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This student society is searching swamps for sasquatch

It's no April Fools' joke. Some Peterborough, Ont., students are out searching for sasquatch. They've even formed an official student club.

Trent University Sasquatch Society boasts some 140 'squatchers'

The Trent University Sasquatch Society is an official student club devoted to researching, learning and finding sasquatch around Peterborough, Ont. 'Squatchers' Allison Adam, left, president Ryan Willis, centre, and Sabrina Marie, strike a Bigfoot pose during a recent exploration. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

Sabrina Marie is hovering over a pile of feces, trying to figure out who left it there. She suspects a dog or a raccoon, and is quick to rule it out as sasquatch scat.

"I'm assuming it would be much larger than that," she said.

Marie would know. She's in charge of social media for the Trent University Sasquatch Society, an official club with some 140 "squatchers." It's registered with the school's student union, sandwiched between other groups like the Trent Conservatives, the badminton club and Model UN.

"I've been really interested in other-worldly stuff and cryptozoology so I thought it was an awesome opportunity," said Marie, a fourth-year biology student at the school, located in Peterborough, Ont., 68 kilometres northeast of Toronto.

The society, now about a year old, is devoted to searching for signs of the mythic beast. Sasquatch, also known as Bigfoot, has long been mentioned in Indigenous oral history. It's often depicted as a giant, hairy apelike mammal, walking upright in forests primarily in the Pacific Northwest, but discounted by scientists.

Society members go out on explorations, trudging through the woods to follow up on tips they get. There's a learning component too, meeting online for weekly Q&As with sasquatch researchers and enthusiasts like the cast of Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot series.

Marie and Adam wade through swamp waters outside Peterborough, Ont. 'The advantage of a swamp for Bigfoot is that humans don’t usually travel swamps because they’re not nice to walk in,' said Marie. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

Recently, the group searched a swamp outside Peterborough, where club founder and president Ryan Willis was told mysterious footprints were found.

He brings a stick, to knock on trees and try to elicit a response as well as a portable Bigfoot noise maker, to reference any howls, snorts, roars or groans he may hear. His eyes are peeled for oversized tracks or peculiar tree structures.

"A lot of the experts we talk to say that you should keep returning to the same areas," he said.

'It doesn't make any sense'

Willis, a fourth-year Canadian studies student at Trent, has long been obsessed with the lore around sasquatch and Bigfoot.

"I probably prefer [to call it] sasquatch cause I think it kind of sounds most professional. Sometimes you say Bigfoot and people say, 'Ha ha, Bigfoot.'"

But he's yet to spot anything suspicious — and the recent swamp search didn't turn up anything either. That's no surprise to Trent anthropology professor Eugene Morin, who scoffs at the notion sasquatch are trudging any forest.

"In terms of ecology, it doesn't make any sense," he said.

Willis is hoping to get invites to research more 'saquatchy' areas than Ontario. 'One of our goals is to get this talked about more in academia,' he says. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

Morin explains a pool of mates is needed to sustain a population of mammals. He says if sasquatch did exist, there would have been many more sightings and proof of mates, especially given their purported size.

"I think it's fun," he said about the society's mission. "It's probably entertaining but it's like UFOs … I think UFOs in my opinion are more likely to be [real]."

It's no April Fools' joke. A group of Peterborough, Ont., students are out searching for sasquatch. They've even formed an official student club at Trent University. Haydn Watters followed a recent search at a swamp.

That doesn't deter Willis. He questions why people who claim they've seen something would risk speaking out.

"There's a lot of stigma around coming out and saying you saw a sasquatch," he said.

Talking to those who have had encounters keeps him believing. It's murkier for other society members, like Allison Adam, a third-year business student who recently joined.

"I'm not ruling it out ... I'd maybe have to see one to really know for sure," she said.

No reports? Don't bother searching

Matthew Moneymaker, one of the hosts of Finding Bigfoot, was intrigued when asked to speak to the Trent group. He only knows one other school society dedicated to searching for the legendary beast, at a university in Virginia. He hopes they take off in more places.

"All these kids are very interested in it. They're having a lot of fun," said Moneymaker, who is founder and president of the U.S. based Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization.

He admits Ontario is not the "squatchiest" place and encourages the Trent students to stick to places where sightings have been reported.

Willis was given this Bigfoot noise maker from his dad as a Christmas gift. His parents think his sasquatch searching adventures are 'pretty cool.' 'They know I’ve had an interest for a long time,' he says. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

"Randomly going out, looking in the woods around the campus, it's just like, that's ridiculous," he said. "I hope this group can get organized enough to find out where the nearest reports are and they can spend some time out there at night, just like I did in law school."

Willis wants other schools to start up their own sasquatch society chapters and get it more talked about in academia. As he gets ready to graduate, he hopes to travel to places with more sasquatch reports, like British Columbia, Oregon and California.

"I'd love to keep doing just whatever I can with it and take it as far as I can."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Haydn Watters is a roving reporter in Ontario, mostly serving the province's local CBC Radio shows. He has worked for the CBC in Halifax, Yellowknife, Ottawa and Toronto, with stints at the politics bureau and entertainment unit. He ran an experimental one-person pop-up bureau for the CBC in Barrie, Ont. You can get in touch at haydn.watters@cbc.ca.

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