On the night of February 14th, about 9:15 PM, many of the citizens of Brockville were startled to see the lights of an aircraft crossing high over the St. Lawrence River and moving in the direction of Ottawa.
The lights were seen by the Mayor and three of the city constables. The first of the unidentified aircraft flying rapidly over head gave off the "unmistakable sounds of the whirling motor."
About five minutes later, a second flying machine was heard. As it crossed the St. Lawrence from the direction of Morristown, New York, three balls of fire were seen to drop into the river. It was thought these might be bombs that landed harmlessly, but it was also remarked that they could have been flares used by mysterious aviators to find their way in the dark. A few minutes later, another machine passed over the east end of Brockville, and soon after, another was crossing over the west end of Brockville.
Brockville Mayor Donaldson was one of many witnesses who saw "the mysterious invaders." The Mayor of Gananoque reported that two aircraft had been heard quite distinctly passing over his city, south west of Brockville, but had not been seen. "Soon after, Mayor Donaldson telephoned the Prime Minister of Canada, Sir Robert Borden, to advise him that unidentified aircraft were seen crossing over Brockville from across the St. Lawrence in the direction of Ottawa. Borden notified the Chief of Staff and the Militia and suggested the Commissioner of the Dominion Police be notified."
The Chief of the Dominion Police, fearing the lights of Parliament Hill would shine forth like a beacon in the night for the daring aerial invaders, ordered the lights extinguished. "Blinds were ordered drawn, and life in the capital continued in an eerie darkness which marked the first blackout and air raid in Canada's history. Marksmen were dispatched to the roofs of government buildings and given orders to shoot down any aircraft approaching the city. The invaders were to be met with force." The invasion never took place. Soon there came an unexpected explanation for the phantom invasion.
Word came out of Morristown, Ogdensburg, and Syracuse that the panic in Ottawa was the result of a prank by a few jokers in Morristown. It was said that three fire balloons with fire works attached were sent aloft from Morristown in celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the end of the War of 1812. The fireworks created the impression of aircraft lights and engines, falling balls of fire, and the powerful searchlight witnessed in Brockville. At first, Ottawa refused to believe this. Even the Dominion Observatory went so far as to explain that this was untenable since the prevailing winds were from the east and would not have carried the balloons in the northeasterly direction. However, the militia and police authorities in Ottawa contacted their American counterparts to investigate this story.
On the morning of February 15th, Constable Storey of the Brockville Police Department found a paper balloon near Eastern Hospital, and soon afterwards a second paper balloon was found in eastern Brockville along the river. This news spread quickly across the telegraph lines so that the afternoon newspapers were able to laugh most loudly at how the morning newspapers and the politicians had been taken in by a few pranksters with toy balloons. Officialdom was reluctant to admit it had been the victim of a hoax.
(SOURCE: Early Canadian Life, May 1979)