“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 2

Kenneth Albert Arnold, in the centre, with two other pilots who claimed they had had seen unidentified flying objects, namely Emil J. Smith, on the left, and Ralph Stevens. Anon., “Pilotes qui virent des soucoupes volantes.” Le Soleil, 8 July 1947, 1.

Welcome back, my open-minded reading friend. Shall we continue our 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 3 three or so weeks which followed Kenneth Albert Arnold’s epoch-making experience of 24 June 1947?

Good for you.

A sighting occurred in Montréal, Québec, in the early evening of 8 July 1947. Thirty or so people observed a very large and dark object which consisted of two superposed discs which seemed to move close if not to merge every few seconds. That apparition remained visible for almost half an hour. The person interrogated by a journalist from an important if declining Montréal daily newspaper, La Patrie, was Philippe Laferrière, the technical director of the Bibliothèque Saint-Sulpice, the most important public library in Montréal.

A very personal opinion if I may. What Laferrière and others saw was probably a lenticular cloud – an unusual looking and somewhat rare type of cloud.

Another peculiar sighting took place in Québec, Québec, on 10 July. A local couple and a Montréal couple saw a grey circular object, like the moon, which moved at the speed of an aircraft, parallel to the Earth, at a height of about 15 000 metres (50 000 feet). It remained visible for about 4 minutes before disappearing behind a cloud. The Montrealers, Mr. and Mrs. Edouard Lasnier, provided the above description. J.L Théodore Tremblay, possibly a sea captain, and his spouse, from Limoilou, near the city of Québec, declined to comment.

By then, flying saucers had become so well known that the editorial team of the Québec daily Le Soleil felt comfortable with the idea of publishing, on 12 July, an American editorial cartoon showing a formation of luminous discs bearing the words inflation and dollar flying above a number of concerned people, a cartoon whose purpose was to highlight the worrying rise of the consumer price index in the United States, and Canada, since the end of the Second World War.

Oddly enough, a respected English language Montréal daily newspaper, The Gazette, published a similar cartoon on that same day. That work, by well known and respected American Canadian staff editorial cartoonist John Alton Collins, showed a relatively old male member of the white-collar class chasing a flying disc bearing the words cost of living. Collins holds the distinction of being the first staff cartoonist of The Gazette, a position he had filled in 1939. A position he retired from in October 1982.

On 13 July 1947, La Patrie published what appeared to be the first editorial on flying saucers offered to the readers of French language Québec papers. The author of “Mysterious projectiles” began his remarks by pointing out that, back in 1946, the people of Norway and Sweden had been greatly alarmed by large unknown objects moving at high speed through their airspace. The sightings were too numerous to be dismissed as mere hallucinations, it was said. The ghost rockets, as the mysterious projectiles were called, seemed to come from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), whose government neither confirmed nor denied it had anything to do with those sightings.

The editorialist of La Patrie then stated that mysterious projectiles were now being sighted in North America. Arnold’s observation had indeed quickly led to a great many other sightings, both in the United States and Canada. While some scientists were stating that the witnesses were seeing things, the editorialist wondered if the mysterious projectiles were not being launched by the American military, which was not about to admit its involvement in that matter. After all, the government of the United States had not said a word to mollify the people who had seen and reported the light caused by the July 1945 test of a nuclear bomb, the very first test of a weapon of mass destruction on planet Earth, in a desert, in what was then the United States Army Air Forces’ Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range, in New Mexico.

The editorialist concluded his text by wondering if the mystery surrounding the North American sightings of unknown objects would ever be elucidated. Pessimists, he said, could well point out that they, like the people of Sweden and Norway, would get an answer during a third world war.

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

If the weekly nature of publications like Le Petit Journal of Montréal prevented them from following the flying saucer phenomenon as closely as their daily counterparts, it certainly did not prevent that publication from weighing in on that matter. On 13 July, Le Petit Journal published an article which about an “Explanation as good as any.”

To write that sizeable and very tongue in cheek text, a journalist had spent time with the unruffled, phlegmatic, intelligent and fictitious dean of the faculty of Tropical Studies at the equally fictitious university of Greenland, Dr. Hans Tass (an English translations might be Dr. Wee Squeeze or Dr. Andle Cupp), whose doctorate was in zoology, astronomy, and chinaware.

