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Media Article # 609

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Footprints and Fables: John Green's Half-Century Hunt for Bigfoot

By Don Wells
Trek Magazine

Issue #25: Fall 2009

Footprints and Fables: John Green's Half-Century Hunt for Bigfoot
by Don Wells, BA'89

Newspaper journalist, author, publisher, businessman, politician, competitive sailor, boat builder, husband, father, community service leader and sasquatch investigator. Meet John Green, wearer of many hats.

I have vivid memories of the sasquatch. I grew up in the shadow of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains and was enthralled by the reports of sightings of an enormous bipedal creature in the Kootenay Plains wilderness region near Banff National Park. I was part of a group of kids that regularly fished with our fathers in that area in the late 1960s, and I remember casting our lines in the twilight hours and listening to our fathers discuss the most recent "Bigfoot" sightings they had heard on the radio or read in newspapers. I was 12 years old, and the prospects of a hairy monster stalking the mountains where our families went camping thrilled and terrified me.

I also remember being excited to discover a book in our local library about sasquatch encounters written by a man from Harrison Hot Springs, BC, named John Green. Those times came back in a big way when, four decades later, I found myself sitting in the living room of the author himself, a UBC graduate (BA'46) who still resides in Harrison Hot Springs and is still regarded as the world’s most prolific researcher and author on the lingering mystery of the sasquatch.

John Green is not a rugged outdoorsman who has spent a lifetime in the bush. His upbringing was strictly urban and his 82 years have been spent in amazingly eclectic pursuits. Yes, sasquatch investigator is on the list, but so is newspaper journalist, author, publisher, businessman, politician, investor, competitive sailor, boat builder, husband, father and community service leader.

The sasquatch may never have received worldwide attention if it had not been for Green, and for a serendipitous chain of events that began at UBC in 1943. An academically gifted 17-year-old majoring in English, Green agreed to tag along with a chum on his way to the Publications Board office in the basement of Brock Hall to pick up a writing assignment for The Ubyssey newspaper. It was there in the offices of "the Pub" that his interest was sparked to pursue a career in the newspaper world.

As the son of Howard Green, a long-time Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, John was no stranger to public issues. He was also a born communicator who took quickly to the mechanics of news writing. While a student, he turned out copy on university affairs for The Ubyssey and Totem yearbooks, and for The Province newspaper. He graduated at 19 and went to work for a year as a reporter for the Vancouver News Herald before moving to New York in 1947 to attend graduate school in Journalism at Columbia University.

He worked part-time for The Globe and Mail in New York, and later as a full-time reporter for two years at the paper’s Toronto headquarters, then returned to Vancouver to cover local news for The Province. After a subsequent stint at the Victoria Times Colonist, he bought his own paper in 1954, the Agassiz-Harrison Advance.

"Talk about an upside-down career," he laughs as he recalls the peculiar journey from New York to a tiny community paper in the Upper Fraser Valley. "Our circulation was in the hundreds, but owning your own paper was what many people in the business wanted to do in those days."

John Green’s high-profile father studied law at the University of Toronto. His mother, Marion Green (nee Mounce), was the daughter of a Vancouver Island lumber baron and the first woman to graduate from UBC’s faculty of Agricultural Sciences. In spite of his blue-blooded urban roots, small town life in Agassiz agreed with John and wife June, and they quickly settled in and began to raise the first of four children.

A turning point came one day in 1956 when a Swiss-born farm labourer from the Alberta foothills named Rene Dahinden entered the newspaper’s office and asked Green if he knew anything about reported sightings of a large two-footed creature that bore a resemblance to the Abominable Snowman of Nepal. Green told Dahinden that the reports were nonsense and that he was wasting his time.

"I referred him to some local hunters thinking they would talk him out of it. But of course I also put something in the paper about it and that started some talk about sightings that happened here in 1941. People I knew and respected were involved, so I had to take it a bit more seriously."

In the months that followed the visit by Dahinden, Green became increasingly curious about the 1941 incidents that reportedly took place in the vicinity of Ruby Creek, a short distance up the Fraser River. His research began by interviewing the son of a deceased deputy sheriff from Whatcom County in Washington who had investigated sightings around Ruby Creek. The deputy had made sketches and plaster casts of footprints and arranged for a local magistrate and former trial lawyer to cross examine four witnesses to the incidents before taking their sworn affidavits.

Then in the fall of 1958, The Province newspaper reported that a bulldozer operator from Eureka, California, named Jerry Crew had discovered hundreds of footprints on a logging road in northwestern California. Green and his wife immediately drove south where they connected with Crew on a road construction site near the Oregon border. At first he thought they had made the three-day drive only to be confronted with a prank.

"When we got there, this fellow said that we were too late and that they had just back-bladed the fresh prints, and I thought, oh sure," said Green. "Then he said, 'but have a look around, you’ll find some older ones.' June opened the car door and there was a footprint a few feet from the car. What particularly impressed me was the similarity between the outline of these tracks and the tracings I had of one of the Ruby Creek footprints."

Convinced that something much heavier than a man had made the deep footprints, Green stepped up his efforts to get scientists to take the subject more seriously and made frequent trips to California, sometimes with tracking dogs, to investigate the validity of reports and inspect footprints. He also became part of a loose network of sasquatch hunters, one of whom was Roger Patterson from Yakima, Washington, who Green invited on an excursion to an area of Northern California known as Bluff Creek.

