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Dave Obee: Mermaid had no legs, but story does

These days, the sight of a mermaid lolling about on Mayne Island, in full view of ferries passing by, would be captured a few hundred ways on social media.
The photo of the Active Pass mermaid, taken by a ferry passenger, created a stir in 1967

These days, the sight of a mermaid lolling about on Mayne Island, in full view of ferries passing by, would be captured a few hundred ways on social media.

By the time any of the ferries cleared Active Pass, the whole world would know about the woman dressed as a mermaid. By the time the ferries reached a terminal, nobody would care any more.

It was not like that in June 1967. A mermaid on Mayne Island was seen by a few people, but captured the imaginations of many others. They’re still talking about it today.

The creature was seen in the early evening by passengers on ferries, close to the west entrance to Active Pass. The Daily Colonist reported on the sighting the next day, and included a photograph that it said had been taken by George Harrison of Sioux City, Iowa.

“Several witnesses said the mermaid had a large fish, apparently coho salmon, and one swore she had taken bite out of it,” the Colonist said on June 13, 1967. “Long, silver-blond hair and topless condition were generally agreed upon.”

The next day, the Colonist referred to her as a “dimpled mermaid,” and said she had the lower body of a fish or porpoise. The newspaper said she had been at Helen Point, on the northwest corner of Mayne Island, and had been seen eating a large salmon.

“A Cobble Hill man who flew over the area shortly after 7 p.m. managed to get an aerial photograph which corresponded closely to a picture taken from the Queen of Saanich by an Iowa visitor,” the Colonist said.

The aerial photograph, which was not published in the newspaper, apparently showed a silvery object on the rock beside the mermaid.

One male witness said that the mermaid was “a cute blond with dimples,” and added “it was definitely a girl. Definitely.”

He said the mermaid seemed to enjoy the wake of the ferry washing over her. The witness did not want his name used in the newspaper, he said, because his boss would think he was crazy.

On June 15, the Colonist cranked it up a notch, reporting that a $25,000 reward would be offered for the “dimpled mermaid of Active Pass.” The offer was made by Charles White of the Undersea Gardens, who added that a “panel of competent marine biologists” would have to confirm that the mermaid was the real thing.

White promised to negotiate a contract with the mermaid.

“I think we could come to terms. We would offer a substantial salary, room and board and a supply of those special combs that mermaids use,” he said.

In planning accommodation for the mermaid, White said, he would need to know if she preferred to sleep with her tail above or below the covers.

White was not troubled by the fact that the half-girl, half-fish creature was apparently topless, saying that her natural state would be fine.

“We are very conscious of conservation,” he said.

Earl Dicknoether, manager of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce, suggested that the mermaid could be convinced to pop into view from time to time, and even given a lyre to play.

“Of course, they’d have to tie the captains to the mast,” he said.

“Even if it’s not a real mermaid, it’s a great idea,” Dicknoether said. “How come we overlooked this for so long?”

There was one more sighting of the mermaid, at Cordova Bay more than a week later, but the woman who saw the creature was not convinced.

“I don’t believe for a moment it was a real mermaid,” she said.

And that was that, the final Colonist report on the mermaid. (Maybe the editor got back from vacation and put an end to the nonsense.) The Victoria Daily Times, which three decades earlier had invented the Cadborosaurus sea monster, didn’t report on the mermaid at all.

The mermaid hoax happened more than a quarter of a century before the Internet came into common use, but a Google search for the mermaid of Active Pass brings up plenty of hits. This is a story that just won’t die.

Every now and then we get queries about the mermaid sighting, usually from people who are desperate to believe it was real. This year, we are told, the dimpled damsel of the deep will be included in a new book on the supernatural.

Odds are, the woman on Helen Point that evening did not think that a long blond wig and a slimy green tail would earn her a spot of honour in the history of gullibility, but who knows? This story has legs, even though the mermaid didn’t.

Our local mermaid wannabe would probably be in her 60s or 70s now. Who was she? Is she still around?

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