Bigfoot in Canada: Inside the hunt for proof — or at least a good photo

Screengrab of video filmed in Radium, B.C., 2010.

It’s been 54 years since two men captured the now-famous Bigfoot video, in which the legendary and camera-shy primate can supposedly be seen loping out of the woods in California.

Enthusiasts have been hunting for the mythical beast throughout Canada and the United States ever since. But as cameras and modern research methods have evolved, two questions still remain.

Does Bigfoot really exist? And if it does, why can’t anyone get a good photo of it?

Read more: ‘It’s silly’ — Director of Bigfoot movie thanks Alberta energy centre for controversy

Canadian Bigfoot hunters have been trying to answer that first question for decades. Some have devoted themselves to documenting every alleged encounter. Others have tried to find physical proof, such as hair, bones or a body. One person has even attempted to take the issue to court.

But after more than five decades, the search has yielded little more than a few blurry photos, a bunch of incredible stories and the certainty – at least among believers – that proof is right around the corner.

Here’s why some Canadians are still tracking the mythical Bigfoot, and what they need to finally put the big questions to rest.

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Sasquatch watch

Todd Standing, 46, claims his first close encounter with a sasquatch (a.k.a. Bigfoot) was in 2005, and that it dramatically changed his life.

The filmmaker and wilderness guide from Edmonton says he saw a nine-foot-tall bipedal creature with a very human-like face high up in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia. He says he saw it stand up and squat down.

His video of the sighting, posted to YouTube, has more than 300,000 views.

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Bigfoot believer takes provincial government to court – Aug 14, 2018

Since that initial alleged sighting, Standing claims he has shown the actual creature — in the furry flesh — to dozens of other people from all over the world on his paid guided tours. His numerous exploits have been featured on Canadian TV show Survivorman, as well as in his own 2017 documentary Discovering Bigfoot.

“Over 80 per cent of people I take out are either having a live interaction or a sighting with the sasquatch,” Standing told Global News.

“The species is clearly out here and they’re trying to communicate with us with the tree breaks and the signs that they leave behind.”

Todd Standing pictured here during a sasquatch hunt in Nordegg, Alta., 2012.

Standing is not alone in his belief of the sasquatch’s existence; the story of Bigfoot is easily one of the most popular in North American folklore. The legend is rooted in Indigenous history, and the First Nations consider the creatures sacred.

Each tribe has its own set of beliefs. For the Sts’alies Nation on the West Coast, the sasquatch is a protector of their land and an entity not to be meddled with, while the Haida people view it as a supernatural being to be respected.

While most of Canada’s sasquatch sightings have been reported in B.C., there have been thousands in the territories, Manitoba and Ontario, and even a couple in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Indeed, the sasquatch “evidence” dossier is thick: there are alleged eyewitness accounts, grainy videos, audio recordings and even purported abductions, but all of it falls short of scientific proof that the sasquatch exists.

To date, the wildlife government agencies in Canada have not acknowledged the existence of sasquatch, and the mythical creature remains the stuff of campfire stories and conspiracy theorists.

Standing sought to prove otherwise, filing two lawsuits in 2018 — one in California and the other in B.C. — suing the fish and wildlife government agencies for not recognizing Bigfoot as an indigenous species. Both times he was unsuccessful in court.

“There’s just so much evidence out there. When you review the evidence, including with the DNA, it’s preposterous to think they don’t exist,” Standing said.

Screengrab from alleged ‘Bigfoot’ video filmed in Radium, B.C., 2010. Photo supplied by Todd Standing

A 'big' problem

The Bigfoot saga has one big problem: There is no high-quality, airtight photographic proof.

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Despite the increased use of personal cellphones and cameras, video quality of alleged sightings has not gotten any better over the last two decades, said Benjamin Radford, a folklorist based in New Mexico. It’s one of the biggest paradoxes in Bigfoot and sasquatch research.

“Unfortunately, the sightings and videos that we have, they’re not of high enough quality to determine what they are,” he said.

“They’re something fuzzy in the distance, usually under the canopy of trees that are quickly gone. And there’s not much the scientists can do with that.”

In other cases, the alleged encounter happens so fast that there isn’t enough time to even take a photo or video, and all you’re left with is a story to share.

Screengrab from alleged ‘Bigfoot’ video captured in Radium, B.C., 2009. Photo supplied by Todd Standing

Kathy Strain, a forest archeologist in California, says she has seen Bigfoot on three separate occasions in the Ouachita Mountains of Oklahoma.

