UFO enthusiasts call it the Surrey corridor — a three-kilometre-wide strip of land that runs from New Westminster to the U.S. border, along BC Hydro’s high-voltage power lines.
It is here, they say, where you will find the greatest concentration of UFO sightings and alien encounters in the province.
“I have received numerous reports from inside this area, not only of sightings, but abduction events,” said Graham Conway, vice-president of UFO*BC, who said anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of all Unidentified Flying Object sightings in the Lower Mainland take place in the corridor.
Last year alone, there were 304 UFO sightings in B.C., according to Chris Rutkowski, a UFO researcher in Manitoba who collects numbers from provincial groups like UFO*BC.
That made B.C. the number one province for UFO sightings in the country, with more than twice the sightings of second-place Ontario, which had 150. It was B.C.’s fifth year in top spot.
And UFO*BC is doing its best to keep track of it all.
The nine-year-old organization posts detailed reports on sightings and abductions on its website, sends out a quarterly newsletter to its 60 members and even maintains a toll-free hotline where B.C. residents can report UFO sightings and alien encounters.
It’s been more than five years since The X-Files left Vancouver.
But when it comes to the things that go bump in the night — be they aliens, ghosts or Ogopogo — B.C. seems to have no shortage of people willing to investigate the unexplained.
In addition to UFO*BC, the province boasts organizations devoted to the investigation of haunted houses and “cryptozoologists” who specialize in gathering evidence about beings not yet accepted by science, like the Sasquatch.
And polls suggest there are a lot of British Columbians willing to believe in them.
A 2001 poll by Leger Marketing suggests British Columbians are more likely to believe in aliens than most other Canadians.
In all, more than a third of B.C. residents — 36.1 per cent — said they believed in aliens, more than residents of any other province except Alberta (40.7 per cent).
And that same poll found B.C. residents were far more likely to report seeing a ghost, with 10.4 per cent of us saying we’d seen one, well above the national average of 6.3 per cent.
What makes our belief in the paranormal so surprising is that, by some measures, British Columbia is a province of non-believers.
The 2001 census found that more than a third of us — 35.9 per cent — have no religious affiliation at all, more than double the national average of 16.5 per cent and higher than any other province.
And British Columbians are less likely to believe in that most self-interested of faiths — life after death — than anyone else in Canada.
The Leger poll found just 53.3 per cent of us believe in an afterlife, below the national average of 57.4 per cent and lower than any other region of the country.
While our selective skepticism may seem strange at first, Barry Beyerstein, a psychology professor at Simon Fraser University, says it makes a certain degree of sense.
Beyerstein, chairman of the B.C. Skeptics Association, said our eagerness to believe in aliens and ghosts may reflect a spiritual hunger in people that is no longer being filled by traditional religions.
“These are substitutes for the more traditional kinds of religion that many people grow up with,” he said. “We’ve left behind some of our traditional, spiritual beliefs … and we’re looking for no-hassle spirituality.”
Not surprisingly, those who believe don’t see it that way.
“I like to consider myself skeptical,” said Heather Anderson, director of the B.C. Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society, a three-year-old organization.
Believing in ghosts, Anderson said, is simply a matter of looking at the evidence.
Anderson’s society collects reports of ghost sightings and hauntings. And it also carries out its own “investigations”.
One of the most elaborate, she said, was into a townhouse complex near southeast Marine Drive in Vancouver.
According to Anderson, her group received a tip by e-mail in 2001 that the complex — which contained about 70 separate homes — was haunted.
After talking to more people at the complex, she said, the group found that people in seven separate homes had reported paranormal activity — everything from hearing strange sounds to seeing a strange white presence in photographs.
“We did some research on the land and found out some amazing things,” said Anderson.
A search of the Vancouver city archives turned up a report about a tree that fell on a buggy in 1889 as it travelled along North Arm Road, an early incarnation of today’s Marine Drive.
Four of the buggy’s occupants were crushed to death, while two survived.
According to a story about the crash that appeared in the Daily Colonist, many blamed the crash on a man named James Saint, who lived near the site of the crash.
A few days before, Saint had apparently put burning coals inside the trunk of the tree — a popular way at the time of felling trees.
Anderson refused to provide an address for the complex, saying its owners don’t want it publicly identified.
While the Marine Drive complex is one of the most active hauntings in the Lower Mainland, the haunting hotspot of the Lower Mainland — the ghostly equivalent of the Surrey corridor — is North Burnaby.
“Definitely Burnaby Heights,” said Anderson. “That area just seems to be so incredibly active.”
