“Everyone has seen the flying saucers, except journalists:” The first sightings of unidentified flying objects / unidentified aerial phenomena in the province of Québec, 24 June to 19 July 1947, part 1

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Kenneth Albert Arnold. Anon., “Boise Airman Positive He Didn’t See Ordinary Craft Reflections.” The Idaho Daily Statesman, 28 June 1947, 9.

Greetings, my reading friend, greetings.

As many people around the globe take stock of the 75th anniversary of Kenneth Albert Arnold’s now famous 24 June 1947 sighting of 9 unidentified flying objects, soon described as flying saucers, moving at very high speed near Mount Rainier, in the state of Washington, it would be interesting to look at the early days of the modern flying saucer phenomenon through the eyes of the papers aimed at the major segment of the population of what could be described as a peripheral Western society.

More specifically, this edition of our amaaazing blog / bulletin / thingee will look at the way French language daily and weekly newspapers in Québec dealt with flying saucer sightings in their neck of the wood during the first 3 or so weeks which followed the epoch-making experience of Arnold, a pilot and United States Forest Service employee at the time, or so it was said (typed?).

In 1947, Québec was an industrialised if very deeply conservative society ruled by an authoritarian (autocratic??) premier, Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis, an individual who was no fan of unionism, secularism, progressivism, modernism, liberalism, etc. The Roman Catholic Church, itself no fan of liberalism, modernism, progressivism, secularism, etc., controlled the health, education and welfare systems which provided services to the French speaking majority (about 82 %) of Québec’s population. Duplessis’s reign (1936-39 and 1944-59), intolerant of dissent and increasingly marred with patronage, favouritism and populism, a pair of isms that Duplessis seemingly liked, not to mention corruption, has often been described as “la Grande noirceur,” in English the Great Darkness.

Duplessis, if you really need to know, was mentioned many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since January 2018, but back to the topic at hand.

Arnold’s sighting first appeared in the French language press of Québec on 26 June 1947. Le Soleil, the main daily newspaper in Québec, Québec, entitled its article “Mysterious projectiles,” when translated in English, and that was that. No other French language newspaper of importance in Québec brought the event to the attention of its readership.

In fairness, the only articles published at the time by Québec-based English language newspapers seemingly came out on 26 and 30 June, in a respected Montréal daily newspaper, The Gazette.

A brief comment if I may. Titles and excerpts of French language articles presented in this text will be in English, to simplify things.

What might, perhaps, be the first published French language report of a 1947 sighting, on Québec soil, of a flying saucer, in French “soucoupe volante,” as Le Soleil referred to the objects in question, was published on 2 July. On 28 or 29 June it seemed, 3 men, including 2 civil servants, were travelling on Lake Deschênes, a broader area of the Ottawa River, on the border which separates the provinces of Québec and Ontario, when an utterly silent object came over them from the North, at an altitude of slightly more than 350 metres (1 200 feet). One of the witnesses, H.S. Gauthier, stated that he and his companions could almost feel the heat emanating from the blindingly white object. The sighting lasted about 30 seconds.

Oddly enough, even though a newspaper as far away as Calgary, Alberta, published an article on that sighting, none of 3 dailies published in the national capital, Ottawa, published so much as a word about it.

For some reason or other, the coverage of Arnold’s sighting picked up only from 5 July onward, with front page articles in second tier dailies like La Tribune of Sherbrooke, Québec, in the Eastern Townships region, near the Canada-United States border, my homecity, and Le Nouvelliste of Trois-Rivières, Québec. These texts derived from material provided by American prese agencies were entitled “Flying discs seen in many locations” and “The worrying mystery of the flying discs.” First tier daily newspapers like La Patrie of Montréal, a paper then in decline, also picked up the story. One only needs to mention an article entitled “American aviators have SEEN the MYSTERIOUS LUMINOUS DISCS,” also derived from American material.

Le Devoir, an influential Montréal daily with a limited circulation, chose to use somewhat sardonic titles to accompany such material: “Plates all over the skies – It is a rush of saucers and bathtubs, in the United States and Canada” and “A new treasure hunt: $ 1 000 to win – You only have to bring a flying saucer…”

If the aforementioned Lake Deschênes sighting was on the Ontario side of the Ottawa river, what might be the first published French language report of a sighting on Québec soil was published on 7 July, also by Le Soleil. Six objects had been seen on 5 July, by a visitor, J. Duffield of Montrose, New Jersey. Flying in formation like ducks, the sunlit objects were heading north as they went over Mount Royal, near the centre of Montréal. Intriguingly, that article from the main Canadian press agency, the Canadian Press, was not picked up by French language Montréal newspapers.

