John Patrick McManus was leading a night navigation exercise in Manitoba when he looked up and saw a “very bright” light.
“The light all of the sudden just zapped to the left,” the retired Canadian lieutenant-colonel told VICE World News. “It moved at a speed that I could not comprehend.”
Through access to information requests, public records, and exclusive interviews, VICE World News has discovered close to 70 years of cases involving the Canadian Armed Forces—such as a “large tubular object” tracked by radar in 2002, a “white spot, turning blue and red” seen “travelling in zigzag formation” above Ontario’s CFB Borden base in 1978, and “an orange pulsating symmetrical light” witnessed silently speeding over Ottawa by a pair of Air Force officers in March 1950.
“What’s most striking is that this is not a new phenomenon,” Timothy Sayle, the director of the University of Toronto’s International Relations program, told VICE World News. “The fact that reports were filed in the early 1950s suggests these are not recent, commercially available drones.”
Sayle is a historian whose research focuses on national security, foreign intelligence, and declassified records. He points out a document from 1953 that shows how the Canadian military decided to standardize UFO reporting because of all the sightings it was receiving.
“Which makes sense, because military institutions should be searching for threats and trying to identify them,” Sayle said. “That doesn’t mean they’re looking for aliens, but these are highly credible observers whose professional judgement is at stake.”
In Washington, UFOs are increasingly being taken seriously. U.S. defence and intelligence officials are currently coordinating on an unclassified UFO report, which is expected to be delivered to Congress by the end of June, and the Pentagon’s efforts to investigate UFOs, which were revealed in a bombshell 2017 New York Times article, are now being operated under a program called the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force. Last month, former President Barack Obama even weighed in on the subject.
A spokesperson from Canada’s Department of National Defence told VICE World News that while it has seen reports on these developments, it is “not aware of any Canadian nexus or participation in the U.S. Department of Defense’s UFO studies at this time, nor does the Canadian Armed Forces have a unit dedicated to investigating UFOs.”
Perhaps it should, because just like in the U.S., its personnel have been reporting them for decades.
‘An intense light over the base’
Of the dozen military sightings uncovered for this story, arguably the one with the most witnesses took place on Sept. 14, 2007 at CFB North Bay in northeastern Ontario. According to a report obtained by an access to information request, a patrolling military policeman “observed an intense light over the base” well before sunrise that morning and quickly called an officer with 21 Squadron—the same air force unit that is notified when civilian pilots spot UFOs in Canadian airspace.
Others quickly spilled outside. One officer “declined to classify the occurrence.” Another “could not explain it either.” A different military policeman said “the light appeared to move very slowly upwards” with “no sound” until it “faded with the rising sun” more than an hour after it was first noticed. The report noted the “phenomenon has been recorded by video and digital camera.”
After it was mentioned in a recent story in the Globe and Mail, VICE World News was able to track down the author of the unclassified report, who provided additional details on condition of anonymity.
“I was teased and given a hard time for reporting it,” he explained. “Military culture can be unforgiving.”
The former military policeman describes a white “orb of light” in a dark starless sky that appeared to be large and solid.
“It was bright and as it slowly ascended, it began to change to a grey-black colour before it disappeared,” he recalled. “I have no idea what the object was.”
He said it was captured on both the base’s security camera system and a cell phone, and that all footage was “logged into evidence as per protocol.” VICE World News attempted to obtain those recordings via an access to information request, but was told by Canada’s Department of National Defence that “following a thorough and complete search… no records could be located.”
According to the report’s author, approximately 15 “curious” military personnel saw the object, including 21 Squadron staff and U.S. Air Force members stationed at the base as part of NORAD, the joint Canada-U.S. air defence alliance. He claims the case was investigated by NORAD in Colorado, which “concluded that it was a ‘celestial event,’” without ever interviewing him.
In an email to VICE World News, a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) spokesperson from NORAD’s Canadian headquarters declined to comment on specific incidents, and stated it does “not typically investigate sightings of unknown or unexplained phenomena outside the context of investigating credible threats, potential threats, or potential distress in the case of search and rescue.”
‘They weren’t chasing Russians’
John Patrick McManus, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces from 1960 to 1984, was with two other soldiers when he spotted a UFO at CFB Shilo in Manitoba in the spring of 1981.
“Within a moment or two it shot directly away from us, diminishing in brightness as it disappeared at a fantastic speed,” he said. “When it was gone, I looked at these young guys and they were just absolutely gobsmacked, because they couldn’t figure it out any more than I could.”
When McManus reported it the next morning, he was asked to fill out a form, which was placed in a file by the base operations officer.
“There appeared to be other reports in there, so I assumed that mine was not the first one that had ever crossed his desk,” McManus, who spent most of his career in the infantry, said. “What I reported did not surprise him at all.”
Have an unusual observation or document to share? Reach out to Daniel Otis via Twitter at @dsotis or email otisstories (at) gmail (dot) com.
