Lake Utopia is located in Charlotte County, branching off the Magaguadavic River. It’s a decent sized lake measuring approximately 7 km in length and with a varying water level dependant on the resources being directed toward the Magaguadavic River hydroelectric dam. Lake Utopia is the hub of a cottage area, and both year round residents and summer vacationers take advantage of the lake for swimming, boating and fishing, but in late winter and early spring, Lake Utopia belongs to Old Ned the lake monster.
We’re talking about a very old legend here; this one predates the European settlements. Old Ned’s fame began way back in the late 1700s, when local Mi’kmaq passed on the story of a group of native hunters being chased in their canoes by a gigantic lake creature to the newly-arrived Europeans. If this was intended as a way to keep the newcomers away from the lake fishing, it didn’t work. No sooner did word spread then fishermen from the nearby townships began trying to catch themselves a sea monster. They set out in boats onto the lake, stringing baited handlines and giant nets, but to no avail. It seemed Old Ned wasn’t interested in meeting his new neighbours just yet.
That’s not to say that Old Ned didn’t have a change of heart. Quite to the contrary; it wasn’t long before he began putting in appearances during the early thaw. Some speculated that the thinning ice was what drew him inshore after a cold winter. Others felt Old Ned was simply biding his time, setting his own schedule for a grand entrance. When he did pop up, folks were quick to describe the beast, each in their own fashion. Some said Old Ned was at least 30 feet long (though the commonly accepted length is closed to twelve feet) with the head the size of an old fashioned bathtub (nowadays, he’s cited as having a head of horse-ish dimensions). A few brave witnesses stayed close enough to report a mouth full of sharp teeth, with one even taking note of blood dripping from each and every tooth. He has a slender, undulating body that sweeps along semi-submerged. Most folks described Old Ned as covered in dark red scales but even here, there was some debate as to his body colour. Where there’s even more debate is in terms of what exactly Old Ned is.
I guess the answer to that question will vary with how keen one is on the idea of lake monsters. There’s been the usual theories offered up, along with those based on known local wildlife. An explanation of this sort casts Old Ned as a giant Sturgeon. Measuring four feet long and larger, covered in armour-like plates and noted for their elongated bodies these fish, once common in the Saint John River, might seem good candidates for mistaken identity as lake monsters. Not so, at least not in this case. For starters, the Sturgeon is a notably calm fish, docile enough around boats to have been fished nearly to extinction in some regions. Oh, and Sturgeons have no teeth; this doesn’t quite fit with the Old Ned tales, now does it? So much for the Sturgeons.
Another popular identity for Old Ned is that of a giant sea turtle. There’s nothing very slender, undulating or long about a turtle, no matter how giant a turtle we’re talking about. I think this explanation can be swiftly disposed of, alongside packs of seals and otters. That leaves us with three viable options; Old Ned is an as-yet unidentified cetacean (whales, for example, are cetaceans), a leftover prehistoric water mammal or an imaginary monster. I know which way I’m leaning. If I were you, I’d be careful about being too open in embracing option three anywhere near Lake Utopia; I doubt Old Ned would take kindly to being called imaginary, and he does have those big, bloody teeth….
Some well documented Old Ned sightings over the years:
1867 – Sawmill employees watched as something eel-like rolled repeatedly in the water, near the centre of Lake Utopia.
1982 – A worker from a nearby paper mill, outside on his break, saw a large creature surface “like a submarine” with water spilling down its sides. The witness could see only a hump, or maybe a section of the body of a huge eel, which then quickly disappeared back into the lake.
1996 – A group out canoing on Lake Utopia followed a creature measuring “30 to 40 feet” as it swam just under the surface. It was noted that the movements were “up and down” and not “side to side”, as most eels would swim.