That non use appears to be confirmed by the fact that La Patrie entitled a sizeable 8 July article on a sighting made in Montréal on the evening of 4 July, one day before Duffield’s observation, “Montréal was overflown by its first ‘flying saucer,’” which, for the newspaper, proved that, contrary to what many people thought, Canada’s metropolis was not backward. The trio of witnesses, Lucille Bélanger as well as Louis Blanchette and his spouse, were shooting the breeze on a balcony when the latter noted a brilliant grapefruit-sized reddish sphere with a brilliant tail moving northward. That sphere disappeared within a few seconds. Mr. Blanchette thought the object was a shooting star and it was soon forgotten.

During that same evening of 4 July, also on Montréal, the spouse of Roger Mineau was chatting with a cousin of hers, Aline Vigeant, when she saw an object shaped like the pointy hat of a clown moving northward at high speed. Mrs. Mineau also thought she had seen a shooting star.

It was only later, with the publication of articles on flying discs and saucers, that the two groups of witnesses wondered, quite independently of each other, it they had, in fact, seen one of these elusive objects.

When interviewed, Mrs. Blanchette was now quite adamant she had not seen a comet or shooting star. The tail of the object was too long and persistent to be that of a shooting star and the image of a comet she had found in a book showed a tail which grew broader, not thinner, the further it was from the body of such a celestial body.

Soon after, her husband mentioned the sighting at his place of work, a store operated by the provincial liquor board, the Commission des liqueurs de Québec, but no one had believed him.

Oddly enough, The Gazette reported that their sighting had taken place on 26 June, just two days after Arnold’s observation – and before any other recorded sighting in Québec, including the following ones.

Indeed, on 9 July, La Patrie published an article, “The first flying saucer in Montréal,” which stated that the first sighting in Québec had taken place in the evening of 30 June. Hector Moquin, his spouse and their son, Yves Moquin, were at home with a friend, Jean Locas. Moquin thought that the light, which was moving westward, was a comet. It was only later, with the publication of articles on flying discs and saucers, that he wondered if the light was not, in fact, a flying saucer.

It is worth noting that an important English language newspaper, The Montreal Daily Star, reported on 7 July that a gentleman from North Hatley, in the Eastern Townships region, who chose not to divulge his name, had seen a flying saucer during the evening of 27 June, while sitting on his sun porch. The 1.2 metre (4 feet) object, described as a double oval, looked like a blue flame with some red coming out of its rear section. Friends who were staying with this individual confirmed his statement.

Another sighting dated 27 June was reported in a letter to the editor published in the 10 July issue of The Montreal Daily Star. Mrs. Ruth Stevens stated that, on the evening on that day, she and 4 female friends were relaxing in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, in the Laurentians region of Québec. For a brief moment, they saw a bright object with a fiery tail through the windows of the porch where they had planned to sleep. At first, the quintet thought they had seen a meteor. It later changed its mind. After asking several people living or taking a cure in the area, the women concluded that no one else had seen the mysterious object. They were curious to know if anyone else had seen it.

A letter to the editor written by M.C. Devine, which was published on 14 July, stated that the women staying at Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts were seemingly not the only people who had seen a flying saucer on 27 June. Indeed, a party of four from Valcartier, Québec, and a group having a late picnic at Valois, Québec, a village located near Pointe-Claire, on the island of Montréal, saw a flying saucer on 27 June, in the evening. The light blue circular object with a blue and pink vapour trail was travelling quite fast from east to west, at an undetermined altitude. The object was visible for 10 to 15 seconds. It might have vanished behind a cloud.

On 11 July, a journalist at La Patrie reported that 2 Montrealers, Lionel Perreault and Charles Édouard Wheaton, had seen a luminous object moving northward at high speed during the evening of 27 June. They thought they had seen a comet but came to believe later on that they too had seen a flying saucer.

The journalist who reported that sighting stated that if such events continued at the current rate in Montréal, the only person who would not report one would be him.

Indeed, if yours truly may express an opinion, there seemed to be some sort of race afoot, which saw people pushing the date of the first sightings ever closer to the one made by Arnold. Oddly enough, no one had seen anything unusual before him.

It is worth noting that a weekly published in Montréal, Québec, Le Petit Journal, had reported on 29 June that, during the evening of 27 June, people in the Montréal area had seen several shooting stars streaking across the sky. Two Montrealers had in fact kept such a falling star in their sight for a few minutes before it disintegrated into a shower of sparks. No link whatsoever was made at the time between that sighting and flying saucers.

It is worth noting that La Presse, the most important French language newspaper in North America, seemingly published nothing on the flying saucer craze which was inflaming North America until January 1948.