A partial list of Burnaby hauntings on the group’s website includes a “phantom jogger” who appears and disappears in Confederation Park, nun-like figures seen near Gilmore school at night and the image of a little boy seen running through the headstones in the Masonic cemetery.
There have also been several reports of hauntings at Ceperley House, an old mansion in south Burnaby that now houses Burnaby Art Gallery, Anderson said.
Members of her society were walking in the house’s yard a few years ago when several of them began to feel as if they were being followed.
Anderson turned around and took a picture of the stairs behind them.
When the photo was developed, Anderson said, she was shocked to see a blurry, white figure in the centre of the frame.
“It seems to look like a lady walking down the stairs,” said Anderson.
In general, as one might expect, the most active areas for ghost sightings are in the city’s oldest areas.
“The old areas seem to be saturated with energy,” said Anderson. “There are more layers of history. … [More] opportunities for tragic things to happen.”
AHEAD OF THE CURVE
John Kirk, president of the B.C. Scientific Cryptozoology Club — which studies the existence of undocumented animals like the Sasquatch and Ogopogo — is adamant that he shouldn’t be lumped in with people who believe in ghosts and aliens.
“We have absolutely no interested in the paranormal whatsoever,” said Kirk. “Our entire investigations are based on the principles of science. And we have arrived at conclusions rather than beliefs.”
According to Kirk, cryptozoologists are simply ahead of the curve — accepting the existence of new species before mainstream scientists do.
“We approach it completely from a biological [and] zoological perspective,” Kirk said. “And conservation.”
“The habitat of the Sasquatch,” he said. “It’s incumbent on us to make sure the habitats are secured.”
The cryptozoology club was founded 15 years ago by a group of people including Kirk, a writer, and Paul LeBlond, a retired professor of oceanography at the University of B.C.
The club is focused primarily on three creatures: Sasquatch, a hairy, upright animal that has been reportedly spotted across North America; Ogopogo, a serpent-like animal believed to live in Lake Okanagan; and Cadborosaurus, a creature like the Ogopogo that members say inhabits the waters around Vancouver Island.
And while people commonly refer to “the Sasquatch” or “the Ogopogo”, Kirk says all three have been reported for so long that there must be several of each.
“The story of Ogopogo is 300 years old,” said Kirk. “You have to have a viable breeding population.”
While he believes in the existence of all three creatures, Kirk — who has written a book called In The Domain of the Lake Monsters — says he thinks the evidence for Ogopogo is by far the strongest.
He claims to have seen the beast himself 11 times and to have interviewed witnesses who claim to have had direct contact with it — in one case being lifted straight out of the water.
And Kirk stresses that several people have taken photographs and video of the monster — including a Kelowna resident who supposedly took a lengthy video of the monster last August.
“The evidence for Ogopogo is pretty darn strong,” he said.
Indeed, Kirk says there is far more evidence for Ogopogo than for its more well-known cousin, the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland.
“I’ve been to Loch Ness and I believe that nothing actually lives there,” said Kirk, saying he suspects instead that people have simply seen “an unknown species of very large eels” that travel through the lake as a shortcut between ocean waters.
Kirk feels he knows Ogopogo so well that he can give a reasonable description of what it would look like: anywhere from four to 25 metres long with a serpentine body and small legs on its front and back that push it along.
“The front legs do a breast stroke and the rear legs do a push-off kind of motion,” he said.
And somehow — Kirk says he’s not sure exactly how — it is able to move its body in such a way as to create humps in the water.
“Whether it uses air bladders or whatever … it’s able to swim in a hump or series of humps,” he said.
And while he is less familiar with it, Kirk says the Sasquatch is a hairy primate that grows to as high as 270-centimetres (nine feet) tall and weighs about four times as much as the average man.
It also smells really bad — like rotten eggs, according to some reports.
The biggest problem cryptozoologists have is explaining why — if such large creatures have existed for hundreds of years — no one has ever found a dead one, or even a skeleton.
“The acidity of the soils in this province tend to lead to quick disintegration of remains,” said Kirk, saying that may explain why a Sasquatch has never been found.
As for Ogopogo, Kirk points to the incredible depth of Lake Okanagan — where, he says, temperatures drop to just below freezing.
“In that kind of a climate, a carcass is fairly well preserved and does not deteriorate and float to the surface,” he said. “They tend to sink down or be suspended in the water column.”
DESIGNED TO BELIEVE
Without more convincing evidence, Beyerstein says he can’t believe in things like ghosts, aliens and monsters.
But he understand why other people do: Our brains are designed to believe.
“There’s pretty good evidence from cognitive psychology that magical thinking is the default mode,” said Beyerstein. “That’s kind of the natural way our brains work. We come wired up to believe this kind of thing.”
