Disclaimer: Some names have been changed.
When I initially thought of diving deep into the Winnipeg alien community, I had one singular premise: convince me.
Convince me it’s true. The conspiracy theories, the stories, the first-hand accounts, the photographic evidence — all of it. Hook it to my veins because I’m getting to the bottom of this one.
After all, UFO sightings are increasing in Manitoba. 2018 saw an increase of three per cent.
Before starting my research, I thought, in all likelihood, there was intelligent life somewhere in the universe. It would be incredibly unlikely if there wasn’t intelligent life out there. How many planets are there anyway? Considering there are around 200 billion stars in the Milky Way alone, oh yeah, aliens exist.
But I didn’t believe aliens — or any other interdimensional beings that may or may not also exist — had visited, invaded, occupied, annexed, or in any other way contacted our planet.
I started Googling, hoping against hope to find something, anything, any kind of event related to aliens. And, to my surprise, I did.
I found a “support group for those who believe they have had experiences.” I won’t name them, but they meet on the first Tuesday of every month. How convenient. Satisfied with myself, I looked forward to attending my first meeting and finding out what this group was all about.
The First UFO Group Meeting
The group is hosting their meeting in an apartment building, which I think is strange, but hey, what do I know? Maybe it’s the only space they could find at a reasonable rate. What’s stranger is when I show up to the building, the front door is locked. I look around. Nothing. Awesome. Now I’m stuck waiting for someone to let me in.
As I’m waiting, a bigger guy with a patchy beard walks up and waits with me. He’s wearing a clean green parka and big snow boots. He’s drinking a dented can of Pepsi and is burping profusely. His skin looks moist. Is that weird of me to say?
I wonder if this burping man is going to attend the meeting with me. Eventually, someone with a code lets us into the building, and I enter an elevator. I push the second-floor button. Burping man pushes the fourteenth. “Oh, thank God,” I think to myself.
I get off the elevator into a common area. Chairs and tables fill the large room. A projector is mounted to the ceiling, and the only other person in the room seems to be frantically trying to make it work. He swears quietly to himself.
This is B, and he will be my alien sherpa throughout this adventure. He requested to remain anonymous because he has “a few things in the works.” B works on what looks like a 15-year-old laptop. The screen is smashed to the point where the entire top left corner doesn’t actually display anything.
I walk over and introduce myself. It turns out B is one of the organizers of the meeting, which has been cancelled due to technical difficulties. At the time, I thought this was terrible news, but it turns into a chance to talk to B.
He starts giving me all kinds of information about UFOs and aliens. CE-5s (close encounters of the fifth kind), Chris Bledsoe, Stanton Friedman, Project Blue Book, the Fermi paradox. I furiously take notes as he fires off information.
As we’re talking, the elevator door opens, and the burping guy from the lobby steps out. “Great,” I think to myself. He crosses the deserted room and sits at a table directly next to ours.
B checks his email and excuses himself. I go over to the burping man and introduce myself. His name is Dustin, and he says he lives in the building but isn’t affiliated with the alien group whatsoever. Then, unprovoked, he says “Man, it really fucked me up.”
“What did?” I ask.
“A lot of things,” he says, trailing off. He looks away with a thousand-yard stare.
B comes back, and we continue our conversation. He starts telling me about the Rendlesham Forest incident. Soon after, an older fellow gets off the elevator. He’s wearing a poppy on his coat and a newsboy hat. He introduces himself as Ben, a retiree who likes to keep an open mind. He joins our conversation. He didn’t get the memo the meeting was cancelled either.
Dustin is still sitting at the table next to ours, staring into space. He starts coughing — the phlegmy kind you have in the morning when you’re really sick.
Dustin occasionally interrupts our conversation to tell us stories of how he was touched by a blue light in his backyard, and how there was once this guy with a thousand cameras in his head, and how Trump has been in power for thousands of years — you get the idea.
I’m witnessing two extremes at this meeting. On one hand, there is Dustin, a person who says bizarre things that don’t make a tonne of sense, and on the other is Ben, a totally down-to-earth guy who’s looking for some more information.
Then there is me in the middle of it.
B, Ben, and I say our goodbyes and leave Dustin sitting alone in the room.
B has more info for me, so we exchange email addresses. The next day, he emails me saying there’s a meeting at the University of Manitoba about the Falcon Lake incident and asks if I’d like to go. Naturally, I say yes.
After all, it’s Canada’s best-documented UFO case.
The Falcon Lake Incident Meeting
To explain it briefly, the Falcon Lake incident is a UFO encounter from the 60s in which Stefan Michalak reports seeing two cigar-shaped objects in the sky while mining in the Whiteshell. One lands, and as he approaches it, it takes off and burns his chest in a grid-shaped pattern.
Michalak survives the encounter but suffers diarrhea, headaches, blackouts, and weight loss for weeks afterward.
This meeting at the University of Manitoba features two keynote speakers: Chris Rutkowski, the foremost authority on UFOs in Manitoba, and Stan Michalak. Yes — Stan Michalak, son of Stefan Michalak of the Falcon Lake alien encounter. Rutkowski is donating several pieces from the incident to the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, including Stefan’s burnt shirt and hat.
