From audio anomalies to celestial orbs, there is no shortage of Kootenay UFO sightings. Are they hallucinations? Hoaxes? Writer Derrick Knowles gets up close with what is interstellar.

When you’re camped off a backcountry road in the middle of nowhere, startling noises after midnight frequently foretell troublesome things to come. Wedged between two friends in the bed of my buddy’s truck back in 1997, I was suddenly aware of an eerie thrum rattling the canopy. “Vroom-vroom…vroom-vroom…vroom-vroom,” the otherworldly sound repeated over and over; its pulsating vibrations seemed to numb my sleepy brain and lull me toward a trance-like state. When the reverberations suddenly stopped, I assumed I’d been dreaming—until I heard the frightened exchange between my two companions. “Did you hear that?” Nate asked. “Uh-huh,” whispered Ursula in a drawn-out shaky breath.

Above and top: illustrations by Hailey McLaren

Our impromptu wide-spot-in-the-road campsite—about 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of Christina Lake, British Columbia, over the American border—wasn’t on the way to the trail we planned to hike the following morning. It was a convenient place to crash off a remote dead-end forest road after an unplanned night of neon signs, jukebox tunes, and a few too many beers. As it would turn out, that choice led us straight to an alarming predicament.

We lay frozen in the dark, terrified. There were no lights that we could see, just the rhythmic humming that sounded like burly truck tires slowly rolling across a cattle guard directly above us. When it finally stopped, a few silent seconds passed before an undulating series of beeps began. This new audible oddity have passed for one of R2D2’s outbursts. That’s when Nate, a verifiable but relatively harmless American gun nut, procured his piece and pointed it straight into the cosmos. We waited. And waited. But whatever alien acoustics had been haunting us had seemingly moved on. In hushed conference, we made our escape plan. Nate kicked open the camper door and we bolted for the cab of the truck while scanning the empty night sky. Then we shredded the few kilometres to the well-lit town of Kettle Falls, Washington. All the while we debated a question that still lingers: What the hell was that?

Odds are you’ve never heard celestial sounds of mysterious origin, and you might find it hard to believe that such things are anything more than misidentified natural or human-created phenomenon. Nevertheless, there’s a chance you could encounter a little UFO jangle in your pocket one day. The Royal Canadian Mint issued a new rectangular glow-in-the-dark coin that pays tribute to Canada’s most famous UFO sighting, the 1967 Shag Harbour incident off the coast of Nova Scotia, in October 2019. Part of the “unexplained phenomena” series, the one-ounce silver coin depicts three fishermen witnessing the moment when a bus-sized circular object with bright-orange lights went crashing into the cold, dark sea. While the $129.95 Shag Harbour coins sold out in 24 hours, curious collectors can still pick one up on eBay at an inflated price.

Nova Scotia isn’t the only hot spot of unexplained aerial phenomena. The greater Kootenay region has its fair share of reported UFO sightings, according to the non-profit society UFO BC. The Surrey, British Columbia, group maintains an archive of reported encounters of unidentified flying objects dating back several decades. They include zigzagging orbs over Cranbrook, fiery orange balls arcing above Kootenay Lake, and a well-documented incident of celestial strangeness that went down in the province’s “Little Bavaria.” One night in 1999, there were multiple sightings of a diamond-shaped object hovering over Kimberley. Onlookers reported a dazzling light display, and several astonished witnesses shared their accounts of the bizarre spectacle in a subsequent East Kootenay Weekly article by reporter Christine Boyd. At least one person saw beams of light flash from the object onto the roof of the McKim Theatre. Adding to the mystery, the recently renovated building’s roof collapsed unexpectedly a few hours later with no apparent explanation.

That’s when Nate, a verifiable but relatively harmless American gun nut, procured his piece and pointed it straight into the cosmos.

Interest in UFOs across Canada seems to be alive and well, based on a 2018 survey compiled by Ufology Research, a private organization in Manitoba. According to the survey, about 10 per cent of Canadians have had a UFO encounter, with 937 sightings documented throughout the country in 2018. Quebec leads with 41 per cent of the reports, but BC took third place with 13 per cent. Unidentifiable lights in the sky remain the most commonly reported phenomenon (about 40 per cent), followed by spherical or boomerang-shaped objects and point-source lights. Interestingly, 2018 marked a 15 per cent drop in UFO reports. This development certainly could be a statistical anomaly, but it left me wondering if we’re simply spending way more time these days looking down at our phones than staring in wonder at the cosmic curiosities twinkling back at us from above.

For this article we partnered with second-year students in the digital arts program at Selkirk College’s School of the Arts as part of course in which they learn how to work together with clients and build a portfolio of work. These are some of the other great submissions we received as possible illustrations laid out in a dummy-article format.