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Museum Musings: Questionable UFOs

When Paul and Jane Burrows began printing the Whistler Question in their Alpine Meadows home in 1976, they created an incredible resource for researching happenings in Whistler.
Attaching a few lights to this paraglider would probably have created a mystery for those watching from the valley below.

When Paul and Jane Burrows began printing the Whistler Question in their Alpine Meadows home in 1976, they created an incredible resource for researching happenings in Whistler. The Question reported all sorts of stories, which means that you never know what you’ll come across when scouring the archives. Recently, while looking into a story about a strata that passed a bylaw banning owners from having tourists or employees as tenants, one headline from Sept. 5, 1996 jumped out: “UFO hotline gets report of strange sighting in Whistler.” A few days later, while confirming the origin of a photograph from 1986, we came across another headline referring to UFOs in the issue from July 10.

It seems that in June 1986, Squamish RCMP had a higher-than-usual number of reported sightings of unknown objects in the sky around the area. It began with a report of what appeared to be a meteor crashing behind Blackcomb Mountain on the night of Thursday, June 12. Two men were driving on Highway 99 when they saw “a small, spherical fireball” moving quickly to the northeast before crashing into the ground. According to the men, the object “lit up the trees like the northern lights” then flickered out after a few seconds. While the incident was reported to the RCMP and then the Squamish Forest Service office and the Rescue Coordination Centre on Vancouver Island according to procedure, there were no follow-up explanations published.

Unlike the sighting on June 12, Squamish RCMP were able to give explanations for sightings reported towards the end of the month. On June 27, a number of Squamish residents reported an amber light rising above the Stawamus Chief. One resident, however, was able to get a good view of the light using binoculars and described it as “a parachute device with three highway emergency flares attached.” A similar incident occurred a couple of days later over Garibaldi Highlands. Squamish RCMP concluded that both were probably pranks.

The last incident brought to the attention of Squamish RCMP in June 1986 came when a person walked into the detachment and described a UFO in the sky over Squamish. This one was cleared up quickly, according to Sgt. Lee Joubert, who reported that “We were directed to the object which was obviously a star.”

The RCMP were not the first stop for people who saw something strange in the sky by 1996; that summer a B.C. UFO hotline was set up, and people could call a number in Vancouver to report any mysterious sightings. This is what a Whistler resident named Haley did when she, her friend Simon and her roommates saw strange lights in the eastern sky. At least two other people also witnessed the lights and called the hotline to report them.

At the time, it was unusual for the hotline to get calls from outside of the Lower Mainland, and hotline coordinator David Pengilly was surprised to receive multiple calls from Whistler in one night. He thought at first that they might be looking at Venus, but was told that they could see Venus in the background of the light. According to Haley, the light would “hover for a while and then go zipping around, spiralling from side to side” and “was so bright it was strobing.” She and her friend watched it for quite a while, and then got her roommates up to see it as well. Like the supposed meteor in 1986, there was no follow-up story to explain this sighting.

We often get questions about various aspects of Whistler at the museum and, depending on the type of question, the Question can be a good place to start to find answers. Because of the scope of the paper, however, you never know what other information you’ll find along the way.