In any event, various opinions were expressed regarding the true nature of the objects seen in the skies of several countries. A columnist writing for La Tribune, A. Saumier, had this to say on 10 July:

WRITTEN AT NIGHT (With apologies to Louis Morriset) - With the hope of reaching fame, we observe the midnight sky like thousands of others… We may see flying saucers… Until now we have seen only fireflies, one or two stars lost in a cluster of clouds, and no flying saucers… A friend thinks he saw one: it was a shooting star… Another declares that he looked at the sky during the night and that he saw a huge disc in the firmament… it was the moon… It is the case to say that he was in the moon… A third saw nothing at all and he is probably the one with the best eyes… The war is over, had to find something to talk about...

Louis Morriset, incidentally, was a well-known Franco Ontarian writer and actor active on the Montréal scene.

A conservative daily, L’Action catholique of Québec, may well have expressed its thoughts on the matter, and those of many, on 7 July, with an article based on British United Press Limited material entitled “The famous ‘flying saucers’ might have existed only in the imagination of some people – The ‘flying saucers:’ a simple hallucination.”

A journalist from La Patrie put the new craze into context on 10 July: “The flying saucer is outdoing the comets, sea serpent, zoot suits, chain letters, pin pricks, etc. It is not about to fizzle out.”

A brief digression if I may. A zoot suit was / is a type of men’s suit with high-waisted, wide-legged and tight-cuffed trousers, and a long coat with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders. This somewhat flamboyant / extravagant style of clothing, which commonly included a slouch hat, became popular in various American communities, not to mention some Canadian ones, during the 1940s, but back to our story. And no, I have no idea why the journalist from La Patrie included pin pricks in his list of oddities.

A humourous column in Le Soleil had hit the nail on an intriguing aspect of the phenomenon on 9 July: “Everyone has seen flying saucers, except journalists.”

The Gazette had gone one better on 8 July when it referred to flying saucers as fugitive dishes, floating crockery and airborne china within the space of a single article. The journalist, a self avowed cuss, Albert A. “Al” Tunis, contacted the dean of Sir George Williams College, in Montréal, Dr. Henry Foss Hall, who happened to be the president of the Montreal Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. “Flying discs are like the sea-serpents, said Hall. Everybody sees them but the astronomers or the zoologists.” A large percentage of the sighting reports resulted from an overactive imagination. In other cases, said Hall, people had simply seen a shooting star.

A journalist well known to readers of La Tribune took a different approach on 9 July. Louis Couillard O’Neil, in a column which felt like an editorial, which was not surprising given that he was the paper’s editorialist, stated that flying saucers were another example of an astronomical phenomenon which mystified one and all. To read the newspaper articles on the subject, one could only regret that Jules Gabriel Verne had died so long ago. Flying saucers were more intriguing than the legendary flying carpet of The Thousand and One Nights, or the flying canoe of La Chasse-galerie, a well-known text initially published in 1891 by renowned Montréal author and journalist Honoré Beaugrand.

Before I forget, Verne was mentioned several / many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since June 2018.

“Obviously, something abnormal is happening under the cap of the heavens. Unless it is under the skullcap of individuals!” O’Neil made a connection between what was being seen in Québec in 1947 and what had been seen in Québec in 1927. On 8 May of that year, a famous French First World War fighter pilot and ace, Charles Eugène Jules Marie Nungesser, had taken off from Le Bourget airport, near Paris, France, with a pilot and navigator by the name of François Coli. Their airplane, a Levasseur PL.8 biplane christened L’Oiseau blanc, disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean as the 2 men attempted the first crossing of that body of water made against the prevailing winds.

During the days which followed that disappearance, a number of people in Québec stated they had seen lights in the sky. Some thought they were caused by signal flares. Other individuals came to think that the Moon or some planet or other, if not searchlights, were behind the odd sightings.

Sadly, Nungesser and Coli were never found. To this day, some people think they made it across the Atlantic, only to crash somewhere in Maine or Newfoundland.

Flying saucers were more puzzling than lunar or solar eclipses, said O’Neil, because only a few people had seen them and because the data published in papers was contradictory. Once they lost their newsworthiness, scientists might conclude there had been nothing tangible there.

As the world waited for the truth to come out, O’Neil found it interesting to follow what was being said by the common Homo sapiens. Many people had claimed to have seen one or more flying saucers but, as far as he knew, the one which had fallen in a street, seemingly in the United States, was the only one an otherwise unidentified human being had been able to touch. A plumber from Vancouver, British Columbia, was more atypical, however. This gentleman claimed to have invented the flying saucers which were being sighted all over.

Incidentally, the object which came down in a street seemingly came down in Shreveport, Louisiana. It was some sort of aluminium disc with a diameter of, maybe, 75 or so centimetres (30 inches). Said disc was tossed in the street by persons unknown. And yes, these persons were most definitely human beings. But back to our story.

