We investigated an alleged UFO sighting near Ottawa
'We didn’t find any answers but are convinced residents saw something mysterious'
In the summer of 2020, I and a film crew travelled to the rural region surrounding Ottawa to investigate what we were sure was a hoax and is now the subject of a CBC documentary, UFO Town.
This wasn't just any hoax but a famously imaginative and audacious one: the saga of a UFO that had crash-landed in the swamps outside the small village of Carp, Ont., in 1989. A supposedly declassified document from Canada's Department of National Defence described a scene torn from a sci-fi actioner, with troops scrambling to retrieve spaceship wreckage and alien corpses being squirrelled away to underground research facilities at the University of Ottawa. It all would have been easily dismissed but for one reason: the documents and photos were accompanied by a VHS tape of the supposed UFO. They were distributed by a mysterious individual self-identifying as "Guardian".
A Canadian Roswell — or not?
With all its intrigue, the story spread quickly. Local news coverage led to stories on now-forgotten American network shows like Sightings and Encounters until, finally, Guardian and their story was featured on Unsolved Mysteries. Scully and Mulder types arrived in the area to peer at bushes and stare at the stars in an attempt to prove that here, in West Carleton, was the genuine article: a modern-day Roswell north of the border.
But was it?
Even today, Canadian ufologists get a little ornery when the Carp case comes up. They don't want to talk about it. There are more interesting cases, they say — higher quality unknowns that don't involve footage of a supposed landing that, to discerning eyes, more closely resembles a truck in a field surrounded by road flares.
But as filmmakers, we were fascinated by the bigger themes. Why do people care so much about life beyond Earth? Why has this become an enduring mystery for humankind? More specifically, why would someone go to so much trouble, especially in the pre-internet age, to concoct such a story and disseminate it around the world?
Local reaction to Guardian and the UFO story
People in Carp were also reluctant to talk about Guardian — on camera, at least. A year into making this documentary, we continue to get emails from people who claim to know something about the case. They're afraid to speak on the record, uneasy about dredging up this strange part of the past in a region where so many people know one another. As is the case with many witnesses to the inexplicable, they fear the attention — and the ridicule — it might draw.
We met the man who, at the time of the story, was accused of being Guardian. He was a local, who was chased down by a private investigator on Encounters. He's a lovely man in his 60s, a churchgoer who swears he had nothing to do with the case. In a church parking lot, he showed me how to use a dowsing rod and told me about other UFO events he had been a part of. There was no question he was a believer as we discussed UFOs, visitations, abductions and lost time. Later, he called us at our hotel and delivered a dozen ears of locally grown corn.
We met others in the area too: regular honest people who'd had experiences they were reluctant to share. They told their stories, carefully and haltingly, of inexplicable lights and encounters with what looked like distant craft on rural routes. These are people struggling with an experience they can't understand. What did they see? What happened? We don't have the answers but left the area convinced they had experienced something — like Monique and Lisa from the film, who as children, experienced something so strange they've been looking for an explanation ever since.
There are still mysteries yet to be uncovered
What compels me, what keeps me coming back to this subject, is that something. As a nine-year-old, I received a book about UFOs for Christmas (Ripley's Believe It or Not: Stars, Space and UFOs) and have been fascinated ever since. During my 20 years working in documentary television, I've been involved in five shows on the subject. To be part of the narrative, to wrestle with these big questions, to imagine being alive when these questions might finally be answered is, well, exhilarating. There's a profound joy in knowing that there are still genuine mysteries yet to be uncovered.
As for the original witnesses, the family seen on Unsolved Mysteries won't pick up the phone. But they've leaned into the notoriety born of the Guardian saga. On their expansive rural property is a yurt for rent via Airbnb. During these pandemic times, a few nights on 100 wooded acres sounds terrific. But there's an additional selling point: the ad boasts that the property was the location of a UFO sighting and featured on Unsolved Mysteries.
If we are being visited by aliens, I wonder where our visitors come from. And I wonder what they think — if what they see is a world so strange and so wonderful they can't help but come back again and again for a closer look.
Watch UFO Town on CBC Docs POV.
Nick Crowe is the producer of UFO Town.