Sea Monsters

False Creek shark. Daily World, 7 July 1905. (click to enlarge)

Eight-year-old Harry Menzies was wading in the water just below Cotton’s Mill near the mouth of False Creek on the evening of 5 July 1905. A friend was on the shore skipping rocks, but not paying attention to Harry. Fortunately, a Mr. Dusenberry was nearby and noticed a wave approaching Harry, getting faster and faster. When he saw a dorsal fin emerge from the muddy water, Dusenberry shouted for the boy to get out of the water, grabbed a pike pole, and raced down to the beach. Harry Menzies scurried out of the water with an 11’ 4” shark close behind. Dusenberry plunged the pike pole into the grounded shark, but this only angered it, according to the Daily World:

Enraged by the pain the shark opened its mouth and showed the most formidable set of dentistry he had ever seen – something like a man would expect in a horrible nightmare. Without hesitation, Mr. Dusenberry jammed the pike pole down the animal’s throat and into its entrails. Afterward, when measurements were taken, it was found that the pike pole had gone eight feet down the shark’s throat.

Dusenberry struggled to pull the shark out of the water, but to no avail. The boys, meanwhile, ran to get help. A few other men soon arrived, but they only managed to disembowel the “vicious monster” with the pike pole. The shark writhed at the water’s edge for another hour and a half before finally expiring. Witnesses said “it must have bled nearly a barrel of gore.”

The next day, a crew of 20 men were recruited to haul the 1100 lb shark carcass out of the water. The enterprising Dusenberry “recognized the Barnum possibilities” of the situation and used old sails to fabricate a tent with a sign that read “10 cents to see the big shark.” A local exhibitor offered to buy the shark for $50, but Dusenberry decided to wait and see if the Art, Historical and Scientific Association would make a similar offer.

The World reporter spoke with Captain Anderson, who was sure the shark was of the “genuine man-eating Hawaiian variety,” 3400 miles from its home turf. Anderson figured it must have followed some vessel all the way from the south seas.  

Rev. Ebenezer Robson ca. 1867. BC Archives #B-01416

After reading the dramatic shark tale in the Daily World, an old timer named Rev. Dr. Ebenezer Robson provided the paper with an account of his first visit to Burrard Inlet. Robson was one of the first Methodist missionaries in British Columbia and the brother of John Robson.

On 3 March 1862, Ebenezer left his home in Nanaimo on a small whale boat with a crew of two native men to attend a church meeting in New Westminster. He found the Fraser River clogged with ice and so decided to make his way to Port Moody and hike the military trail into the Royal City. When he reached the first narrows in Burrard Inlet, Robson realized his boat was in the path of an excited pod of whales that he concluded had been surveying the area. He wrote:

The narrowness of the passage, shallowness of the water and swiftness of the out-rushing tide, combined with the strangeness of the place, had produced a panic among the sea monsters. I did not carefully count them – was much too excited, not to say scared, to do so – but, referring to my diary, I see that I estimated them at about 20. In my calmer moments, and far removed from danger of unpleasant contact, I should say more likely half that number. But there were enough, and too many, for my comfort and safety.

As they suddenly broke water in front of me, my hair went pretty near the perpendicular and, pulling the helm of the boat at right angles with the keel, I gave the whales the passage, running my craft ashore as quickly a possible. Some of them seemed to be very large, say 60 or 70 feet in length, and some not more than 25 feet.

Photo of the First Narrows illustrating "The Sea-serpent" in Legends of Vancouver by E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake), 1911 (click on photo). This is the same spot Ebenezer Robson encountered a whale pod in 1862.

They rose out of the water to quite a height, plunged, surged and lashed about in wildest confusion; fairly jumping over each other in some cases. The waves caused by them made my little boat dance in lively style, waking up my Indians in a trice, the sight filling us with consternation.

They soon swept past, however, and when they reached the still waters of English Bay, all flopped over on their sides and lay as if dead, floating on the surface of the water in the sunshine. I have seen a good many whales in my time, and sometimes been unpleasantly near to them when cutting up their peculiar antics, but never before or since have I seen anything like the sight of that morning.

The next whale sighting in Burrard Inlet was in 2009, when a fin whale was impaled on the bow of a monstrous cruise ship near Alaska and dragged to Vancouver harbour.

15 thoughts on “Sea Monsters

  1. Always enjoy “sea monster” tales. The False Creek flats/Burnaby Lake one in Legends of Vancouver stands out.

    There were also documented sightings of Killer Whales in Burrard Inlet in 1913, the 1940s and 1981. I believe the ’81 pod had 20 members.
    Have always wanted to see a killer whale in the inlet– although I guess it might not be a good thing for them if they enter it.

  2. Yeah I wouldn’t have known about the orca sightings if not for the book Vancouver: A Visual History, which I’m sure you’ve heard of.
    Unfortunately I couldn’t find precise dates for the sightings, as they were only represented on maps, which makes researching them a tad difficult.
    Mind, I’ll have to check the book’s sources again and report back.

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  4. Pingback: Urban Animal Field Research: Whale Watching in Vancouver « Sean Kheraj, Canadian History & Environment

  5. Lani – are you sure it wasn’t a juvenile basking shark? That’s more likely given its location and the fact that basking sharks were once rife on the coast (until killed off by the federal government who is now trying to rescue them).

  6. hmmm … it’s possible. I guessed Tiger Shark mostly because of its weight and length, but also because of the sailor who said it was the kind commonly found in Hawaii and because it sounds like the shark was going after the kid for dinner, which a basking shark wouldn’t do.

  7. Pingback: Urban Animal Field Research: Whale Watching in Vancouver « Sean Kheraj, Canadian History and Environment

  8. Pingback: Vancouver Was Awesome: Shark Attack, 1925 — Vancouver Is Awesome

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