A woolly mammoth replica at the BC Museum
A Tiqaikoa string figure
the 40,000 year old remains of "Lyuba", a two month old mammoth
A mammoth-like petroglyph in Sproat Lake, BC
A highlighted view of the "mammoth" petroglyph at Sproat Lake
Late Surviving Woolly Mammoth
Woolly mammoths, probably the most famous Ice Age animal may have survived more recently then what is currently thought. The last woolly mammoths in Canada are thought to have died out 8,400 years ago, but their exact reason for extinction is unknown, with the most common theories being climate change, overhunting or both. One reason some have speculated they died out more recently is because of First Nations folklore, with various mythological creatures like the Inuit Tiqaikoa, which is featured in string figures (see above), as well as the Innu Katshituashku or the Yup’ik Quugaarpak, usually being described as giant, shaggy pig or bear-like creatures with massive stiff legs, a long “nose” it uses as an arm and two giant tusks. Most Indigenous groups with folklore of what seem to be mammoths are from the Arctic, which makes sense, as the last known mammoths went extinct in the more northern areas of the continent presumably due to less human activity and a colder climate. The Innu and Naskapi people have a creature called the Katshituashku (catsh-it-wash-coo), which is described as an animal with a big head and ears, big teeth, a long nose which it uses to hit people, stiff rigid legs and circular tracks.
Woolly mammoths are not just featured in folklore, as there have been a handful of written encounters allegedly of late surviving mammoths, possibly as recently as the early to mid 19th century. In 1803 in York Fort, near Fort McMurray, a sergeant of the Hudson Bay Company, Thomas Pollack and his guide claimed to of seen a bizarre animal while attempting to contact a then-uncontacted tribe. He wrote “We left York fort on the 19th of May 1803. About fortnight after, having been sent across a river, the name of which I do not now recollect, by Mr Louis’s orders, the guide and myself suddenly came upon animal of an enormous size. It appeared about 15 feet in height, and had a very heavy and unwieldy appearance. I can give but a very lame account of it, on account the consternation into which I was thrown. The largeness of its belly was enormous, nearly touching the ground. Its colour was a dirty black.”
In 1807, David Thompson, a mapmaker and explorer, who is considered to be credible, claimed that Indigenous hunters reported to him that there were giant shaggy animals with two giant curved teeth jutting out of their mouth with a massive tube-like nose it used to forage for food in what is now the Tatshenshini-Alsek-region of British Columbia. Thompson later found strange elephant-like tracks in 1811, which he believed had been made by a young mammoth. Many other alleged encounters of woolly mammoths in the 1800s occurred, mainly featured in newspapers, which were probably fictitious and were used to fill space on slow news days. The last known report of a late-surviving woolly mammoth in Canada was told to cryptozoologist and explorer Frank Graves in 1930 by two Dene people, who claimed to have been chased into a cave by a mastodon in the Nahanni Valley in 1920. They claimed it had large spirally curved tusks and long, shaggy hair. An interesting detail about these encounters, is that woolly mammoths were not popular in pop-culture at the time, and most who new about woolly mammoths were European scientists.