Patterson came to Bluff Creek a month later hoping to get pictures of fresh tracks for a movie he intended to make about his search for Bigfoot. What he got was a 40-second 16 millimetre film clip of what appears to be a large female biped walking upright along a creek bed.

Almost overnight, the film went around the world, including a screening at UBC, and sparked renewed interest and speculation about the creature’s existence. "There was already some publicity at the time, but it would have died down had the movie not been made," says Green.

In response to claims that the film had been manipulated, he went to Los Angeles and the Walt Disney film studios to ask if they could have wildlife film experts look at the film to determine if it was a fake. The man Green spoke to declined, saying that they had already seen the film and deemed it to be legitimate, and that whatever it was in the film was neither an animal nor a machine and had indeed walked in front of a camera.

The number of reports increased dramatically after the film caught public attention, and Green had to work hard to maintain his records of reported sightings and tracks. Once the computer came of age, he spent a dozen years maintaining a data base that grew to some 4,000 entries, but abandoned his work when the Internet made it impossible to keep up with the information that was available on-line.

In 1968, he released his first book on the sasquatch and sold his newspaper a few years later to concentrate on producing more books and continuing his research. He has lost track of the number of books and revised versions he has written, but estimates that he has sold close to 250,000 copies.

Rene Dahinden tramped fruitlessly through the wilderness for decades until his death in 2002, but Green’s sasquatch investigation did not dominate his life. He kept up with a number of other occupations, including raising his family, running a business and pursuing his political aspirations, which focused on offering the provincial electorate an alternative to BC’s traditional two-party system, or as he describes it, "a free enterprise government that hasn’t gone crazy." He eventually announced his intention to run for provincial office as a Conservative, losing by a wide margin in each of the four elections in which he ran. After getting himself elected as village mayor of Harrison Hot Springs in 1963, he led a crude but effective process of pumping hundreds of thousands of tons of sand from the lake bottom to cover the enormous boulders that lined the shore, thereby creating the popular beach that exists today and helping to transform the area into one of southwestern BC’s most popular recreation destinations. Some years later he founded the World Sand Sculpture Championships, which gained international profile for the region for almost two decades.

A competitive sailboat racer in his youth and an engineer at heart, he found the time and ingenuity to design and construct the first fiberglass hull sailboat to ply BC waters. He also became an adept investor after his father died and left him a sizable inheritance.

"I had the golden touch there for a while," he says with a wry smile. Finding himself with more money than he had ever wanted or needed, he gave some away to his children, but also exercised various forms of philanthropy. Well into his seventies, he returned to municipal politics after becoming increasingly disenchanted with the decisions and priorities of the Harrison Hot Springs village council. Four decades after first being elected, he again waged a successful campaign for a commissioner’s seat in 2002.

That same year, news broke that the family of a road-building contractor from Washington named Ray Wallace claimed upon his death that it was he, and not a large unknown animal, that had made the tracks using huge carved wooden feet in the Bluff Creek area where Roger Patterson’s film was made. Green bitterly recalls how the media had a hay day with the story that Bigfoot was a hoax all along, perpetrated by a renowned practical joker, even though it was clear that it was Wallace’s family, not Wallace himself, who had "confessed" about the footprints. As an ex-newspaper man, Green knew that editors love such revelations, substantiated or not, and the effect they have on newspaper sales.

"The story was nonsense, since everyone who had looked into the subject knew that huge bipedal tracks had shown up all over North America long before Ray Wallace was born. None of the media bothered to check the accuracy of the story. None of them realized what the tracks in question were actually like, and they had no interest in finding out."

In spite of ongoing reports of sightings and tracks, and in spite of a number of prominent primate experts endorsing the merit of further investigation, the media on both sides of the Canada-US border determined that Bigfoot had died along with Ray Wallace. Still, Green contends, the work to find out what kind of creature can make deep tracks throughout the western North American wilderness continues, but in relative obscurity. Nobody in the media, he laments, really cares.

"The fact is that the tracks exist, and no human being has yet proven to be able to replicate the tracks of the depth recorded. I’d like to know what’s making the bloody tracks."

He has been encouraged recently by new investigations, led most notably by Dr. Jeff Meldrum, a physical anthropologist from Idaho State University who specializes in the evolution of bipedal walking.

There is also new interest in the Patterson film. Forensic animators and physical anthropologists have begun using animation software to examine 116 frames of the film, paying particular attention to the pivot points of the joints in the arms and legs to pinpoint their relative length. He hopes that new technology will show that the creature in the film is not merely a human in a suit by accurately determining the ratio referred to by primatologists as the intermembral index, which compares the relative lengths of bones in the arms and legs. If somebody can successfully do that, he contends, neither the media nor the rank and file of zoologists will be able to ignore the possibilities.

In the meantime, those of us who have been fascinated by the idea of another bipedal hominid existing on the earth should be grateful for the work of John Green, and for his courage in maintaining an open-minded attitude in spite of mainstream skepticism.

His work and personal credibility were instrumental in prompting a wider body of inquiry, one that has been essential in responding to an enduring groundswell of innate human curiosity, and which has applied much-needed rigor and discipline to the investigation of a subject that for decades thrilled many an imagination, mine included.

Bibliographical Information:

Don Wells is a freelance writer, producer and communications strategist based in White Rock, BC.

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