Seaside Mysteries

Everyone loves a good mystery, and Vancouver has no shortage of her own. But far from the film noir mysteries of old, such as the still unsolved case of the ‘babes in the woods’ of Stanley Park or the hauntings of the Alibi Room in the heart of old downtown in Gastown, there is another as yet thriller that has yet to be resolved. However, an evening deep into my YouTube blackholes that I enter, I think that I might have found a likely suspect.

Many years ago, when Vancouver was a fledging city, it didn’t take the new residents long to catch onto what the First Nations had known for a long time… we have beautiful beaches and oceans. As humans, we are known for gathering down at the places where water flows, and enjoying a high level of fun recreational entertainment. Such as was the case on a sunny day in False Creek in 1905 when eight-year-old Harry Menzies was swimming in the water near the mouth that opened into the Burrard Inlet. What started as no doubt an idyllic day ended in what was described as a “nearly a barrel of gore”.

The False Creek shark, photographed by the Vancouver Daily World, July 7, 1905

The False Creek shark, photographed by the Vancouver Daily World, July 7, 1905

Young Menzies was stalked¬†by a 1,100-pound shark that eyewitnesses claimed to be, “of the genuine man-eating Hawaiian variety”. Ed Dusenberry acted when he saw the oncoming attack and grabbed a long pike trying to get the boy to come ashore, and grabbing the shark by the flank with the hook of the pike tried to pull it ashore. It was enough to make the shark open it’s mouth and release the boy, allowing Dusenberry to try to incapacitate it by driving the pike down it’s throat. It took two hours for the shark to die and required 20 men to bring it to the shore. Once on the shore, Menzies Sr, a foreman at Hastings Mill, was reunited with young Harry will have escaped unharmed, while despite the fact that Dusenberry was unable to identify the shark, will have a tent erected around it and charged ten cents to view it. No one could say the breed, nor what it was doing in False Creek.

But I have a theory.

I can recall one summer, many moons ago, when I was very small and as a tadpole to the toad I now am, being on a summer holiday with my mother and her friends near Desolation Sound, along the West Coast. We had enjoyed an afternoon of swimming in the waters, playing on the sand, and having a generally lovely family picnic on the shore. It was in this pastoral setting as I frolicked happily as a small child, I gave no thought or fear to any sea creature that could cause potential harm. Where the cedar and arbutus tree branches kissed the water, sea otters groomed themselves and at the water’s edge families of raccoons would root around, up to their furry armpits, in the mud seeking out clams and geoducks for their dinners.¬†Unbeknownst to us, however, the area also plays host to the migrational patterns of a breed of shark often overlooked. It wasn’t until we were being shown photos in a friend’s family album we saw the face of the fish that may have swam past us en route to Alaska, the salmon shark.

Photo by Andy Murch for Big Fishing Expeditions

Photo by Andy Murch for Big Fishing Expeditions

The salmon shark is as apex of a predator as her cousin, the more famous Great White Shark. However, given that Peter Benchley wrote about the latter and not the former may be a contributing factor as to why most people are afraid of the water to this day of fear of the GWS, but when mentioning the salmon shark, people can’t conjure a mental image to mind. It’s not a strange thing – there are over two hundred and fifty species of shark, and only the most hardcore of lamniforms or sports fisherman would know of her existence. But their range is the northern Pacific Ocean both offshore and coastal, generally following wherever the salmon go. I doubt very much that this on it’s own would have bothered my mother much, had she not been sporting a very flashy silver one piece swimsuit that, to an unaware coastal predator, might just happen to resemble a potential meal.

As the shark that came into the shallows in 1905 fits a similar description of salmon shark which can reach up to ten feet and about 992 lbs, it’s not unreasonable to assume that this was a hefty, hungry male. They are able to regulate their body temperature, so the warmer coastal waters would not have been a bother to it, and prior to commercial overfishing, salmon would have had more runs before pollution would dissuade them from entering False Creek altogether. If not then for the environmental factors, then certainly now. I’m fairly certain that word has gotten out around the shark community to avoid Vancouverites – they are very deadly and can kill you if you get too close.

Little Miss Risk

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