The presentation room is packed — standing room only. It’s a cavernous room with around 75 chairs set up in the middle in front of a fully functioning projector. Glass display cases housing UFO paraphernalia line the walls. The meeting’s attendance is a good representation of how widely known the Falcon Lake incident is to UFO enthusiasts in Manitoba.
I find B and sit with him for the presentations.
The meeting mostly recaps the Falcon Lake incident, but something interesting happens during the Q & A period afterwards.
A lady stands up and asks Stan about his father’s spirituality. He responds that his father was raised Christian in Poland but wasn’t an overly spiritual person after the Second World War.
I was confused. Why would his spirituality be relevant? After the Q & A, people start filing out of the presentation room. Several people swarm Chris and Stan.
During the speeches, Rutkowski mentioned one of the pieces he was donating is an actual piece of the ship, and it was in an office at the back of the room. As soon as people started getting up, B darts to the office. I follow him. As he gets to the office, he slowly but casually moseys his way into the office and starts looking around for the piece of ship. “Are we allowed to be in here?” I ask.
“We’re allowed to be in here until somebody tells us we aren’t,” B responds.
An archivist comes by and tells us we’re not allowed to be in there.
Eventually, Rutkowski has a free moment. A young woman, who was having a fast-paced conversation with him, has just walked away. B jumps on the opportunity.
Rutkowski is a middle-aged man with glasses. He’s charming and a great public speaker. His tie has pictures of aliens wearing Santa hats.
B speed-walks over and introduces us to Rutkowski and Michalak. He tells them about my writing project and quickly begins talking to Rutkowski.
I ask Michalak about the spirituality question posed about his father.
“People are struggling with spirituality right now,” Michalak says. “They don’t know where to look.”
Rutkowski echoes the same sentiment when I ask him about it. He calls it “Alien Abduction Syndrome.”
“They have this need, this desire that they’re something more than just a person on this earth.” Rutkowski says. “They’re looking to the heavens, and it’s a way of simply replacing God with aliens. It’s a turning upward rather than inward.”
This isn’t new in the UFO community. B introduces me to Lionel, one of the founders of the UFO group that B now organizes, but Lionel is no longer affiliated with the group.
Lionel says there are three types of people in the UFO community: the skeptics, the analysts, and the believers.
Skeptics won’t believe any theory regardless of evidence, while analysts look at every encounter and assess the evidence presented before coming to a conclusion.
Finally, believers will believe any and all stories they come across. Any passing story or anecdote is immediately taken as concrete and irrefutable evidence of other-worldly beings.
Lionel says there are very few skeptics in the community, and one of the reasons he left the UFO group was because there were too many believers — not enough critical thinking.
Lionel also says he and his daughter have had direct contact with extra-terrestrial beings.
Interestingly, every single person I came across while writing this piece classified themselves as an analyst — myself included.
“I believe some people have had some remarkable experiences that we can’t explain,” says Rutkowski. “Some people believe they’ve had remarkable experiences that they can’t explain, and the differentiation is very tricky.”
After the University of Manitoba meeting, I get an email from B with notes and links about all the things we talked about at the first meeting. B is nothing if not thorough — the email is 2,107 words long.
I go through the Goliath email. It has links to documentaries, articles, YouTube videos, even an eight-minute live performance of Urgent by Foreigner (in case I wanted to take a break from researching).
I have my work cut out for me.
One article I find fascinating is about Navy pilots seeing UAPs (Unexplained Arial Phenomena). These pilots recall seeing strange aircraft making erratic and impossible movements. The possible worldly explanations are “atmospheric effects and reflections” or “neurological overload from multiple inputs during high-speed flight.” This could be possible, but it could also be aliens. Maybe.
It’s important to note that no one in the navy or U.S. government has ever referenced or said the sightings were of extra-terrestrial origin.
UPDATE: You should watch that Foreigner performance because it’s actually super dope (saxophone solo starts at 4:58).
The VR and Taco Meeting
A couple weeks later, my friend Brianne tells me about a fellow, Frank, who’s making a documentary on celestial origin stories.
I schedule a meeting with him at The Forks for 10 a.m. to discuss his movie.
10 a.m. comes and goes, no sign of him. 10:30 — nothing. At 10:40 I decide to leave. He must have forgotten.
I didn’t think anything of it. People forget things all the time. We’d just schedule another meeting whenever it was convenient. I cannot describe how upset I wasn’t by this forgotten meeting.
Well, it appears Frank was upset about missing our meeting. He was extremely apologetic and wanted to make it up to me.
I’m having difficulty distilling the next part of our text conversation, so I’m just going to put it here in its entirety.
That was the conversation. I mean, no I haven’t done VR, and yes, it does seem cool. Clearly Frank wants me to come over for dinner, and he’s not taking no for an answer. Ultimately, I relent and agree to eat bison tacos with him and his wife.
Frank talks about his experience filming another group of people who claim to have experienced alien contact. Apparently, UFO enthusiasts like to gather in communities. Unfortunately, the rest of our conversation wasn’t too fruitful in terms of UFO believer psychology.
