Word and Images by Greg Mansfield
There’s a strong Indigenous legacy, an interesting settler history, and a long record of Sasquatch sightings on Cormorant Island.
Cormorant Island lies in the waterways between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland. My wife, father, and I visited there in the late summer of 2023. We were all enchanted by its gorgeous scenery and the friendliness of its residents.
The Namgis First Nation mainly inhabits Cormorant Island. For centuries, they thrived in harmony with the island’s abundant resources. Therefore, they see the land, forests, waters, and wildlife as sacred entities that are integral to their cultural identity.
The Namgis have a rich artistic tradition, including elaborate ceremonies, masks, totem poles, and skilled craftsmanship. Their cultural and artistic history resonates through the ancient longhouses and totem poles of Alert Bay.
European settlers arrived on Cormorant Island in the late 1800s. The island’s ideal geographical location for fishing and logging drew the newcomers to build canneries and sawmills on the Alert Bay waterfront. This created opportunities that attracted newcomers to seek their fortunes.
The convergence of Indigenous and settler cultures birthed a unique blend of traditions, merging Indigenous practices with those of the settlers that shaped the island’s cultural landscape.
Exploring Alert Bay
Alert Bay is a pretty village that’s steeped in culture. An ancient Namgis burial ground lies at its heart, off the main road, where visitors are forbidden to tread. Its magnificent totem poles, many of which were carved long ago, are slowly decaying among the graves.
Indigenous art flourishes here, and the U’mista Cultural Centre safeguards Namgis history and artifacts. Visitors delight in the vibrancy of traditional rituals and the intricately carved beauty of ceremonial masks and totem poles.
Beyond Alert Bay and its cultural heritage, Cormorant Island captivates you with its rugged terrain and breathtaking vistas. Hiking trails meander through ancient forests and marshland, leading to hidden coves and panoramic coastal views.
The island’s allure lies not only in its rich history but also in its natural splendour, inviting adventurers and nature enthusiasts alike. And, of course, those interested in cryptozoology and the paranormal are fascinated by local tales of Sasquatch sightings.
Several Namgis totems on Cormorant Island feature Dzunukwa or Dsonoqua, the wild woman. She’s depicted as a naked giant, black in colour with bedraggled hair and drooping breasts. Her face is apelike and in Namgis lore she’s a guardian spirit with immense strength.
Often associated with the forest, Dzunukwa captures misbehaving children in her basket and teaches them lessons about proper behaviour. Because of her huge size and role as a protector, she’s both feared and revered, embodying lessons of caution and respect for nature.
A similar character in Namgis tradition is Buk’wus or “wild man”. He’s smaller than Dzunukwa, has a hairy body and frightening appearance, shies away from humans, and has a habit of hitting trees with a piece of wood.
While the Sasquatch of the Sts’ailes First Nation in southwestern British Columbia doesn’t feature in Namgis lore, there are undeniable similarities between Sasquatch, Dzunukwa, and Buk’wus. Like the Sasquatch, Dzunukwa is a humanoid giant with an apelike face. She dwells in the forest and steals children, which the Sts’ailes people say the Sasquatch does.
Also like Sasquatch, Buk’wus has a hairy body, avoids humans, and strikes trees with wood (i.e., wood knocking).
As we’ll see, whenever a Sasquatch is encountered on Cormorant Island, the Namgis refer to it as Dzunukwa.
Sasquatch Sightings on Cormorant Island
Over the years, various people have reported Sasquatch sightings on and near Cormorant Island. Some have seen it directly, while others have only heard strange howls coming from the forest behind Alert Bay.
Earlier Sasquatch Accounts
In 1939, a young Alert Bay resident, Ellen Neal, said she saw a hairy Dzunukwa walk along a beach on Cormorant Island and enter the forest. Later that day, she and some friends went to the place where she’d seen the creature and they found enormous footprints in the sand.
In 1968, two fishermen reported seeing a Sasquatch while they were digging for clams on Broughton Island. This island is about 40 kilometres northeast of Cormorant Island. It was late on a winter afternoon and starting to get dark when they noticed that a hairy, manlike beast was watching them. They panicked and ran to their boat to get away. Apparently, the Sasquatch headed into the bush at the side of the beach and disappeared.
More Recent Sasquatch Encounters
In January of 2015, an Alert Bay resident, Arthur Dick, encountered a hairy beast as he walked his dog along a trail on the back (east) side of Cormorant Island. He noticed that the massive creature was following him. Dick smelled a pungent odour, which the Sasquatch is known for, and he noticed it made no sound as it moved. His dog was so frightened that it hid between his legs. He had another, similar sighting in 2019 and he believes that on both occasions he saw Dzunukwa.
Later in 2015, residents heard loud and eerie howls on the northern edge of the Alert Bay. The vocalisations happened at night, coming from the forest behind the town. Another Indigenous resident, Rod Alfred, said he heard the howls three times and attributes them to Dzunukwa. He says the creature has been visiting Cormorant Island for many years.
Arthur Dick also heard the howls, coming from right outside his house at 5:30 in the morning. He says the vocalisations seemed to go right through his body and made his hair stand on end. Despite that, he had the presence of mind to record the callings on his cell phone.
On another occasion, Dick called out twice to the creature he believes is Dzunukwa and it howled back at him both times.
Dick and other residents of the island say it’s unlikely that dogs or wildlife cause the strange noises. This is because the howls are unique in tone and much too loud for a dog. And no bears, cougars, or deer live on the island.
Other Recent Sasquatch Sightings
Other recent Sasquatch sightings on Cormorant Island include two separate groups of people who saw a tall, hairy humanoid standing at the edge of the current Namgis burial grounds on the outskirts of Alert Bay. Each time, it stood quietly watching the onlookers with the forest to its back.
One evening at dusk, a group of Namgis teenagers were playing soccer near a longhouse called the “big house” by locals. Their fun ended when they saw a huge, upright creature move swiftly alongside the longhouse in just a few strides. The teens ran away in fear.
Something strange lurks on and around Cormorant Island. The Mangis are certain it’s Dzunukwa, while others reckon it’s Sasquatch.
Cormorant Island in British Columbia is a beautiful and welcoming place that embodies the enduring legacy of the Namgis people, the allure of natural beauty, and the fascinating presence of a massive, mythical creature.
If you decide to visit the island, be sure to stay in Alert Bay to soak in its peaceful and picturesque vibe, mingle with its friendly inhabitants, and visit the delightful U’mista Cultural Centre.
Pack a picnic and walk the forest trails on the backside of the island. You never know—you might encounter Dzunukwa while in the forest there, just like Arthur Dick has.