The first time was in 2012, when she and a group of three other people purportedly saw “a big one and a little one” completely covered in very dark hair walking towards them in broad daylight.

“I jumped up and I said: ’There they are!’ and I ran at them,” the 52-year-old from Sonora, Calif., told Global News.

“It startled them and they bolted up the hillside like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It was like they were on a bungee and somebody just let go.

“It was a little terrifying, in fact. They were so incredibly fast.”

She said her group had a camera running but it only ended up filming her.

Kathy Strain says she saw Bigfoot in Oklahoma in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Photo supplied

Leon Thompson, 57, from the Okanagan Valley, B.C., said his first and only sighting was as a nine-year-old, when he saw what appeared to be a toddler-aged sasquatch with a moose.

He never told anyone about it for more than 30 years, until he saw YouTube videos of other animals interacting with each other, even though they weren’t of the same species: crows taking care of kittens, lions caring for gazelles and a bear mothering wolves.

“All I can say is it set a precedent that maybe that is what I was observing,” Thompson told Global News.

Inspired by what he saw and curious to dig deeper into other people’s belief systems, in 2016, Thompson founded Bigfoot Okanagan, a group dedicated to archiving and verifying evidence of Bigfoot or sasquatch experiences.

In the last five years, the closest they have come to “verifying” an alleged sighting is through tracks.

“The hard part for us is if we don’t see a sasquatch or clear evidence that something large, hairy and bipedal is roaming around, we are cautious to claim it to be 100 per cent factual,” said Thompson.

Click to play video: 'Bigfoot or moose: experts analyze tracks left behind' Bigfoot or moose: experts analyze tracks left behind
Bigfoot or moose: experts analyze tracks left behind – Jan 18, 2021

The group’s methodology is simple: Once they receive a report, Thompson and his team review the observation and map out the sighting before they visit the site to carry out their own investigation. To avoid any contamination, they make their way to a peripheral area.

On one occasion last December, a group of four travelling on a highway south of the village of Silverton, B.C., reported a possible nighttime Bigfoot sighting.

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Read more: B.C. Bigfoot group examines possible Sasquatch sighting, says tracks were that of a moose

“We were returning home last night and two members in our vehicle said, ‘Look! Is that a bear?'” Erica Spink-D’Souza wrote in her submitted report to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), a group not affiliated with Bigfoot Okanagan.

“The person in the front seat saw what looked like a huge man standing on two legs. It bent over and fell to four legs. The person in the back seat saw the animal on four legs. They both say it was not a bear.”

After the alleged sighting, Spink-D’Souza and her friends decided to go back and look for tracks. They shot multiple photos and videos of what they referred to as “massive tracks that look like they are from a biped animal.”

Ten days after hearing about that report, Thompson and a small group drove to the site.

“It was quite exciting for us because it was captioned as being the best sasquatch tracks of 2020, which is quite the declaration,” he told Global News in January.

Based on the set of tracks they saw, Bigfoot Okanagan concluded that the tracks actually belonged to a moose.

Once again, no proof of Bigfoot.

Todd Standing pictured here during a sasquatch hunt in Radium, B.C., 2012. Photo supplied by Todd Standing

Where are the bones and bodies?

Debunked sightings are common. In fact, most “encounters” are either bear or moose sightings.

“I would suspect that there’s also a lot of people who actually did see Bigfoot (and) think it’s a bear and so they never reported it,” said Strain.

A psychological effect called pareidolia — the tendency to see an object where there is none — is another potential explanation for alleged sightings, said Thompson.

Thomas Steenburg has been studying the sasquatch since 1978, and has authored three books on the subject.

In his 43 years of research, the 60-year-old from Mission, B.C., says he may have caught a fleeting glimpse of the sasquatch himself, only once, in March 2004 about 20 kilometres off the west side of Harrison Lake. But he is not certain — as we’ve come to expect from most, if not all sightings of the mythical creature — as it was too far away to see any details.

“I saw a figure. It appeared to be walking upright and it was jet black in colour,” recalls Steenberg.

He says the only thing that will ever prove the existence of the sasquatch is a body, a piece of the body or sufficient skeletal remains.

Picture of a track found by Thomas Steenburg after a bear hunter claimed one of these creatures threw a rock at him, Ruby Creek, 2008. Photo supplied

Hoaxes and failed attempts

Thompson says his online group has, unfortunately, experienced a lot of hoaxes and misinformation over the years.

