Graduate Theses & Dissertations

History of Canada's UFO Investigation, 1950-1995
From 1950-1995, the Canadian government investigated the phenomenon of unidentified flying objects (UFOs), amassing over 15,000 pages of documentation about, among other matters, nearly 4,500 unique sightings. This investigation was largely passive and disconnected, spread across a number of federal departments and agencies that infrequently communicated about the subject. Two official investigations, Project Magnet and Project Second Storey, were initiated in the early 1950s to study the topic. The government concluded that the UFO phenomenon did not “lend itself to a scientific method of investigation,” and terminated the projects. After this point, the investigation entered a state of purgatory, with no central communication, and every government department eager to pass the responsibility onto someone else. As such, Canadian citizens writing to the government for straight answers to the UFO enigma were often on the receiving end of what they called “doublespeak.” Citizens were seeing things in the sky and wanted the government to simply tell them what they were. The government was unable and unwilling to do this, and over time frustration grew on both sides. What began for the government, in its own words, as an irritating intrusion into more important matters, became the catalyst for a dynamic of mutually-reinforced mistrust between state and citizen during the postwar period. This dissertation offers a chronological history of the efforts that the Canadian government and citizens made to investigate UFOs, and when and why these efforts came into conflict. The main argument is that the Canadian state attempted to use UFOs as a site to assert its modernity during a time of uncertainty and anxiety over its legitimacy, by drawing on the cultural authority of the scientific community. The project was one of ridding the public of ignorance and creating instead a more rational citizen. This attempt ran up against beliefs and attitudes that some citizens shared, that tapped into a spirit of anti-authoritarianism present during the 1960s and even earlier. These citizens considered themselves to be iconoclasts, unmoved by claims of expertise, and accused the government of conspiracy theory. These approaches fed into one another, contributing to further misunderstanding and conflict. The history of Canada’s UFO investigation is thus more broadly a history of changing attitudes toward authority and expertise in the postwar era. Author Keywords: Canada, citizenship, history of science, scientific object, state, UFO

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