Tass put no credence in the theory according to which the saucers, whose technical designation was SV-214Q by the way, were thrown by the irate spouses of Martian gentlemen. Nay. The good doctor also put aside the suggestion that a well-known Siberian-based Soviet discus thrower, Garrosh Discobolski (an English translation might be Pitch Discobolsky), was the source of the sightings. This being said (typed?), he thought that, true to form, the permanent representative of the USSR to the United Nations Organisation, Andrei Andreyevich Gromyko, was about to veto flying saucers. That would be regrettable since it would cut off newspapers from a star topic they could no longer live without.

Incidentally, the comment regarding Gromyko’s veto may have owed its origin to a 9 July Associated Press Incorporated article published in a number of newspapers, including The Montreal Daily Star. Said article also mentioned a Soviet discus thrower who did not know his own strength, without naming him.

Continuing his research, Tass concluded that the flying saucers were not rings from the planet Saturn, which did not let its rings fly off like that. He was also certain that they were not the flying bombs that Mandrake the Magician had just launched against the country of Mechana.

And yes, Mechana was a fictitious country located within the equally fictitious kingdom of Marvel, a land visited by Mandrake and his best friends forever in a 1947 story entitled The Kingdom of Marvel, Mandrake being a fictitious character created in 1934.

Tass finally concluded that the explosion of a nuclear bomb in the Bikini atoll of the Marshall Islands had had a squashing / laminating / flattening effect which had turned the flat fish of the Pacific Ocean into a capilotade, a chopped meat stew. That same explosion had also flattened like pancakes the sharks and whales of that ocean, which were now falling back to Earth. Unless the explanation was something else altogether, concluded Tass.

The good Greenlander doctor seemingly did not know that 2 nuclear bombs, not one, had been detonated in the Bikini atoll, in July 1946, after its indigenous population was all but forced out by the American government.

Another Montréal weekly, Photo-Journal, proved far more down to Earth when it stated the comment of a local (amateur?) astronomer according to which flying saucers were mere shooting stars. Certain papers, it seemed, added Photo-Journal, had chosen to put aside stories of sea monsters, at least for the summer.

Inspired or not by the humourous article in Le Petit Journal, a Montréal daily on the decline, Le Canada, put out an article entitled “Hello!” on 16 July, in which a certain Georges Royer offered his own take on the flying saucer phenomenon. He began with a few questions about the mysterious objects everyone was talking about but could not agree about: “Are they round or square? Flat like a photo disc or round like a family soup tureen? Do they finally have the terrifying appearance of a kitchen buffet, or the debonair outline of a spherical balloon?”

Royer went on to point out that sightings mainly took place at night. These nights were warm, if not downright hot, the result of a week-long heat wave actually, and people were thirsty. As these people meditated on problems linked to gravitation, temperature and atomic disintegration, all the while drinking more and more, they looked with some melancholy at the saucer in front of them, and began to see more of them. “That phenomenon of the multiplication of saucers is well known to all specialists, contemptuous of popular debauchery, who find it scandalous that a worker gets wasted on beer in a tavern, when it is so much more elegant to get drunk on whiskey in a bar.”

Where things got tricky was when the saucers started flying. This was a sure sign that the individual who saw things was a bit out of kilter. His main problem was now to get home without falling flat on his face in a ditch.

The methods used by people to deal with the heat being the same all over the globe, it was hardly surprising that flying saucers had begun to appear over Paris, France.

Whatever the explanations put forward to figure out what was being seen in the skies of Québec, the point was that some people were indeed coming forward with reports. Early in the morning of 16 July, for example, 2 electricians from Southern Canada Power Company Limited, an electricity generation and distribution company at work in southern Québec, were working in a pole at the Saint-Thomas range of Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec, while an assistant electrician remained on the ground.

The latter, Gilles Demers, saw a strange object, a ball of fire, the size of a man’s fist, coming from the east. He immediately told Ovila Riendeau and his brother, Marcel Demers. The two men came down to better watch the apparition, which grew in size until it became vaguely circular with a diameter of 45 or so centimetres (18 or so inches). The object was bright red, with spots which felt like holes. It then shrank quickly, taking the shape of a 5 or so centimetre (2 or so inches) moon crescent, and disappeared. The sighting had lasted 5 to 6 minutes.

