By Wayne Potoroka
Photos by Manu Keggenhoff
Red Grossinger—Dedicated to finding sasquatch
Stories about sasquatch date back to the ice age. Red Grossinger has spent his retirement gathering anecdotes about recent sightings.
It’s a drizzly Saturday as Red Grossinger, 82, pilots his beefy, four-door F-350 up Whitehorse’s Two Mile Hill. He’s wearing a grey ripstop coat, matching cargo pants, and camouflage cap. It’s typical outdoor gear for an atypical outing: a tour of two of the nearly 150 sasquatch-sighting locations Grossinger’s logged over a quarter century.
“They probably do their hunting at night and hide in the daytime,” he says as the diesel pickup exhales to a halt. “Most sightings are late at night, early in the morning. Obviously, they have better vision than we do.”
It’s a reasonable assumption. So, too, is that most sasquatch sightings occur far from civilization. But today’s first stop is alongside the in-town Azure Road, 20 feet from a municipal pumphouse and 15 minutes from the city centre.
“Ed was driving from there,” Grossinger says, pointing at the nearby Crestview subdivision, before motioning towards a lamppost. “He noticed sasquatch in the ditch right there…. He said the hair on his body was clean, well maintained. It was a male because there were no breasts and he had the nose of a boxer, sort of flat.”
As Ed’s story goes, the beast became translucent, like he was standing behind a dirty window. And then, the hirsute hominid simply vanished.
“It’s baffling. It really makes you wonder,” Grossinger says, pondering the first of the afternoon’s many questions. “How did it happen? Where did it go?”
“There's 10,000 years of hidden knowledge that hasn't been made public.”
Red Grossinger with his plaster-of-paris mould of a sasquatch footprint and some research material.
After a 30-year career in the Canadian Armed Forces that took the New Glasgow, Que., native to Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Yukon for a three-year hitch in 1980, Grossinger retired to Whitehorse, in 1987. For the past 25 years, he’s been collecting accounts like Ed’s, 70 of which he’s packaged into a 288-page book arriving this autumn—Nahganne: Tales of the Northern Sasquatch, published by Durville & UpRoute Books. (“Nahganne means sasquatch in the Dene language,” Grossinger explains.)
Most people choose more predictable hobbies for their post-work years, but Grossinger’s less conventional pursuit—becoming the territory’s number-one sasquatch hunter—found him in 1997, when he was fishing the Takhini River and saw a creature darting in and out of the bush 30 metres away.
“It was tall. Full of hair,” he recalls. “I mentioned it to one of my friends from the Tlingit Nation, and she said, ‘Well, that’s a sasquatch.’”
The angling expedition ended with several grayling on Grossinger’s stringer, but the largest species hooked that day was Grossinger himself. He plunged into the sasquatch world, joining different groups and reading all the books he could find on the subject, eventually publishing his own, the Sasquatch Research Manual, a how-to guide for bigfoot chasers that includes the-hard-to-argue-with advice “Do not take stupid chances.”
As his reputation increased, people contacted Grossinger with their own stories, which he investigated, collecting what he calls “meta details” for determining each sighting’s veracity, including the beast’s facial features and gait and how it swung its arms while walking. (Humans swing their arms with their thumbs up, like they’re pulling a beer bottle to their mouth; sasquatch, seemingly, walks with the backs of its hands pointing up.)
Stories arrived from every Yukon community: a pregnant sasquatch on Duncan Creek who telepathically sent the message “Don’t hurt me” before disappearing; another eating tubers from the bottom of Summit Lake. One sasquatch threw debris at a couple in a canyon up the Magundy River; another depleted a drying rack of salmon at a fish camp near Carmacks, leaving behind an orderly stack of bones.
“One time I got a phone call from a teacher in Pelly Crossing who said one of his students found a foot track of sasquatch. I was there the following day,” says Grossinger. “Sure enough, I found two more tracks. All the footprints were between 15 3/4 and 16 1/4 inches. They were spread out about four feet between the footprints. It had to be something quite tall.”
Not surprisingly in a territory that venerates their colourful characters, most Yukoners are respectful of Grossinger’s curious fixation and open minded, too. And for those who aren’t, he doesn’t spare much time. “I would not bother to even try to change their mind. There’s no sense,” he says.
But if his estimate that only ten percent of sightings are ever reported is accurate (people won’t generally admit they’ve seen a shaggy bush primate), then it’s possible nearly 1,500 Yukoners have encountered a sasquatch—a not-so-insignificant 3.5 percent of the territory’s human population.
