Forests have long been breeding grounds for frightful tales. And no wonder. The trees that press close, the thick canopy that casts an all-day shadow, the hush that settles over everything, the snap of a twig nearby, and the ease with which travelers loose their way make forests alien places. Like the fathomless sea, we cannot see its deepest heart. And like the sea, sometimes monsters rise from their depths.
Haber Forest in Alberta, Canada has been home to supposed monster sightings since at least the early 19th century, if not before. Haber Forest is a 22,000 acre wilderness in north-central Alberta. It is named after Jeremiah Haber (1702-1776), an English explorer for the Hudson’s Bay Company who built outposts and villages along the Peace and Athabasca Rivers. It wasn’t until 1814 that Haber Forest was mentioned officially in a report about a caravan of settlers on their way west. The caravan vanished after last being seen headed toward Haber Forest. Though remains of their wagons were discovered years later, no trace of the forty-seven men, women, and children were ever found.
Other caravans and travelers went missing in Haber, earning the place a sinister reputation. Rumors began to circulate of a terrifying monster that lived there: the so-called “Haber Forest Raptor”.
Named after birds of prey, the Raptor was blamed as the source of thunder and blood-chilling, shrieks heard by numerous travelers in Haber. Partial skeletons of animals as large as grizzly bears have been found throughout the forest, but particularly near Thunder Bluff. Chipewyan tales, heard by early Canadian settlers, helped give rise to the Raptor legend. The native Chipewyan people of northern Alberta always avoided the forest.
The Raptor remained a thing of folklore through the 19th and 20th century. It wasn’t until 1982 that a trio of University of British Columbia students set out to prove once and for all the existence of the Haber Forest Raptor. Douglas McGovern, Martin Denis-Claire, and Phoebe Milson drove to Haber Forest with cameras and camping gear. Their plan was to camp in the forest for a week and record any and all traces of the fabled Raptor.
Four days later, the trio had packed up and driven back to Vancouver. They blamed bad weather for ending their adventure prematurely. All three were shaken and showed no interest in going back. They all claimed to have heard horrible shrieking—like the call of a giant raven—in the night. During the day they heard thunder, even when the sky was clear.
Fortunately, they had managed to take a number of photographs and some video footage. Their pictures showed swaths of forest where the trees were felled as if by a tornado. Like many travelers to Haber, the trio noted the number of tall trees which had their tops snapped off and the gashes, several inches deep, found on felled trees.
The trio claimed to have sen a giant shadow swoop down on one of these clear areas and carry off a full-grown buck. They were unable to take a picture, as it too fast. The sight horrified all three members of the group.
It was this incident that drove them form the forest, they claimed later.
Since the trio had been unable to record tangible proof of the Raptor, its existence remained a mystery. Skeptics explained that the damaged trees were caused by the severe wind storms which sweep through occasionally. The incident of with the buck was blown off, as the group had no actual proof except their own testimonies.
Ever since the disappearance of the forty-seven settlers in 1814, Haber Forest was home to a string of disappearances throughout the rest of the 19th century and the 20th. Of course, the mostly likely explanation for these are the severe storms which wrack the forest in autumn and winter.
The most noteworthy of the recent disappearances is that of Luke Bendell in 1995. An American and amateur rock climber, Luke had driven up to Haber Forest to climb Thunder Bluff, a 1,000-foot cliff and tallest peak in the forest. When Luke failed to return home, local authorities were alerted. Some of Luke’s gear was found scattered at the foot of the bluff. Luke’s body was later found in the forest some thirty yards from the cliff. While investigators were at first baffled by the distance of the body from the bluff, it was clear that a long fall had been the cause of death. Eventually, they reasoned that Luke had fallen while making his ascent, not been killed immediately, crawled into the forest, and then died from his injuries shortly thereafter.
Of course there are some who believe Luke was a victim of the Raptor, who had picked Luke up and dropped him to the ground, explaining why his body was far from the cliff. Others try to explain it by claiming Luke committed suicide by leaping from the top of Thunder Bluff. One of the investigators, who has remained anonymous, does claim that they are skeptical of the official cause of death. The amount of scattered gear and the distance of the corpse from the cliff just didn’t add up. There were also reports of lacerations on the body, which have since been explained as being caused by branches which Luke hit on his way down.
Interest in the Haber Forest Raptor died down during the later half of the ‘90s. It remained a popular legend in Alberta, but the rest of the world soon forgot about it. That is until 2008 when hiker and native Albertan John Cotter posted a strange video to his YouTube channel. Here’s the video:
John claimed he was hiking around Haber Forest when he heard the unnatural sounds. John is an experienced hiker and wrote that he had no idea what kind of animal could make those sounds. If this video is real, this proves that something lives inside the depths of Haber. John’s video rekindled interest in Alberta’s fabled monster.
In 2010 several photos were posted to a now-defunct cryptozoology forum by a man who claimed to be a park ranger for the province of Alberta. Though the originals were taken down soon after, I have saved versions here:
The setting appears to be Haber Forest. As you can see, there is something flying in the distance. If these photos are real, then they are the best visual evidence of the Raptor to-date. However, the man never revealed his identity, so it is unknown who actually posted the original. And the pictures are so grainy, it is impossible to say conclusively what we are looking at. If it is a bird, it is a strange-looking one.
The Raptor has had the same description—with only minor variations—for more than a hundred years. Canadian settlers told of a human with enormous wings and talons for feet. Some versions described it as having a naked body and a shriveled head with a beak, like a vulture’s head. Others said that feathers covered most of its body and that it had fangs instead of a beak. People guess that, for a human-sized being to fly, it would have to have a wingspan of at least 40 feet. The huge wings would explain the booms of thunder associated with Raptor sightings.
An interesting connection that people have made is the similarity between the Raptor and thunderbirds of the Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest, Great Plains, and the Great Lakes region. This mythological creature made thunder by the beating of its huge wings. Many omens were associated with the thunderbird. It could be that the Haber Forest Raptor is the progenitor of these myths, or—as some have put forward—the Raptor is the last remaining member of its kind, a species of human-like bird creatures that used to live in southern Canada and the northern US.
Whether a myth, a supernatural being, or a remnant of some prehistoric race, the Haber Forest Raptor will continue to haunt Alberta. Stories, like this one, will continue to be told about it. Perhaps one day, we will find definitive proof of its existence. Until then, Haber Forest will be shrouded in mystery and legend.