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The Lake Superior Dragon

The Lake Superior Dragon

Pictograph of Michibeichu at Agawa Rock in Lake Superior Provincial Park.

and Other Stories of Great Lakes Monsters

Scotland has the Loch Ness Monster, British Columbia has Ogopogo, and we've got our own creatures from the deep!

Did you know that Lake Superior has its own stories about a lake monster?

There are many historical references to the Lake Superior Dragon. The references and stories we're sharing with you were sent to us from Ellen Van Laar, who resides on the shores of Lake Superior at Old Mamainse Harbour. Ellen runs a small retreat center called Arts and Adventure. She loves to guide and shuttle, and tell stories about the area. As a painter, she displays many large works at the Algoma University Conservatory of Music near Old Mill Square, under the International Bridge in Sault Ste. Marie.

lake superior mitch paintingMitch is depicted as the “Legend of Superior” 5 by 6’, acrylic, located at Destination North/Algoma Conservatory of Music at 72 Huron, Sault Ste. Marie. Note the Voyageurs above. (Photo credit: Ellen Van Laar)

She is also a photographer, musician, and writer of discussion cards utilizing "Mitch the Dragon" as her main character. You can find these illustrated rhymes and family/group development cards at the Art Gallery of Algoma (Mitch Meets the Animals, Mitch and 12 Archetypes).

painter ellen van laar arts and adventureEllen working in her studio. (Photo credit: Ellen Van Laar)

The Lake Superior Dragon

Peter Unwin has a chapter (the third) about the dragon, Misshepezhieu, in his book called "The Wolf's Head" (Viking, 2003). Below are some references from his book with various descriptions of the creature. These stories leave us with the opportunity to envision the dragon in various ways or as we wish.

  • Jean Allouez wrote about sacrifices to the spirit Missibizi in 1667 to make Sturgeon rise in the water.
  • Nicholaus Perrot called it Michipissy.
  • Reverend T.S.H. Baxter was upset about immigrants and priests discussing the creature.
  • Bishop Baraga (Mishibiji) and Raudot (Mishapoux) refer often to the creature, sometimes calling it a lion or snake. Some say that the power of the entity resides in copper.
  • James Evans in 1838 referred to the creature as the Manitou and that one should stare him in the face to stay alive during a storm.
  • Father Paul LeJeune apparently saw a man catch a large fish-like creature resembling a lizard. The young man he was with made him throw it back into the water, as keeping it could cause storms.
  • Pierre Radisson told stories about a "snake with a head like a turtle."
  • Vincent Germaine saw a dragon that apparently haunted him his entire life.
  • Francis Kellogg said that the dragon had the shape of Lake Superior itself.
  • There are stories in Unwin's book suggesting that the dragon was involved with the Edmund Fitzgerald tragedy. There is a belief among many that the creature lives in caves below the surface of Lake Superior. There are stories about the dragon snatching children from the shore and causing storms when angry. Many First Nation references refer to the dragon as a shape shifter capable of tricking others.
  • Edwin James wrote songs about the creature in 1830.

"As you can see, most of those above are referenced from missionaries and settlers as well as many First Nations. All of these dragon stories have become a part of Canadian history. They started 400 years ago and continue today. It is just recently that the dragon has entered common reference and usage. Before modern times, dragon talk was scary and often taboo."

"Keep in mind that Michibeichu (Mitch) is "medicine" to the Ojibway and that many see him as easily angered. Others see him as fiercely protective, in a positive sense. Often, local Natives offer tobacco, this being as part of a prayer, while asking for safety while on the Lake. He may be part of common folklore, but he's part of the Ojibway Creation Stories and very real." - Ellen

The photo at the beginning of this article is the common pictograph of Michibeichu at Agawa Rock. Ellen advised that sometimes Michibeichu has been referred to as a “Water Lynx” or "Great Water Cat" and others call him a shape shifter. Native stories regarding Michibeichu involve an eagle and a baby. Below is a photo of the storyboard on display near Agawa Rock, but there are many other aspects to it.

agawarock pictographs signI took Ellen's suggestion to Google serpents and dragons on the Great Lakes and I found many reference stories to the Lake Superior Dragon. I found references to Pressie the Lake Superior Sea Serpent, The Great Serpent, and the Underwater Panther. (Photo credit: Ellen Van Laar)

I decided to Google serpents and dragons for all the Great Lakes. Below is what I found:

Great Lakes Serpents and Dragons

Lake Ontario: "Gaasyendietha", a Seneca legend, is a serpent-like creature that inhabited this lake's waters. On August 14, 1829, the Kingston Gazette and Religious Advocate reported children playing on the beach near Grantham (now St. Catharine's) who spotted a hideous water snake. You can read the article from the Torontosit here: Toronto Urban Legends: The Great Serpent of Lake Ontario

Lake Erie: South Bay Bessie has been spotted on both the Canadian side and Pennsylvania side of the lake. The first recorded sighting of Bessie occurred in 1793, as a snake-like grayish creature.

Lake Huron: Ojibway legends tell of the water monster "Mishebeshu" (great lynx), who is said to have an underwater den near the mouth of the Serpent River that flows into Lake Huron.

Lake Michigan: I couldn't find any reference to a lake serpent on this particular great lake. Do you know of any rumoured creature? Let us know...

Recently, I was contacted by Quinn Meawasige, who provided me with further insight as to what the Pictograph represents to the Anishinabe People: "The pictograph represents a water spirit/being that lived within Lake Superior. The Anishinabe People whom lived along the Great Lakes did not refer to Machu Pichu as a dragon. That is a misinterpretation of the Great Water Cat or Great Lynx of Lake Superior."

I Googled "Great Water Cat" and found this website which will give you more information: http://www.chi-manidoo.com/gichigami2.html

Note the many differences of the legends that came from the First Nations who lived here, and the interpretations and translations made by the first explorers, settlers, and missionaries. Differences in cultures and language played a major role in the many stories that exist today, but the common denominator in the legends and stories is the powerful effect that Lake Superior has on the people who live and visit here.

There are many stories told about Lake Superior that enhance its mystique and beauty. If you'd like to explore Lake Superior's waters and shores, here are some ideas for trips that you can plan:

- Plan a Canoe or Kayak trip
- Hike Lake Superior Provincial Park (the Michibeichu pictograph is depicted on Agawa Rock)
- Tour the coastline of Lake Superior by motorcycle, car, or RV - www.touralgoma.com
- Sandy Beach Eco-Interpretive Park

Busy Dragon” 4 by 4’with Lake Superior in her wings. (Photo credit: Ellen Van Laar)
Global Warming Dragon” 3 by 5’ is located at the Great Lakes Research Center, Sault Ste. Marie. It illustrates that historically Mitch was known to occupy the Batchawana River watershed. Mitch is experiencing the researchers. The researchers are learning about Mitch. (Photo credit: Ellen Van Laar)

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Sault-Ste Marie is a 7 hour drive from Toronto

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