Two hundred kilometres to the east, while sunbathing near a runway at CFB Winnipeg in June 1985, John “Jock” Williams claims he saw “the single brightest object I’ve ever seen in the sky next to the sun.”
Williams spent 36 years in the Canadian military, including more than two decades flying fighter jets such as the supersonic CF-5, before retiring from the forces in 1997. He watched the large motionless light for several minutes that afternoon before getting up and ringing the base’s air traffic control tower.
“They said, ‘Oh yeah, we can see it,’” Williams recalled. “They already had lots of phone calls about it.”
To Williams, who now works as an aviation consultant and television commentator, the sighting seemed far from unusual.
“I’ve heard stories about fighter pilots getting sent after objects and being unable to catch up with them or match their performance,” said Williams, who has logged more than 13,500 hours as a military and civilian pilot. “I’ve been hearing those stories since 1966… And I’m pretty sure that they weren’t chasing Russians, because we could catch the Russians.”
‘A large tubular object’
Williams previously spoke to VICE World News for a story on the Canadian government’s aviation incident database, which contains dozens of UFO reports from airlines like WestJet and Air Canada. That system also includes cases involving the military.
One, from the night of Nov. 21, 2008, describes Canadian Armed Forces personnel notifying civilian air traffic controllers of a “UFO” east of Regina, Saskatchewan. According to their report, “the object was stationary with bright, white lights and had been observed on previous occasions.”
Another, from just after dark on Nov. 27, 2002, outlines “an observation on NORAD radar of a large tubular object between (37 and 47 thousand feet) in the area of Chicago which was moving toward the Thunder Bay area” in northwestern Ontario. That account seems reminiscent of a widely reported Feb. 21, 2021 event from New Mexico, when an American Airlines flight called air traffic controllers after seeing “a long cylindrical object... moving really fast right over the top of us.”
Military assets have even responded to sightings. One incident is detailed in a Sept. 3, 2018 email, which was unclassified in December. Sent by a Halifax-based Air Force captain to a slew of senior Canadian military officers with the words “UFO / Sighting” in the subject line, the email describes a Cormorant search and rescue helicopter being dispatched to the coast of Prince Edward Island after a “concerned citizen saw something fall in the water and could neither confirm nor deny having a person on board.” The Cormorant and a boat from a local fire department scoured the area that night, but found nothing.
Similarly, on May 14 of this year, a video emerged from a U.S. warship of an unidentified flying object entering the Pacific Ocean in 2019. Released by American documentary filmmaker Jeremy Corbell, the clip was quickly authenticated by the Pentagon.
‘Twice the speed of an F-86’
Canada’s Navy has encountered UFOs too, like on the morning of Aug. 21, 1968, when crew aboard a pair of destroyers in the Pacific Ocean spotted multiple “bright objects” flying in formation.
Unclassified records from the National Research Council of Canada and Canada’s Department of National Defence contain scores of historic UFO reports like this, including a handful from Canadian military bases such as CFB Cold Lake in Alberta, where on the night of Sept. 14, 1981, a lit-up object “flew thru CFB Cold Lake restricted area” at roughly 6,000 feet without being picked up on radar.
Look back further and you’ll find Canadian military sightings in nearly every decade of the Cold War era, like early on Dec. 15, 1978 at CFB Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan, when several privates and a captain reported “four objects in line” that were “circular. Whitish with orange and light red. Slightly above northern horizon. Travelling west to east.”
At the same base towards dawn on Nov. 7, 1967, a sergeant noticed “a very bright light” at an altitude of 3,000-4,000 feet with “what appeared to the observer as small moons arcing the outer perimeter of light.” When it began moving, “it appeared to the observer to be elongated in shape” before it rapidly disappeared upward.
One of the Canadian military’s oldest UFO reports comes from April 12, 1952, at what was then called RCAF Station North Bay. That night—and more than 55 years before the 2007 case at the same base—two officers caught sight of something “apparently round” like “an amber traffic light” that moved at a “very great rate of speed—comparable to twice the speed of an F-86” jet fighter, and then “skidded to a stop, reversed direction and disappeared… at a greater rate of speed on reversal than on approach.” The intelligence officer who interviewed the witnesses noted that the “abrupt reversal of direction observed conveyed the idea that it was most strange and worthwhile reporting.”
‘There is something here’
Matthew Hayes is a researcher and filmmaker whose 2019 doctoral dissertation focused on Canada’s Cold War UFO records.
“When I look back at older UFO reports and compare them with those that have been coming out in the media recently, I see way more continuity than any rupture or change,” he told VICE World News.
“People are reporting the same things from year to year and decade to decade,” he said. “That lends credence to the idea that there is something here.”
Sayle from the University of Toronto agrees.
“There are phenomena in our skies that cannot be explained,” he said. “That’s worthy of study.”
Follow Daniel Otis on Twitter.