After dinner, Frank shows me to their living room where the VR stations are. FYI, it was super cool. I won’t bore you with my VR experience. I’ll just say that Frank and his wife were extremely friendly and very welcoming, and I had a great time. Thanks again for having me if you’re reading this, and the tacos were spectacular.
The Second UFO Group Meeting
The second meeting’s agenda is a web seminar with an author named Suzy Hansen, a UFO expert.
I get to the meeting and sit next to B. He’s got the seminar running through his broken laptop into the projector. Everything seems to be going smoothly.
There’s a web livestream of Hansen, who is giving the seminar from her New Zealand home. She is a middle-aged woman with a bob haircut.
Apparently, in order to listen online, you have to log into the program and give it access to your webcam because I see several people listening in. An elderly couple listening in their living room, a hooded man sitting in a dark room — his face obscured in shadows.
Ben walks into the room. I say hello as he sits down with us.
Once the 16 or so attendees settle in, Hansen begins talking about her book and her experiences.
She’s been contacted by aliens for nearly her whole life, starting when her car was lifted off the ground when she was 20. She’s been visited by aliens in her “dreams.”
“I say the word dreams in inverted quotations because they weren’t dreams,” she says. “They were memories.”
She talks about entering a bio-mechanical spacecraft and flying around the world. She says she can control the craft via her consciousness. She talks about the Grays, an extra-terrestrial species of beings that visit Earth and can transform into “beings of light” and other species too: mantises, humanoids, reptilians (although she’s never met one, she says).
Apparently, the Grays and reptilians are locked in a war over Earth. They fight on a higher dimension, so humans can’t see or comprehend what’s happening between the two alien species.
I’ll be honest here; I stopped taking notes after a while because what Hansen was saying was so incredible — and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word: In-credible.
Later on, she mentions her book is also about spirituality. My ears perk up. She says she was born with medium powers, but she doesn’t like bringing it up because of the negative connotation.
She explains that spirituality is important to understand and communicate with aliens. She says people can’t comprehend aliens unless they “carry a certain frequency.”
“If you stood in their presence, and you were not prepared for it, you would suffer,” she says. “Not in the sense of being harmed, but it would be overwhelming.”
The group listens to Hansen speak with many others listening over the internet. I listen too, but I can’t believe anything she says. I think back to what everyone I’ve met so far has said: follow the evidence.
I just don’t see enough concrete evidence to convince me Hansen has seen the things she says she’s seen, but B believes her.
The meeting wraps up. I talk to a couple more enthusiasts about UFOs and landing sites, glowing orbs and CE-5s. I leave the meeting not knowing what to expect out of the next one.
The Third UFO Group Meeting
The meeting day was switched to the second Tuesday of every month. I was not informed.
I showed up at the meeting place, and it was deserted.
The Fourth UFO Group Meeting
I show up on the second Tuesday of the month this time, ready to have my mind blown, ready for a fresh perspective, ready to be convinced.
The elevator door opens, and three people are setting up what looks like a mediocre birthday party. The meeting was cancelled, and I was not informed. Again.
Coffee with B: The Final Meeting
It didn’t seem right to finish this piece without talking to B one more time. I needed him to know where I sat on everything. I needed to thank him for helping me out. I needed some closure.
We meet at The Human Bean, a coffee shop downtown. He buys me a coffee.
I talk to him about my time with the alien group, and how I couldn’t get behind the spirituality aspect of it. He tells me to give it time. Maybe when I’m a little older, I’ll become a little more open-minded.
“Just about everyone does,” he says with a chuckle. “Eventually, everyone stops giving a shit.”
The conversation quickly spirals out of control. B starts talking about other topics. 9/11, Greta Thunberg, Doctor Strange — the usual stuff.
He also tells me the meeting building’s security approached him about Dustin at one point. Turns out Dustin doesn’t live in the building at all. He just hangs out there and has been kicked out several times before.
I can’t say for certain that aliens have never visited Earth. I can say I think it’s unlikely they have. It’s unlikely another species has figured out a way to travel faster than light. It’s unlikely they’ve contacted Hansen through her dreams/memories. It’s unlikely Stefan Michalak saw anything on that fateful day in the Whiteshell.
One thing I can take away from my experience with the UFO group is adopting a skeptical mindset. It’s difficult not to fall victim to confirmation bias. But it’s that skepticism that drives a more informed public.
Another takeaway from my time within the UFO community are the people themselves. I thought this story was going to be about me turning from a skeptic into a slightly smaller skeptic, but that wasn’t the real story at all.
The real story is the people. The quirky personalities. The thoughtful conversations. The gatherings. The community. All of it.
UFO enthusiasts want belonging. Maybe that’s why they gather to discuss their experiences. Everybody wants to spend time with other people who are like-minded.
The UFO community took me in, helped me, educated me (in their own way), they even fed me. They were hospitable and friendly. When I started researching this piece, I thought I could poke fun at some UFO people for some cheap laughs. I was wrong.
B’s favourite saying is “Where does the truth lie?” It’s a play on words —which I appreciate — and a challenge to search for and find the truth.
I’ve found a lot of truth over the past four months.
So, where does the truth lie for you?