A rather more interesting sighting took place during the early evening of 16 July. A resident of Cap-de-la-Madeleine, a town located across the Saint-Maurice River from Trois-Rivières, was on the nearby Saint-Lawrence River, in a boat, when he saw a seaplane operated by Cap Airways Limited about to land. Soon after, Roméo Carle spotted a red disc the size of an automobile tire approximately 450 metres (1 500 feet) behind said seaplane. That fiery wheel began to chase the aircraft, getting as close as 150 to 180 metres (500 to 600 feet). By then, that aircraft was above the slab used for unloading logs at the wharf of Wayagamack Pulp and Paper Company, at Trois-Rivières.

Possibly attracted by the steel of the slab, the fiery wheel changed direction, toward the Saint-Lawrence River. It flew 6 or so metres (20 or so feet) above Carle’s head, giving off a tremendous amount of heat, and came down in the Saint-Lawrence River. As it vanished, the fiery wheel produced a lot of bubbles, as if a piece of red-hot metal had touched the water. The entire sighting had lasted about 5 minutes. From the looks of it, no one went looking for the object.

As far as the journalist of an otherwise unknown press agency (Dominion News Limited?) was concerned, this was “the most fantastic story since the beginning of the appearance of the flying saucers and other phenomena of the same type which had been reported over the past weeks.”

Le Soleil seemed to agree. It put its article on the front page and used an attention getting title to boot: “A flying saucer chases a plane and falls into the river.” Somewhat anticlimactically perhaps, the journalist suggested that the fiery wheel was probably a shooting star.

From the looks of it, 3 Québec dailies published articles on Carle’s hair-raising experience, Le Devoir, Le Nouvelliste and Le Soleil.

A far less hair-raising sighting took place on 17 July, near Lac-Mégantic, in the Eastern Townships. Late in the evening, 2 young men, Julien Letellier, a local student, and René Favreau, an aviation company employee from Montréal, saw an object they described as a flying saucer. Coming from the south east, it crossed Lake Mégantic and disappeared over Victoria Bay, on the western shore of the body of water, moving west. The sighting lasted about 2 minutes. The title of the brief article in La Tribune of Sherbrooke, Québec, was both / equally boastful and inaccurate: “At last, our Townships have their saucers!”

One has to wonder if the numerous sightings of strange objects in the sky influenced the management of La Brasserie Champlain Limitée. Indeed, on 19 July, it published a brief text with a woodcut, one of a series of French language vignettes entitled “Historical curiosities in the country of Québec,” on “Strange phenomena in 1664-65.” That hypothesis might be confirmed at least in part by the fact that this brewery of Québec, the city, not the province, published, in April 1948, a vignette on “Lotteries under the French regime,” and this while a journalist of the Montréal weekly Le Petit Journal was busy publishing a series of articles on, you guessed it, lotteries.

Be that as it may, the 19 July text spoke of the strange phenomena which, according to some authors, took place during the winter of 1664-65, phenomena which greatly frightened, if not utterly terrified the population of New France, as the huge North American territory claimed by France was called at the time.

On 18 December 1664, around midnight, a comet appeared over Québec, New France, now in Québec. During the afternoon of 20 December, 3 sun-like objects appeared in the sky. Each of these seemed to be separated by a distance of about 800 metres (half a mile). The 3 objects soon joined up with our Sun. That uncommon sight remained visible for about 30 minutes. A week later, the Moon took on an odd appearance. Half of our satellite was shining brightly while the other half was blood red in colour. In January 1665, the Earth shook on several occasions. That same month, a comet similar to the one visible in December showed up on the horizon.

If I may, the sun-like objects seen in 1664 were quite possibly a sundog / mock sun / parhelion, in other words an atmospheric phenomenon due to the reflection of sunlight on the small ice crystals present in certain clouds. A sundog consists of two luminous spots appearing at the same height and on each side of the orb of the day.

If I may, the strange appearance of the Moon might have been due to the fact that a lunar eclipse occurred on 7 December 1664. It was only a partial one in New France. And yes, my reading friend, I readily admit that the date of the eclipse did not / does not correspond with that of the observation of 1664, which apparently took place on… 27 December.

To paraphrase the typical voice heard on the typical pseudoscience television show, can the presence of a pair of 7s be a coincidence? Is it possible that pink and green dairy cows tapdancing on a nearby pond tilted the orbit of the Earth, thus changing the orbit of the Moon? Sorry, sorry. I am simply disgusted by a mount of b*llsh*t one can see and hear these days on American and Canadian television, on ********* Channel and ******* Channel.

