Mysteries of the Lake

Credit: Kristi Dobson
Kristi Dobson

Sproat Lake, with its vast amount of favourite swim holes and camping spots, is 25 kilometres in length with 300 kilometres of shoreline. Its beauty is enjoyed today by Valley residents and lakefront homeowners but is also has a mysterious past, complete with myths and legends. 

Named after colonial officer Gilbert Malcolm Sproat in 1964, the early settlers arrived between 750 and 100 BCE. Known originally as Klee-coot to the first aboriginals, many of the legends and stories are associated with the name.

Fishing and hunting at the lake were two main activities for food gathering and when bands were not stationed at temporary camps, some, like the Opetchesaht (Hupacasath), used Massacre Island as a refuge. Known as Chauke to the native people, Massacre Island is opposite Bishop's Landing and may have gotten its name from a raid that took place there in 1856. Different versions of the story have been recorded, but according to the late George Clutesi of the Tseshaht First Nation, the Opetchesaht moved to Chauke to escape massive warfare that was taking place where they stayed at Sproat Falls. Their enemies followed in rafts for a surprise attack. Clutesi recounted the happenings in Helen Ford's 1956 unpublished manuscript, Sproat Lake. 

"One lonely night by the light of the moon, the Chief's household was rudely awakened and thrown into a turmoil, the enemy had reached the shores of the little island by means of crudely made rafts of driftwood picked up on the beach. 

The small number of warriors on the island took up their arms and there ensured a bloody battle. The Opetchesahts were greatly outnumbered , their women and children were massacred, they could not spare one man to go for help, each man must fight to his last breath. "Do we not hold what advantageous position this small island affords?" said the Chief to spur his men on, "then fight!" he roared. 

Stone axes clashed against tomahawks, bashed in skulls. The dead and the dying soon covered the island, the enemies were subsequently routed. They attempted a hasty retreat. The natives saw this and with bloodcurdling whoops and yells pressed the attack. The slowly moving heads in the moonlit waters made ideal targets for the warriors and very few of the swimming enemies reached home. Those few braves of Chauke who survived returned home, that is to the main reserve at Sproat Falls, to tell a very sorrowful tale." 

Then there are the tragedies and drownings that plague the lake. Possibly the most popular is the unsolved mystery surrounding the death of Hjelmar Nels Weiner. Weiner had a farm at West Bay and successfully raised chickens and cows. He was a hard worker and an eccentric, whose first wife worked the farm with him. After she died, and his second wife "departed suddenly" one evening, possibly with another man, Weiner became even more antisocial. 

He honed his talents by playing classical music on an old organ outdoors on hot summer days and into the evenings and sketched images of beautiful women. He was often unhappy and lonely, and was a man known to have pro-Nazi views. 

One evening his barn, chicken coop and farm house all exploded and burned to the ground. Not a trace of human evidence was found and the end of the story remains unknown.

The Petroglyphs have been a site of curious attraction for many years and continue to be a popular photo opportunity. From the Alberni Pioneer News of 1910, Hamilton George explained the legend of the carved rocks:

"Many years ago, no one knows how many, there lived in the vicinity a sort of super-human Indian named Quot-e-yat, and it is believed by some, that he still lives, but that his form is invisible. He had a record for vanquishing fierce and evil monsters that would back St. George of England into heroic insignificance. 

Quot-e-yat was a protector of his people whose principal enemies were the monsters of the deep. At every opportunity he gave battle to these evil things, but was much to his sorrow, unable to extinguish them all. He conceived the idea of travelling about from place to place, and carving likenesses upon the rocks by the waters where they would be seen by Indians afloat in canoes. The pictures served as a warning that such creatures were hiding in water near by, waiting for a chance to attack and devour. 

There are Indians now who most carefully obey these warnings and make no noise with their paddles for fear that the evil inhabitants of the water will hear them and rise to destroy them. If, by accident, some noise should be made, the occupants of the canoe will immediately rush for the shore. White men say there are no whales or other such monsters in these fresh water lakes, but the Indian has lived here longer, and seen more, and knows different."

More recently, an interesting find was unearthed in 1971 when Mr. and Mrs. Gerhardt Schramm's well was being excavated. It was near Eagle Point and during the work, a rock with a copper plaque was uncovered close to the surface. Written on it was, "Chief Maquinna the Second, 1819-1876". The question for historians arose when it was realized that the rock was a type only found on the other side of the lake. Contact had been established between the locals and the Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) of Friendly Cove at the time, so speculation suggests the chief may have died while on a hunting trip and buried there. Or, had the rock been moved in the last century to Eagle Point? 

These and other questions surrounding the popular lake may always remain a mystery.