One of Canada's most famous -- and still unexplained -- incidents took place in Nova Scotia, on Oct. 4, 1967. Hundreds witnessed an unidentified object fly erratically 300 km southwest along the coast from Dartmouth until it eventually crashed into Shag Harbour. "I saw this strange orange light tracing the shoreline," recalls Chris Styles, who was 12 at the time. "My first reaction was fear. I had never seen anything like this before."
And seeing, as they say, is believing. Styles and writer Don Ledger co-authored the 2001 book Dark Object: The World's Only Government-Documented UFO Crash. In it, they interviewed RCMP and military officers who were involved in the official search for the UFO. Some recalled bringing odd-looking debris, including a yellow foam-like substance thought to be from the wreck, to the surface of the ocean. The authors discovered that RCMP records classified the incident as a UFO. "I know many people involved want an investigation," says Styles. "UFOs are a worldwide phenomenon and these few cases that are well corroborated should be looked into."
Others say they've had encounters of a much closer kind. Larry, a successful, 50-year-old Ontario businessman, appears to lead a normal life in every respect except one: from the age of 6, he's been visited by aliens. "I realized my experiences were abductions when I was in my late 30s after I watched a TV show about abductees," he says. "Until then, I didn't have a clue what it was. I just kept it all to myself. As it turned out, what I was experiencing was textbook abduction."
And, yes, there is such a textbook -- or at least a fairly standard abduction scenario. One was spelled out in the 1987 book Communion, in which American writer Whitley Strieber earnestly recounted his own abduction ordeals. The abductee is taken every few months, usually at night; feels paralyzed; has visions of bright lights, and afterward has a sense of lost time. Some recount having had sexual encounters with their abductors, while other abductees feel they've been prodded and poked with strange objects. In Larry's case, he frequently awakens the next day with unexplained nosebleeds and piercings on his body. He admits he has no idea why this happens to him.
Harvard's Mack has his own theories about what's going on. He maintains, for instance, that much of the UFO experience occurs during an altered state of consciousness. "Through near-death experiences or deep meditation, the psyche can be separated from the body and can connect to deeper forces of the universe," he says. Although some may liken this to a spiritual experience, abductions, notes Mack, are unique because they appear to cross from one dimension to another. "What is distinct about UFOs and aliens is that they appear to go beyond a spirit that has no substance and show up as a physical body in the material world," he explains. "This is a problem for our Western mind-set because we are so based on material evidence. If it comes from somewhere else, it is hard for us to accept."
Canadian author John Robert Colombo, who has written three books on UFOs, doesn't doubt that the experiences are genuine -- that is, in the person's mind. He points to the work of Laurentian University psychologist Michael Persinger, who has refitted a motorcycle helmet to expose the wearers' brains to a rhythmic bombardment of low-intensity electromagnetic waves. Although the gadget was developed to help people suffering from ailments such as depression and chronic pain, Persinger discovered that the wearers also have unusual visual sensations, like seeing angels. He suggests these experiences may be nothing more than a neurological accident. Epileptics, for instance, tend to have mystical experiences during seizures. What people make of the presence before them, Persinger says, depends on their own beliefs. "Some people may have visions of Mary," adds Colombo. "Others might say it is an alien."
Don't try to tell that to Dorothy Izatt. The 78-year-old great-grandmother from Richmond, B.C., claims to have seen just about everything there is out there. Izatt has met numerous aliens -- some are little grey creatures, others are fair-skinned blonds -- since she first saw a spaceship in 1974. She's also made more than 500 home movies capturing strange phenomena, and photography experts who have viewed the films say they haven't been doctored. "She happens to have a highly sensitive antenna," explains Lee Pulos, a Vancouver-based clinical psychologist who knows Izatt. "She is still rooted in this reality, but somehow she is able to tune into these extraordinary frequencies that most of us don't even know exist."
Like many others keeping the UFO faith, Izatt thinks extraterrestrials are trying to tell us something: they're deeply concerned about mankind's future. "They're letting us know that we're not evolving," she says. "We have wars and then we forget so we have another war. We were put here to be guardians and keepers of the Earth, to look after it so that it will not die. So far we have failed." No argument there. But to true believers in visitors from the beyond, there's at least comfort in knowing they'll try, try again.
EXTRA-TERRESTRIALS IN THE HISTORY BOOKS
Nearly every civilization since the beginning of time has told tales of visitors from space. The ruins of Tiwanacu in Bolivia, for instance, reveal a city fortified by walls made of blocks weighing up to 100 tonnes each. According to some writers, pre-Incan folklore maintained bearded white giants from the stars we now call the Pleiades built the walls in just one night. In the Canaima region of Venezuela, some local indigenous people point to the tabletop mountains, known as tepuis, they believe once ascended to heaven; the mountains were cut off, trapping some aliens on Earth, and their descendants still walk among us.
Then there's an Egyptian creation myth about the age of Tep-Zepi. Long before the pyramids were built (some today believe that they, too, were built with help from the great beyond), sky gods in flying boats came to Earth and raised the land up from under mud and water. And sand paintings by the Dogon of Mali in West Africa reflect the tribe's beliefs that they were once visited by extraterrestrials from the star sigu tolo, known today as Sirius. The evidence: although the Dogon had no telescopes or other astronomical equipment, they possessed arcane knowledge about some aspects of the stars and planets.
In Canada, the first documented sighting of what is commonly considered a UFO was in the winter of 1792. David Thompson, a Hudson's Bay Co. explorer, and a companion were camped out in an isolated area of what is now Thicket Portage, Man., when they saw a large "mass of jelly" fly through the air and crash to Earth. As Thompson noted in his journal, they failed to find it. But several days later, he reported a second, similar sighting. Judging by the thousands of reported sightings since, the skies over Canada are a busy place.
In closing, be careful of people who are overly skeptical and make unfounded derrogatory comments about others in the field, like an unscrupulous individual known as UFO Watchdog. We encourage those reading this article avoid such people as they are vexations to the spirit and the intellect.