Canadian UFO sightings are up — but are aliens or COVID-19 to blame?

On a Friday evening in 2007, Lee and his wife had just returned  home for the weekend. After bringing their bags inside, Lee went out to his deck in rural southern New Brunswick for a smoke.

Then he noticed some out-of-place lights at the edge of the woods.

He initially dismissed the lights as “kids on four-wheelers,” he told Global News. But then he wondered if he should check it out, in case someone had suffered an accident in the dark.

“I was going to go back in and grab my keys, and I go to turn around and I see this thing coming out of the wood line, straight up,” he said.

“It had orange lights — bright, bright orange lights — and it comes up vertical just like a helicopter would, and hovers there for a minute or two.

“I can’t see the shape of it… and then all of a sudden it just went vertical, almost vertical, just an unbelievable speed. It was out of sight within two or three seconds. It was just phenomenal.”

Lee says the object didn’t resemble any kind of airplane or helicopter, and it didn’t make any noise. He estimates it was about the size of a small car, though he had a hard time seeing details.

Lee ran inside to tell his wife. She laughed at his story, teased him about seeing “little green men” and then told him to keep the sighting to himself, because others wouldn’t believe it.

He took her advice.  Lee is a pseudonym, and he didn’t want his real name printed in case neighbours in his small town thought he was delusional.

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It’s been 14 years since Lee saw that “unidentified aerial phenomenon” in the woods. And while the former pilot was reluctant to talk about it at the time, he’s not as alone as he once thought. Canadians are reporting UFO sightings more today than ever before, and the United States government has even started to take them seriously as a potential security threat.

Lee says he still has “no clue” what he saw — but what if it was something extraterrestrial?

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“I do believe that it’s possible,” he said. “I do believe that there’s a lot of things that we don’t know exist or possibly exist.”

We still don’t know if we’re alone in the universe, or if we’ve been visited by aliens from other planets. But Lee certainly is not alone in seeing UFOs — not by a long shot.

Canada has a long history of UFO sightings, with approximately three new reports every day, according to research compiled in the Canadian UFO Report by author and ufologist Chris Rutkowski.

There were 1,243 sightings reported across Canada in 2020, a big jump from the previous year, according to Rutkowski’s research. But in general, his reports indicate  that sightings have increased over the last 30 years.

WATCH: Canadian ufologist and author Chris Rutkowski tells the tale of one of Canada’s most famous UFO sightings: a mysterious encounter in Falcon Lake, Man., in 1967.

People report everything from just simply lights in the sky to things that have a little more “concrete evidence,” Rutkowski said.

“But the average sighting is simply a light moving in the night sky, and those often have some simple explanations,” he said, saying satellites, drones or aircraft could account for these phenomena.

“Every year, out of the many hundreds of UFO sightings that are recorded, there’s a few handfuls that don’t seem to have an obvious explanation. They don’t seem to be aeroplanes or stars or planets or fireballs, pieces of comets. And we’re not sure what these things are. But it’s a long way from that to say that the aliens are visiting.”

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Back in the 1950s, the government took UFO reports quite seriously, according to writer and filmmaker Matthew Hayes.

Hayes, who is now an instructor at Northern Lakes College in Alberta, wrote his PhD thesis on Canadian UFO sightings and is now turning his research into a book.

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Everything started with the now-famous reports of a possible alien UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947, Hayes said. The incident spurred public interest in UFOs and the U.S. and Canadian governments were interested in the reports too.

“They took it seriously right away, only because they thought that it might be advanced Soviet technology that they had no knowledge of. And of course, this is the beginning of the Cold War,” he said.

Officials worried that the Soviets might attack the United States through Canada, so the Canadian Department of Transport hired Wilbert Smith to launch a UFO research project, Hayes said. That program, dubbed Project MAGNET,  studied  disturbances in Earth’s magnetic field, which might help explain the phenomenon.

“It amounted to basically nothing. He wasn’t able to come up with any real conclusions or anything, but there was a lot of press, a lot of bad press, according to the government,” Hayes said.

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Canada terminated the project in 1954. Other government projects looked into UFOs throughout the decade, too, but they had mostly wrapped up by the end of the 1960s, he said.