If I may, again, the tremors of the Earth might have been delayed aftershocks of the great February 1663 earthquake which occurred in what is now the Charlevoix region of Québec. The earthquakes which have occurred, and may well continue to occur, in that part of the world, the most seismically active area in eastern Canada if you must know, resulted from an event which took place about 340 million years ago, namely the impact of a large celestial body which left a 54 or so kilometre (about 33.5 miles) crater on the surface of our planet.

And if you think that is a big crater, please note that the 2-billion-year-old Vredefort crater, in South Africa, originally had a diameter of 300 or so kilometres (about 185 miles). Number 2 on the list is the 1.85-billion-year-old crater in Sudbury, Ontario, with an original diameter of up to 260 kilometres (160 or so miles).

By comparison, the 65 million year old Chicxulub crater, in Mexico, has a diameter of only 180 or kilometres (110 or so miles). Even so, the meteorite which crashed there wiped out 75 % of the plant and animals species on planet Earth. Do you feel safe, my reading friend?

If I may, yet again, the comets seen in December 1664 and January 1665 were almost certainly one and the same, namely the extremely bright comet C/1664 W1, first spotted in November 1664 and observed throughout Western Europe from then on. Oddly enough, but perhaps not so oddly enough considering the all too frequent stupidity of our species, that gorgeous celestial body was blamed for both the Great Plague of London (1665-66) and the Great Fire of London (September 1666). Given its likely orbit, that much-maligned celestial body may not come our way again.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the number of times the expression “soucoupe volante,” in English flying saucer, could be found in Québec’s French language daily and weekly newspapers went down drastically after 19 July 1947. Indeed, while that expression could be found in slightly more than 50 newspaper issues between 2 July and 19 July, one had to look at these same newspapers for a period of almost two years, that is from 20 July 1947 to 30 June 1949, to find another group of 50 or so issues which mentioned that topic.

To find another group of 50 or so issues after that time, one had to go through newspapers covering a period of about nine months, that is from 1 July 1949 to 31 March 1950.

By a strange coincidence, groups of issues which mentioned the expression flying saucer, groups of about 12 and 20 rather than 50 in this case, could be found in the Montréal English language dailies The Gazette and The Montreal Daily Star for the period between 2 July and 19 July 1947, on the one hand, and between 20 July 1947 to 30 June 1949, on the other.

It is worth noting that the so-called extraterrestrial hypothesis, an utterly unproven and extraordinary hypothesis given the lack of equally extraordinary proofs, proofs which have yet to surface despite 75 years of study, a hypothesis, say I (type I?), which proposes that a number of unidentified flying object sightings were best explained by deeming them to be made by spacecraft designed and, in a number of cases, piloted by extraterrestrial lifeforms, appeared nowhere the articles published in July 1947 by Québec French language daily and weekly newspapers.

This being said (typed?), an editorial on “The research of scientists” published on 11 July by La Patrie opened a door to that possibility. It highlighted an interview with Dr. Lyman Spitzer, Junior, possibly made on the radio, in which that theoretical physicist, mountaineer, astronomer and associate professor of astrophysics at Yale University pointed out that nuclear powered spaceships could soon be launched from planet Earth. That American thought that the first landing would be made on Mars rather than the Moon, however. The latter was, after all, lifeless while the former might have harboured life before Earth, which meant that a civilisation there could be more advanced than any human one.

Spitzer said, seemingly in all seriousness, that Martian scientists might have visited Earth, or might still present on our world. Anyone coming across such beings would probably not be believed if she or he spoke about them, however.

Building up on these statements, the editorialist of La Patrie wondered if flying saucer sightings might not be proof of such visitations.

While our examination of French language daily and weekly newspapers published in the province of Québec between 24 June and 19 July 1947 will certainly not change the way unidentified flying objects / unidentified aerial phenomena were, are and will be approached, it does bring into light the ungraspable character of such sightings.

Indeed, the witnesses seemingly saw mainly stars, planets or shooting stars – or lenticular clouds. Such phenomena had been seen countless times before but Kenneth Albert Arnold’s now famous 24 June 1947 sighting forever changed the way Quebecers looked at the sky.

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Rénald Fortier