Bigfoot Encounters

Sasquatch - The story that just won't play dead

By Stephen Hume Copyright The Vancouver Sun
The Saturday Review - April 18, 1999

In a new book, a Vancouver Island wildlife biologist takes a scientific approach to what many consider a nutty subject. One of the pleasures of writing a column is the vast array of exotica that comes over the transom along with all that brain-dead public-relations bumph.

Every one in a while something genuinely fascinating appear, like the modest book that arrived from Dr. John Bindernagel of Courtenay, BC.

The accompanying press release says Bindernagel is a wildlife biologist with more than 30 years of field experience. He took his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin, works in the field of environmental impact assessment and for the last 23 years has made his scholarly passion the study of the Sasquatch phenomena. Sasquatch? Who believes in Sasquatch?

Well, the highly respected hereditary Nuxalk chief Clayton Mack did.

In fact, Mack said he’d seen the creatures three times, once as a young man on Jacobson Bay near Bella Coola, once on Mud Bay in Dean Channel and once while guiding an American Big-game hunter on the Aseek River on South Bentinck Arm.

Harvey Thommasen, a wise doctor at Bella Coola – I think he deserves the Order of BC for this work – recorded Mack’s stories while the old man was in the hospital. They form a remarkable two volume autobiography that will one day be recognized as among the legendary matter of British Columbia and its merging cultures.

"For a while I thought it was a grizzly bear, kind of light color fur on the back of his neck, like a light brown almost buckskin color fur," Mack said in the book "Grizzlies and White Guys." "He stood up on his hind feet, straight up like a man and I looked at it. He was looking at me. Gee, it don’t look like a bear, it has arms like a human being, it has legs like a human being, it has legs like a human and it got a head like us."

"He started to walk away from me, walking like a man on two legs. He was about eight feet high. He got to some drift logs, stopped and looked back at me. Looked over his shoulder to see me. Grizzly bear don’t do that, I never see a grizz run on its hind legs like that and I never see a grizzly bear look over its shoulders like that."

In another encounter, Mack said he got a clear unobstructed look through his .308 riflescope at a face vaguely humanoid but definitely not human. "Lips kind of turning in and turning out, hair over his face, eyes were like us but small and ear were small too. Nose just like us, a little bit flatter." Which brings us back to John Bindernagel, who says he’s researched l50 sightings to determine commonly held patterns. He catalogues any identifiable behaviors repeated in the most credible reports and attempts to cross-reference then with what is known about other large mammalian species. It is not easy to get people to take such inquiries seriously, given the mythology and just plain nuttiness that surrounds a proposal that there might be some rare creature out there. On the other hand, sightings like Mack’s have been recorded since l840’s. "I approached the existence of the Sasquatch in the same way I would assess the existence of any large mammal, be it grizzly bear, black bear or mountain gorilla," Bindernagel says. "In short, my interest in the Sasquatch begins at that point in the discussion when a skeptic finally asks: If it does exist, what does it eat?

How does it behave? And how does it survive the winters?"

The result is "North America’s Great Ape: The Sasquatch," Bindernagel says that his book is not an attempt to convince unbelievers, simply to evaluate the available evidence and then to try to find a context for it in terms of large mammal ecology. So the book examines subjects like anatomy and gait in African and Asian great apes and human beings and then seeks points of congruence in observed behavior.

Unless one is prepared to assume that Clayton Mack was either delusional or a bald-faced liar, neither of which is accepted by those who knew him, then on three separate occasions he saw something profoundly unusual in the remote mid-coast wilderness. Bindernagel says the evidence points to some species of great primate "behaving like other great apes, but most often out of sight in the wilderness and occasionally the back yards of North America.

The book is available from Beachcomber Books at Box 3286, Courtenay, B.C. V9N-5N4 Canada. Or you can visit to look over Bindernagel’s ideas.

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