Furthermore, roughly 75 percent of Grossinger’s reports come from First Nations people, a group comprising 23 percent of the Yukon’s residents. The lopsided representation might seem peculiar, but not for Grossinger, who is part Huron and Algonquin.
“For them it’s nothing at all,” he explains. “They tell me, ‘What’s new? They’ve been there forever. We know they’re there.’”
“Most sightings are late at night, early in the morning. Obviously, they have better vision than we do.”
The word sasquatch sprang from the Salish word sasq’ets, meaning “wild man.” (The government logo for the Sts’ailes, a Coast Salish First Nation, is actually a stylized sasquatch.) Amongst Yukon First Nations, the being has many names: ganne, kwäjäl, nê’in, nàa’į, ki cho, or, in Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in country, googoo.
“Grandfathers, grandmothers tell their grandchildren if you don’t behave yourself googoo is going to come into camp and take you away,” says Gerald Isaac, a 78-year-old Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elder.
Isaac received his googoo education around five years old. The story imparted a powerful lesson: there are consequences if you don’t comply with the rules of growing up.
“[Googoo is] a bushman with lots of powers. He could virtually do anything. He’s all over the place. They can come and make an appearance and then disappear; they can move from here to over there,” he says. “But it’s a subject you’re not free to talk about. It’s kind of sacred and not something you broadcast.”
It’s something Kylie Van Every, a 42-year-old Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizen, encountered when she hosted a sasquatch-storytelling program at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, in Dawson—a program she only presented after asking permission from her Elders. Van Every has two sasquatch sightings of her own, which is like being hit by lightning twice, but her theory is the creature only makes itself visible if the individual is open to the experience. Apparently, believing is seeing.
“I think they’re more caretakers of the land. Kind of how we are,” she says. “But they say you’re not supposed to talk about him or you’ll call him in.”
Raymond Yakeleya, an editor of Nahganne and a Dene person from N.W.T., hopes Grossinger’s work will unsnarl the silence and get people speaking up.
“Sasquatch is real and it exists. So, let’s start on that basis,” he says. “Our people have had a relationship with this creature for thousands of years.”
Yakeleya says the creature likely made the journey with First Nations people across the land bridge connecting Asia with North America during the last ice age. Sasquatch stories reach back to that time.
“There’s 10,000 years of hidden knowledge that hasn’t been made public,” he says. And there’s some urgency that it is. Elders are aging. That and the methodical dismantling of First Nations culture through institutions like residential schools means those stories could disappear. That’s why telling them now is critical in cracking what Yakeleya calls “the puzzle of the sasquatch.”
“There’s only one way we’re going to solve this thing: when people start sharing,” he says.
Yakeleya recognizes there are people who’ve had an experience but embarrassed to admit it, something he understands as someone who saw religious leaders humiliate First Nations kids at residential schools for their beliefs, too.
“But it’s just like them preaching about Jesus walking on water,” he says. “Nobody ever seen Jesus walk on water, but you gotta have faith, right?”
This footprint mould is more than 40 cm long.
Grossinger pulls into the day’s last sighting locale: Pumphouse Lake, a popular fishing hole where two brothers were harassed by a rock-flinging sasquatch.
“He could not clearly see, but he could see branches moving back and forth,” Grossinger says of one brother. “There was nobody around. But he smelled wet fur similar to a wet grizzly. Was it a warning? Were they being hunted?” Two more questions in a day that’s had plenty and a third that goes unasked: who gets close enough to smell a grizzly?
It’s easy to dismiss the concept of an as-of-yet-unproven cryptid living in the woods, but scientists discover almost 18,000 new plant and animal species each year. And it was only 2018 when humans discovered a wannabe organ in our bodies (the interstitium) and 2020 when a set of salivary glands hiding behind our noses were finally detected. There’s still plenty new under the sun.
But believing in sasquatch requires a suspension of disbelief many won’t entertain.
And Grossinger couldn’t care less.
“I’m not trying to convince anyone,” he says, returning to his vehicle. “I’m just reporting accounts of what happened and that’s it. Nothing else.”
His truck rattles to life. The day’s almost over, but there’s still time for one more tale. He gestures at a thicket of pine and willow. “Sasquatch came from there and crossed right in front of their car. He crossed the road in two steps, so he had to be quite tall,” Grossinger says, before turning onto the Fish Lake Road and into the hazy, low-slung clouds covering the capital.