In part, Beyerstein said, we believe in the supernatural because it’s nice to believe in something larger and more powerful than ourselves.
“It’s comforting to believe that there is justice in the universe and it’s meted out by some supernatural force,” he said.
Ghosts imply an afterlife, he said, which makes death — of ourselves or loved ones — less scary.
And aliens suggest there is a wiser, more advanced society out there than our own.
The motivation behind beliefs in monsters like Ogopogo and Sasquatch is more complex, he said.
“Some of it is kind of a chip on the shoulder, wanting to prove the experts wrong,” he said. “[Or that] despite the fact we’ve messed up the world and polluted it, there are some creatures that are too smart for us and keep out of our clutches and … remind us that we aren’t so smart after all.”
A lot of paranormal belief can also be explained simply by the human mind’s desire to find patterns in the world.
Just as many of us see well-defined objects when we look at clouds in the sky, Beyerstein said, we turn mysterious objects in the water into a lake monster or the creaks of a house settling into a ghost.
“Our minds are built to make sense out of vague and indistinct stimuli and we do it all the time,” he said. “We’re pattern detectors. … And we are often so good at doing that that we see patterns that aren’t there.”
More difficult to explain are those people who claim to have had direct contact with paranormal creatures.
Kelowna resident Corina Saebels said she and a friend were stargazing in a rural area just outside Kelowna around midnight on July 31, 2003, when they saw a bright green, oval-shaped craft hovering in the sky.
“At that point, I flashed on the light down the road ahead of us and there were five sets of eyes staring at us,” said Saebels.
She and her friend rushed back into her Jeep and drove home.
Saebels said she recalls the creatures having large, almond-shaped dark eyes and bulbous heads.
As they were driving back home, Saebels said, she and her friend looked at the clock and noticed it was several minutes past 1 a.m.
“It would be a little over an hour’s missing time,” said Saebels. “We have no idea what happened. As far as we’re concerned, we were only out there five or six minutes tops and we left.”
The day after their experience, Saebels said, her friend had a round circular burn mark on her back.
Saebels said she had large bruises on her chest and on one of her feet.
“I’ve had strange medical things happen ever since,” she said.
She now runs a support group in the Okanagan for others who claim to have been abducted by aliens. The group — about eight people — meets once a month, she said.
Saebels said she’s no longer in contact with her friend and wouldn’t provide her name or contact details.
Conway of UFO*BC said he’s met more than 350 people like Saebels who claim to have had encounters with aliens or to have been abducted.
“These people are not telling a story to me, they are reliving a series of events and there is a great deal of emotional content to what they’re telling me,” he said.
Beyerstein said he doesn’t doubt that the majority of people who claim to have had encounters with aliens or other creatures are sincere.
But he said he thinks they are mistaken.
Beyerstein said research into such supposed abductees indicates few are suffering from severe mental problems — such as schizophrenia — that could cause hallucinations. But he said there is some evidence that such people have highly suggestible personalities and may be more prone to waking fantasies, especially when they’re sleep-deprived.
“There’s a lot of research on what is known as fantasy-prone personalities — people who experience what might be called waking dreams,” he said. “They have such rich fantasy lives and they experience such visual imagery with all of their senses that they sometimes have trouble distinguishing episodes of reality from fantasy and they kind of waft back and forth between them.”
Of course, in some cases, explanations for the supernatural may be more simple.
Elisha Moreno, a spokeswoman with BC Hydro, said high-voltage power lines — like the ones along the “Surrey Corridor” where so many UFO sightings take place — often give off strange lights, especially on rainy days or if there is debris on the insulating wires.
“It can be yellow. It can be blue. It can be blue-green,” she said. “When you have [electricity] travelling at a very high voltage like that, there is some line loss that takes place. It’s a leakage current.”
WHAT BRITISH COLUMBIANS BELIEVE:
B.C. residents are less likely to have traditional religious beliefs …
The percentage of people who say they have no religious affiliation:
Atlantic Provinces: 8.2%
Source: Statistics Canada, 2001 Census
The percentage of people who say they believe in life after death:
Atlantic Provinces: 59.8%
Source: Leger Marketing Poll, 2001
…but more likely to believe in some aspects of the supernatural.
The percentage of people who say they’ve seen a ghost:
Atlantic provinces: 4.8%
Source: Leger Marketing Poll, 2001
The percentage of people who say they believe in aliens:
Quebec: 3 4.2%
Atlantic provinces: 24.3%
Source: Leger Marketing Poll, 2001
B.C. WEB SITES ABOUT THE SUPERNATURAL:
British Columbia Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society
British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club
B.C. Skeptics Association
© The Vancouver Sun 2004