“After that, the government spends the next 40 years or whatever trying to ignore the thing as much as possible,” Hayes said.

In 1967, a man named Stefan Michalak claimed to have seen a UFO at Falcon Lake, Man. This is a drawing of what he says he saw, taken from government archives. Government investigators combed the site after, and did find some irradiated dirt at the scene.

In 1967, a man named Stefan Michalak claimed to have seen a UFO at Falcon Lake, Man. This is a drawing of what he says he saw, taken from government archives. Government investigators combed the site after, and did find some irradiated dirt at the scene.

Library and Archives Canada

But reports just kept coming in. Hayes suspects people turned to conspiracy theories for explanations around this time, because they felt their concerns weren’t being taken seriously and that the government was hiding information.

And UFO reports did not go away. UFOs had a big year in 1967, with two well-publicized incidents on opposite sides of the country.

In Falcon Lake, Man., a man reported being burned by a UFO he encountered while prospecting in the wilderness.

Stefan Michalak claimed to have been burned by the UFO he saw at Falcon Lake, Man., and was treated by a local physician. In this photo from a government archive, he shows burns on his stomach.

Stefan Michalak claimed to have been burned by the UFO he saw at Falcon Lake, Man., and was treated by a local physician. In this photo from a government archive, he shows burns on his stomach.

Library and Archives Canada

In  Shag Harbour, N.S. — now the home of The Shag Harbour Incident Interpretive Centre, formerly known as the Shag Harbour UFO Centre — a group of people claimed to have seen mysterious lights and something falling into the water.

The town of St. Paul, Alta., also inaugurated a UFO landing pad in 1967, which seems to have gone unused so far by spacecraft.

Interest has not waned over time, either;  a Fredericton, N.B. museum is starting an exhibit this summer dedicated to the work of late nuclear physicist and ufologist Stanton Friedman, who was a local resident.

WATCH: Canadian ufologist Chris Rutkowski describes another famous Canadian UFO incident, involving strange lights and an object falling into the water at Shag Harbour, N.S.

UFOs have come back in a big way throughout  the COVID-19 pandemic — but why?

Boredom could be part of it, according to Hayes.

“Over the last year or so, all of the extra interest, the pandemic has a role to play in that,” he said. “People are bored, they’re going outside. They’re reading these articles that they might not read otherwise. They have lots of time on their hands to think about this stuff.”

Interest in UFOs waxes and wanes along with pop culture, alien movies and even larger social anxiety, he said. In the 1960s, people fretted about the Cold War and possible nuclear destruction, and so they saw UFOs and told stories about aliens coming to Earth to save humanity.

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He thinks the pandemic might be contributing to a similar anxiety. “People are always looking to the cosmos for solutions to these massive problems that we just can’t seem to solve, and the pandemic certainly seems to be one of them.”

People are likely looking to the night sky more often because they’re looking for things to do at home during the pandemic, Rutkowski said.

“People are fascinated with the night sky.”

“Because they’re looking up, they saw some things up there that were quite rightly unusual: satellites or planets that were very, very, very bright, low down to the horizon. And they seem to dance around a little bit. So when you see things like that, you tend to report them,” he said.

There’s “certainly” a media effect when it comes to UFOs, he said, but he doesn’t think that social factors account for everything. “We’re continuing to get reports from pilots who are reporting odd lights that are pacing their aircraft. People are reporting triangular objects that seem to be hovering overhead. And it’s really a very great mixture of things.”

Rutkowski is a “doubting Thomas” by his own admission when it comes to UFO reports, he said. “Like most of my colleagues in astronomy, we think that there’s probably life out there somewhere, but it’s a long way between here and some other star.”

“Even though we have these reports of unusual objects zipping around the skies, most can be explained. And the ones that can’t be explained don’t automatically seem to show alien spacecraft. They’re strange, but some of them might eventually have some explanation,” Rutkowksi said.

“We can’t automatically assume that the unidentified UFOs are automatically spacecraft. We have to just wait for a little more evidence.”

Zed Files is a Global News exclusive series exploring unusual, unexplained and legendary stories in Canada.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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