Close encounters of the northern Ontario kind

Ghosts. Sasquatches. UFOs. Meet the man who’s been tracking sightings in the Thunder Bay area for almost three decades
By Jon Thompson - Published on Oct 31, 2019
a photo of a UFO
Screenshot from Dee McCullay’s 2018 documentary “Northern Lights.” (Courtesy of Dee McCullay)

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NIPIGON — Steve Gregor thought his late wife, Kathy, had deleted them all. But when he was cleaning out his Nipigon home earlier this month, he found print-outs: three photos, taken seven years ago, showing orange dots and blurry streaks of light in the night sky.

For him, these were proof of an alien encounter. And he knew that, in nearby Red Rock, 100 kilometres east of Thunder Bay, lived someone who had been studying the paranormal and documenting UFO sightings for nearly three decades. So Gregor made a call to the man, who goes by Dee McCullay. “I saw 10 of them, one after another — little ones came out,” he told McCullay. “They dropped down, they came over our house, and they turned, then they vanished — just zoom. It was like Star Trek warp.”

McCullay added the information to his spreadsheet: 10 pages detailing ghost, sasquatch, and alien sightings in the Thunder Bay area. “I’m the guy in the district people keep coming to because they see the stuff I put out,” says McCullay, who’s produced documentaries about sasquatches and UFOs in Ontario’s north.

People who believe that they’ve encountered UFOs are often hesitant to go public, he says, because others tend to respond with disbelief: “It’s very hard to find someone who’s actually going to go on camera and speak about this stuff, because of what the public might say.”

Kim Casey, also from Nipigon, is familiar with the stigma. Three years ago, the author put up a poster at the library asking anyone who had personal experience of paranormal activity to contact her. Her resulting book, True Encounters of the Mystifying Kind in Northern Ontario, which she plans to self-publish in December, includes two chapters on UFOs. “I have never been under so much siege in my life,” she says. “I was attacked. I was ridiculed. They’d make fun of me — there would be questions about my sanity.”

It’s difficult to establish how many Canadians, in northern Ontario or elsewhere, believe they’ve had a brush with aliens — at least in part because no one officially keeps track of such reports.

For decades, the Canadian government was on top of the task. Between 1950 and 1995, it amassed more than 15,000 pages recording nearly 4,500 UFO sightings. After two 1950s investigations — Project Magnet and Project Second Storey — proved inconclusive, the file bounced from the departments of national defence and transport, to the RCMP, to the National Research Council. There it remained until budget cuts ultimately led to its discontinuation. NRC spokesperson Matt Ellis notes that the information gathered is available through Library and Archives Canada and says that citizens should contact Transport Canada with “any safety concerns regarding traffic in our skies.”

Freelancers, though, continue to monitor and document reported sightings. McCullay has recorded more than 200 in the Thunder Bay area going back to 1914, when the Daily Times Journal wrote about an unexplained light that appeared over Mount McKay.

And then there’s Chris Rutkowski, a Winnipeger who’s been tracking UFO sightings nationwide for 31 years and manages an online database called Uforum. He says that, since 1995, he’s been contacted by a number of people who were referred to him by the NRC. (Ellis says that, while connecting callers with Rutkowski was never official policy, it did likely happen.)

“Their policy is that they’re not interested in this,” Rutkowski says. “Civilians don’t have the resources the government has, but I’d rather the government and the military spend money on more strategic issues like working overseas — working on peacekeeping and that sort of thing — than receiving UFO reports from the general public.”

Rutkowski believes that, regardless of whether aliens exist, it’s important to keep accurate records. “This is an aspect of history that pervades our lives. It’s part of culture; it’s a part of our society,” he says. “If it’s not a physical phenomenon, it’s the very least a sociological or a psychological phenomenon — and, in any of those three cases, it ought to be studied by science.”

Matthew Hayes takes a similar view: in his recently completed PhD thesis for Trent University, he examines communications exchanged between the Canadian government and UFO spotters from 1950 to 1995.

“I think there was something in the culture going on that was tapping into anti-establishment, anti-authority in general,” he says, noting that Canada didn’t pass its Access to Information Act until 1982 — 15 years after the United States passed its Freedom of Information Act. “People just assumed the government was hiding information. A lot of people who are into the UFO thing already distrust authority, so just appealing to authority over and over again — or to higher levels of authority — makes them double down on their beliefs.”

McCullay, for his part, thinks the Canadian government knows more than it’s saying about the existence of extra-terrestrial life on Earth — and he hopes that, if interest in reported sightings grows, Ottawa will be obliged to reveal its secrets.

“If you put out documentaries on it, it’s a lot easier for people to get involved with and watch. It’s a lot easier for people to come and tell their stories than going to a reporting centre,” he says. “Hopefully, one day, the government will put it out en masse for everyone to hear: ‘Yes, they are here. We’ve denied it for too long. You guys already know it. We don’t have to tell you, but here’s the info you’re asking for anyway.’”

This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting northwestern Ontario. It's brought to you in partnership with Confederation College of Applied Arts and Technology. Views and opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the college.

Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.​​​​​​​

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