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Slightly spooky stories: Monster in Kempenfelt Bay (4 photos)

In this week's Remember This, Mary Harris tells the tale of Kempenfelt Kelly, a serpent-like creature spotted and supposedly captured in 1882

Maybe two years ago, I caught a glimpse of something and I didn’t know what I had seen. Naturally, I quizzed some of the long-time local folks and they gave me a sensible and logical explanation. I don’t really like sensible and logical explanations.

“Four hooks or grubber, which make the animal look like an octopus in front, are used to seize and assist in swallowing its victims. Then come three pairs of legs.”

These words must have been rather unnerving to read for the people who lived and worked near or on the waters of Lake Simcoe in 1882 when the Northern Advance published them.

“It has two antennae of great length and sensitiveness, which seems to give it the power to find its prey in the darkness as well as the light.”

This seriously worded article was no April Fools joke, nor campfire tale, but offered up as the true account of something unexplained that happened in our otherwise peaceful lake. The story was originally featured in the Orillia Packet but apparently the Northern Advance thought it important enough to share with Barrie residents.

“Nearly midway of its length, on each side, are exquisitely beautiful feather-like appendages, that are in constant motion”

It was the opinion of the amateur zoologists about town that these appendages were used for breathing, thus explaining why the creature would rarely ever be seen. It had no more need for rising to the surface than any fish would have.

Of course, you have guessed that we are talking about the legendary local lake dweller Kempenfelt Kelly but, in those early days, it was simply referred to as a sea serpent.

This newspaper report wasn’t simply about a sighting but described some seemingly concrete proof. A well-respected businessman of Orillia had apparently captured a specimen and had displayed it in his shop.

“But now let all doubts cease. Mr. F.J. DeLany has captured the serpent, or one of them, and everyone may be convinced by visiting his boathouse and viewing the monster.”

Pictures, please! It would be interesting to see if somewhere any photographic evidence exists of what precisely Frederick John Delaney, Orillia boatbuilder, had on exhibit at his place of business. Perhaps it was a bit of Barnum and Bailey inspired showmanship designed to attract customers.

The mystery of Lake Simcoe’s introverted water creature remains. My hopes are for some fantastic new species to be revealed, or a prehistoric creature believed to be long extinct, and not simply an overgrown sturgeon.



Mary Harris

About the Author: Mary Harris

Mary Harris is the Director of History and Research at the Barrie Historical Archive. The Barrie Historical Archive is a free, online archive that centralizes Barrie's historical content.
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