Strange lights in the sky. People racing down country roads trying to get photos and a better view of them. Police reassigned. Little grey men. Classified government facilities. It may all sound light a particularly emblematic X-Files episode, but in fact it is a made-in-Manitoba story of multiple UFO sightings related by a Winnipeg unidentified flying object researcher who was a witness to it all.
As related by Grant Cameron inCharlie Red Star: True Reports of one of North America's Biggest UFO Sightings, for a year or two in the mid-1970s, the hotbed for UFO sightings was around Carman, Manitoba, to the extent that the National Enquirer even sent up a reporter up to chase the story.
Published by Dundurn Press in 2017, Charlie Red Star isn't a traditional non-fiction journey that comes to a final conclusion about what all of it means as much as a compendium of sighting reports from people in the Carman area and personal recollections of the author, who spent many nights out on the backroads in the area with photographers and even a TV crew from CKY-TV in Winnipeg trying to determine just what everybody was seeing. But it is fascinating nonetheless because, given the extensive interviews the author did with people who witnessed a strange light that came to be known as Charlie Red Star, it's hard to dismiss all the stories as figments of people's imaginations. Something was out there, it seems, but the book doesn't really ever deliver - or even claim that it will - anything close to a definitive answer.
Covering events that began in 1975 and continued until 1976, Charlie Red Star provides lots of fodder for anyone who believes that there are aliens visiting earth in out-of-this-world spaceships or maybe military forces conducting secret tests of equipment in plain view of the public, betting that anyone who mentions them will be looked on as kooks, which was indeed the case with some of those who witnessed Charlie Red Star or other lights in the sky nearly 40 years ago now. Cameron himself sat on his manuscript for 36 years before pushing to get it published.
Despite most of the action taking place in the southern region of the province, closer to the United States than Winnipeg, there is a tangential connection to the north in the form of a sighting made by three pilots in a DC-3 near Berens River southbound from Churchill.
"It was flying on a 45-degree angle, but it was still flying straight at us," Cameron quotes pilot Roger Pitts as saying while describing an unusual aircraft he and his co-pilots had spotted. "As we watched, it didn't turn around. It just went directly the other way straight away from us. It just went off into the distance away from us, and a puff of smoke appeared – an odd shape, like a small cloud, and it disappeared in that."
Cameron also injects some humour into the tale of those who chased Charlie Red Star from time to time, including one man who came with his girlfriend to look for the UFO from the property of Anthony Britain, a local pilot who restored Second World War airplanes and later wrote to him to say, "It was the greatest night I've ever had without pot."
Charlie Red Star focuses mostly on sightings of UFOs, though occasionally it does veer into other supernatural phenomena, like a 1975 sighting of two sasquatches near the former Southport Air Force base near Portage la Prairie. Later, when the author tries to send some photographs to an expert in Arizona for analysis, the package goes missing and the expert comments on another similar occurrence coinciding with a supposed surreptitious search of his house by "conservatively dressed men" reminiscent of pop culture's men in black.
If you aren’t a big believer in alien visitation (which, for the record, I'm not), Charlie Red Star probably won't turn you into one. But, if nothing else, it will provide an interesting immersion into a bizarre period of Manitoba history when the novel source of entertainment for many in the Pembina Valley area was apparently racing down backroads trying to track down UFOs.
Charlie Red Star: True Reports of one of North America's Biggest UFO Sightings is available at the Thompson Public Library.