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Two years ago, a person camping in Westbank, near Kelowna, B.C., claimed that he was chased by a sasquatch. He ended up leaving all his camping gear at the site and drove his van back to Vancouver.

Thompson said he examined the area, which happened to be a wildlife corridor that ran through the east mountain range to the shore of the Okanagan Lake, but didn’t find anything.

He had no further contact with the witness after the report came in, so was unable to follow up.

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Some claim Bigfoot spotted on Michigan eagle nest camera – Oct 6, 2016

That same year, a woman who was visiting her parents for the weekend at their old homestead along with her husband and kids also had a bit of a scare.

“That night, the daughter and her husband said that there was all sorts of aggression shown to them as they were in the old house. Rocks and logs thrown at the house, wall-banging, loud vocalizations,” Thompson said.

“When they asked the parents about it they claimed that they believed they had a sasquatch on the property. It appears that the aggression was due to the subjects not recognizing the husband, who had showed up for the first time on the property.”

On the other side of the border, in 2008, two Georgia men famously claimed to have stored a Bigfoot’s body in a freezer.

DNA testing was inconclusive – with one test suggesting the hairy frozen creature was a human, and another an opossum. Other researchers said the corpse was actually a full-body rubber gorilla costume. Whatever the case, it certainly wasn’t Bigfoot.

Bigfoot remains elusive

John Zada’s curiosity and interest in the sasquatch has taken him far afield; he travelled to small Indigenous communities on the central and north coast of B.C. between 2012 and 2015 to conduct up-close research.

The 49-year-old Toronto-based travel journalist documented his experiences and attempt to separate myth from reality in the 2019 book, In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond: In Search of the Sasquatch. 

While Zada didn’t encounter a sasquatch himself on his hunt, he remains “cautiously hopeful.”

“I don’t think it’s entirely out of the question,” Zada said.

“Fields like quantum physics put forward a lot stranger and more illogical ideas than the idea that there may be a surviving primate living on the planet.”

John Zada says he has heard a lot of stories and met a number of people who claimed to have seen the sasquatch or encountered it. Photo credit: Sian Carter

Like several others Global News interviewed for this story, Zada agrees that the only way “mainstream science” will officially accept and categorize the sasquatch is if a body is discovered.

“If sufficient proof emerges to convince science of the animal’s existence, we’ll have to account for why society was so stubbornly dismissive of the reports for so long,” he said. “If, however, Bigfoot turns out to be a creature of our own mental making, then we have a conundrum of perception that’s just as mysterious as the sasquatch itself.

“In either case, we might learn much about ourselves.”

Despite her own sightings, Strain is less optimistic about the scientific discovery amid huge wildfires destroying thousands of acres of forest land and natural habitat. She suspects the species is endangered, with fewer than 10,000 individuals across the U.S.

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Peggy Seaview, 61, from Seattle, Wash., has accompanied her husband, Thomas Sewid, an Indigenous sasquatch researcher, on numerous expeditions across B.C. over the years.

She says proving the creature’s existence would be “a pivotal moment for humanity.”

While Seaview hasn’t come across one herself, she says she feels an “ache in her stomach” when people emphatically say the sasquatch is just a legend and not real.

“I know so many people who would be disrespected by their own true experience.”

Peggy Seaview off Owl Island in the Broughtons (Vancouver Island) in 2017. Photo supplied

Thompson says the discovery would add a new piece to the puzzle of bipedal lineage.

“I follow the evidence. If the evidence shows there is no factual basis proving that sasquatch exists, so be it.”

Steenberg says he no longer cares about proving the existence of the sasquatch to anyone else. He only does the research for one reason: “I want to know.”

“If there is no such thing and there never was, then I have done my part recording a great piece of western Canadian mythology and folklore,” he said.

As for Standing, there is no doubt in his mind about the species’ existence. He has a hair sample to prove it, he says.

He said he gathered the sample when filming an alleged sasquatch head on one episode of Survivorman, but the geneticists he has approached have either refused to acknowledge it or haven’t agreed to sequence a full genome.

“They don’t want to be the ones that have acknowledged the existence of Bigfoot,” said Standing.

Despite these purported roadblocks, he is intent on moving forward with his legal fight to prove that there are thousands of sasquatch out there, roaming in secret across North America.

“This discovery is coming,” he says with conviction.

And when might that be?

“With the technology that exists now …. at the very least in the next four years.”

Zed Files is a Global News exclusive series exploring unusual, unexplained and legendary stories in Canada.