents, one experienced first-hand by his mother, Barb, and brother, Kevin.

As Steve tells it, one night in 1976, Barb and Kevin were out on lower Mazinaw when “a large rolling shadow emerged out from the side of the boat,” says Steve. The pair remembers the unidentifiable creature being roughly the size of an overturned canoe.

Years later, on July 24, 2002, Barb was talking to a vacationing family who, after a long day of tubing, had reported seeing “a large object surface just a short distance away.” According to Steve, the mother said it had plate-like scales and was huge in comparison to anything she had ever seen on the lake before.

Having caught her own glimpse of the monster several years before, Barb asked the woman whether it had looked like an overturned canoe. “Without hesitation the reply was ‘Bigger. Way bigger,’” says Steve. “The mom of the visiting family refused to swim in the lake after that.”

The legendary monster has also been spotted from the air. “[Years ago] when they were installing hydro poles on the upper Mazinaw, it was done by helicopter. A pilot reported seeing large shadows in the water on the sandy flat shoal area near Brown’s Trailer Park,” says Steve.

These stories are not isolated incidents, however. Ian Brummel, director of the Community Foundation for Lennox and Addington, says that the legend of the Mazinaw monster can be traced back to the late 1800s when loggers reported a very large fish thrashing in the narrows as well as in Tapping’s Bay. “The local stories suggest that the monster is a giant sturgeon, which somehow migrated from the Ottawa River,” says Brummel.

He also recalls an incident from about 40 years ago involving the so-called monster. “Someone was paddling around the upper Mazinaw and this huge thing appeared beside the canoe resembling a giant log.”

In 84 years, Ian has never laid eyes on the monster himself but has heard “splashing” and “thrashing” on the lake at night. “I guess one can rationalize these sounds as a flock of loons, but I like to think of them as the playing of the Mazinaw monster.”

While a rambunctious flock of loons may account for splashing and thrashing in the night, Adam Weir, a fisheries biologist with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, has other ideas about what the Mazinaw monster might be. 

“If I had to pin it down, it wouldn’t surprise me if people were encountering a northern pike…or the Loch Ness monster,” Weir jokes.

But in all seriousness, Weir has a plethora of convincing reasons as to why the legendary Mazinaw monster is most likely the very real and well-documented northern pike, which can weigh up to 40 pounds. Northern pike can grow to be over four feet long and are slender in shape, possibly accounting for the Mazinaw monster’s eel-like descriptions,” says Weir. “Similar to their cousin the muskellunge, northern pike are also the source of many colourful fishing tales.”

“I remember hearing stories as a kid of a northern pike’s tail being the size of a canoe paddle and their bodies being as big as a canoe,” says Weir. “They’re known to consume smaller fish species but also mice, muskrat, and even ducklings, so you can see how you might watch a duckling get pulled under water and think ‘there’s gotta be a monster under there,’ right?”

He also wonders if a large lake trout (which are abundant in the waters of Mazinaw) could also be the culprit. The scientific name for lake trout, which can grow to be over four feet long, is Salvelinus namaycush, says Weir. “Namaycush is actually an Indigenous term that means ‘tyrant of the lake,’ which is interesting because if you look back through time, people have described it as something big and extravagant,” Weir says. 

As for the popular oversized lake sturgeon theory, Weir is doubtful. “Between Mazinaw Lake and the Ottawa River exist tributaries that hold natural obstacles for fish, such as rapids and waterfalls, but also hydro power facilities that hinder fish movement for species like lake sturgeon,” says Weir. “Because of these factors affecting their population, the chances of lake sturgeon existing in Mazinaw Lake are pretty low.”

“Usually, there’s a reasonable explanation for these things, and that’s why leaning towards what we know about the lake, and the fish species that we know exist there, can provide far better examples of what the monster could potentially be,” says Weir.

At the end of the day, the true identity of the Mazinaw monster remains a mystery. But whether it’s an undiscovered creature of monstrous proportions or a toothy predator like the northern pike, we’d be weary of whatever it is that lurks in the depths of Mazinaw Lake too.