Posted by: Loren Coleman on June 22nd, 2009
Pugwis Sea Monster Wood / Cedar bark Mask: 15 " w x 24" h Sooke Harbour House Gallery. Artist, Kwagiulth style: Allan Blyth.
John Kirk once wrote an old blog posting about the Thetis Lake Gillman. It is a creature of some interest to me and in line with recent reviews by Xtrox on Merbeings, I revisit this topic today.
The first “monster” encountered two people at Thetis Lake, near the community of Colwood [but apparently mistakenly noted as "Cottonwood" by John Kirk], on Vancouver Island. On August 19, 1972, two young men, Robin Flewellyn and Gordon Pike, were traumatized by a creature resembling the 1954 sci-fi horror film’s “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” which emerged from the lake and attacked them. The thing was silvery gray and possessed webbed hands and feet. It used sharp protrusions on its hands to slash one of the boys who sustained a relatively nasty cut. Then again, at around 3:30 on the afternoon on August 23, 1972, two different young men, Russell van Nice and Michael Gold saw a similar creature come out of Thetis Lake. It was silvery, scaly, and monstrous, with huge ears, sharp projections on its head and an ugly face. Despite its aggressive appearance, it did not attack the two.
During my investigations at the time (I’ve included the case in several of my books), I discovered a nearby under-discussed bit of folklore that appeared to overlap with the Thetis Lake Monster’s description. I found that a similar creature has been reported in nearby Puget Sound in Washington State, as well as folkore from Vancouver Island. It appeared to me that the real sightings of these creatures had drifted, via the traditions of the Kwakwaka’wakw, into the area’s totem and mask art.
The Kwakwaka’wakw/ Kwakiutl / Kwagiulth are situated on the northern part of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It is from here that the lore and artifacts of the Pugwis is found.
The Merman named Pugwis appeared obviously to me to be related to the Thetis Creature’s appearance. While the Pugwis seem to be a cross between Sasquatch and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, they actually have their own body of rich Merbeing lore.
The Pugwis fish-like face and paired incisors make this undersea spirit a prominent figure in First Nations’ legend. It is easily recognized in wood-carved art. Here you will find two examples of Native mask art (above and below) for sale (the artists’ names are clickable). Interestingly, these two examples show spikes on the heads, although interpreted differently by two artists.
Pugwis Yellow Cedar Mask: 11" w x 17" h Black Tusk Gallery Art. Kwak waka’ wakw Artist: Bill Henderson.
Speaking of different interpretations of these creatures, the original newspaper artist’s drawing (at the bottom) of the Thetis Creature can be compared to Harry Trumbore’s sketch. Harry made his sketch under my direction, within the context of the original description (and the original drawing in the paper at the time), plus the broader Merman-Pugwis lore, for The Field Guide of Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates.
You can see from the close-up of the Pugwis head in the Native art, it has some similarities with Trumbore’s imagined Thetis Creature.
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