O’Neil reported that a Montréal restaurant owner had capitalised in the new craze. An advertisement published in a local paper blared: “No flying saucer! But our dishes groan under their load of dainty delicacies!”

On 8 July, concluded O’Neil, a radio announcer had stated that, according to experts, flying saucers were no more than weather balloons. Tongue in cheek, he was pleased to hear that experts agreed with his conclusion on this whole matter: flying saucers were no more than hot air. O’Neil knew of only one person who had seen flying saucers in numbers sufficient to collect them. That individual was Jiggs, the hen-pecked antihero of the famous and long-lasting (1913-2000) American comic strip Bringing Up Father or, as it was called in French, Jiggs / Jiggs et Maggie.

Regardless of what people thought about sightings of flying saucers or flying discs, the fact was that they seemed to be spreading. By 8 July, said saucers had been apparently been spotted in at least 3 Canadian provinces and, it was said, in at least 41 one of the 48 states of the United States.

As far as Québec was concerned, an otherwise undocumented sighting seemingly occurred in Sherbrooke on 3 July. Oddly enough, that particular sighting, mentioned in the 7 July edition of La Patrie, was not mentioned in French or English language newspapers published in Sherbrooke.

It is worth noting that, while a few sightings were mentioned in more than one newspaper, often one French and one English, most of them were not.

Incidentally, some of the articles published in The Gazette were most intriguing indeed. Soon after sunset, in early July, for example, a quartet of fishermen from Montréal saw something huge moving at low speed over Lake Memphrémagog, in the Eastern Townships. They thought that object had come down in the hills near the western shore of that body of water. From the looks of it, no one went looking for the object.

French language newspapers were by no means ignoring sightings, however. On 6 July, at night, a family living at Petits-Escoumins, Québec, on the north shore of St. Lawrence River, more than 650 kilometres (400 or so miles) to the northeast of the city of Québec, saw a bright light which shone for a few moments, then disappeared among the clouds. It soon reappeared, however, then disappeared, and so on. The light, which did not look like a star, seemed to move from north to east, then from east to north. That behaviour led Philippe Lapointe, his spouse and their 2 children to wonder if the ball of fire they were seeing was a single object or not. All in all, the sighting lasted about 4 minutes.

Interestingly, Lapointe’s spouse communicated information about her family’s experience via a letter mailed to the offices of Le Soleil, which duly produced an article.

The first sighting in the city of Québec itself took place on 8 July. A gentleman riding his bike in mid-afternoon after spending some time at the harbour spotted a very brilliant light moving at high speed toward the north west. The light was gone in a flash. The witness, who asked that his name not be revealed, seemingly contacted the newspaper to publicise his story and check if anyone else had seen the light. No pun intended. Well, maybe a little.

In the evening of that same day, in Val-d’Or, a city in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of Québec, 430 or so kilometres (270 miles) to the northwest of Montréal, a young maidservant saw something extraordinary in the sky which reminded her of fireworks, minus the noise. She immediately told the lady of the house who called upon her spouse to have a look. Georges H. Dumont, a geological engineer described as a serious and credible witness, the ladies present apparently not being so according to the journalist, saw a 45 or so centimetres (18 or so inches) long luminous object moving northward at high speed. That apparition did not look at all like a saucer or disc. It was elongated and thicker in the middle. The object had a tail which was not the colour of the sun. It was almost white. The sighting lasted approximately 30 seconds.

During the evening of 9 July, a trio of young women from Trois-Rivières, Québec, a city halfway between Montréal and Québec, were paddling on Lake Saint-Pierre, near Pointe-du-Lac, near Trois-Rivières. Pauline and Thérèse Gouin, as well as the spouse of a local doctor by the name of L.G. de Charette, who were spending the summer at the cottage, saw a flying disc over the south shore of the Saint-Lawrence River, near the village of Baie-du-Febvre, Québec. The flying disc, which remained visible for about 2 to 3 minutes, was the size of a star and shone like gold. That sighting was unusual in that it was reported by at least 6 Québec daily newspapers, including at least 2 English language ones.

Antonio Gauthier, a merchant from Trois-Rivières who was spending the evening on his verandah, followed an object, possibly the same one, through a spyglass, at about the same time.

And no, I cannot say if that Gauthier was related to the Gauthier who had seen something above the waters of Lake Deschênes on 28 or 29 June. This being said (typed?), the fact is that virtually all old stock francophone Quebecers, all 6.75 or so million of them, have one or more common ancestors. How could it be otherwise given that the population of New France in 1763, when that French colony became a British possession, hovered around 70 000 people? Hi, cousin!

Is that it, you ask? Is that it!? Of course, it is not it. This being said (typed?), yours truly would like to pause for a week before delecting you once more with ufological viands.

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Rénald Fortier