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Year of 1897

In May of 1897 spectators watch a "mysterious airship" come out of the west and drift over Winnipeg for fifteen minutes, then turn to the north and head off towards the town of Stony Mountain.

Then on August 7, two firemen watch a "fire balloon" in the sky fly back and forth across the sky for two and a half hours over Discovery Island. They grab the hotel clerk as an extra witness. Another witness from Old Oak Bay spotted the object over Mary Todd Island.

For the next week the citizens of Vancouver watch a "luminous ball of fire airship" at night. Some report a "dull lustre" color and another reported it "cigar shaped," but most just see the bright lights and "sparks".

Joseph Daniels, May 2005

In 1896 the west coast of the United States experienced a series of aerial sightings that became known as the Great Airship Wave. By 1897 it seems that the strange phenomenon had moved north into British Columbia and the Prairies. In May of 1897 airships were reported in Winnipeg, Manitoba and by August they were reported over the west coast of Canada.

In his book "Unnatural History", top canadian UFO researcher, Chris Rutkowski included this amazing advertisement for "White Star Baking Soda" that takes advantage of the public hysteria over these strange sightings. It would appear they were so numerous and well known that they had entered the pop culture of the period.

Some critics have claimed that what was witnessed was a real airship balloon built by Edward J. Pennington in the mid-1980s, however, further investigation reveals that although he did build a small thirty-foot balloon without a motor in 1981, with the limited technology of the period, he was unable to build the two-hundred-foot motorized ship he imagined. The reports of his flight in such a ship have proven to be hoaxes.

Although the classic sighting attributed to the airship wave are similar to those depicted here, many of the reports were more akin to modern, metallic flying saucers or UFOs, of course those terms would not come into use for another half a century.

1897: An Airship Visits Winnipeg
UFO Roundup, Vol. 2, No. 7, April 27, 1997
Edited by Joseph Trainor

One hundred years ago, on Saturday, May 1, 1897, "a mysterious airship," as UFOs were then called, flew over Winnipeg, the capital of Canada's Manitoba province, then a city of 40,000 people. Here are some excerpts from a news story of the period:
"Saturday night (May 1, 1897) was the date chosen for the appearance of the airship, and the lights of the mysterious machine were in full view of many citizens for a full fifteen minutes."

"The strange visitor" approached from the west, following the Assiniboine River, "out of a starry sky."

The boys at Howard's Drugstore watched the UFO "mystified by the strange vision...Only the bare outlines of some object could be seen besides the strange heaven light, evidently from the "masthead" of the aerial craft. There can be no doubt the presence of the strange vision on Saturday night, as its transit was witnessed by many reputable citizens," including Manitoba's provincial lieutenant governor.

After passing over St. Boniface Hospital, the UFO veered sharply to the north and "was lost from view" as it flew toward the town of Stony Mountain. (See the Vancouver, B.C. News-Advertiser for May 2, 1897)


Victoria Daily Colonist, August 7, 1897
That strange aerial curiosity the fire balloon that has been completely mystifying people of the northwest during the past two or three months is evidently becoming bolder or more people are keeping late hours than formerly and in consequence have had the good fortune to catch a glimpse of it. What it is, or where it comes from or where it goes to, and who or what manner of men are responsible for its movements, remains just as much as a puzzle as when the bright light first made its appearance in the sky a few months ago.

For Upwards of two and a half hours Firemen North and Swain of the city brigade had opportunity to inspect the erratic visitor yesterday morning. However when it was finally lost to sight in the morning air they were completely mystified as to all its character as when they first sighted it, It was Swain whose first attention was attracted to the light he and his companion having been left on duty at the scene of a grass fire on the gold links that threatened if not carefully watched to break out afresh and cause damage to adjoining property.

It was floating low then and he called to North to notice what a bright mast some ship was carrying. Then both men looked and North observed it could not be a mast light as no ship in these waters carried so bright a look out light. While they speculated the light came so near as to be mirrored in the waters of the Straits in the direction and apparently hanging over Discovery Island.

It had no discernible form, balloon shape or otherwise, it was just a great light as large from the distance it was viewed as a drum from one of the hose reels, and brighter far, according to the two firemen than an electric light.

As they watched it slowly rose and took off sailing in a direction of almost eighth of the horizon circle and then returning.

As soon as it dawned upon the watchers that the object of their attention was the light of which so many had been talking it resulted in new particulars, and hurried over to the Mount Baker to procure a night glass. No instrument of the kind was available however and they had to rest content with bringing the night clerk of the hotel out to see what they had seen and be equally wonder struck. Until four o'clock the brilliant body remained suspended in mid air passing slowly from east to west and back again three times and only disappearing with the coming of the day. At one time the firemen believed they saw a dark body outlined behind the circle of intense light but they could not identify it positively. To look at the light according to one witness was like looking at the sun at high noon. What the light was they cannot conjecture, they have listened to many theories during the past twenty four hours but can not reconcile any with what they have witnessed.

The favourite theory is that some local inventor is trying the product of his daring in the privacy of the night, preparatory to giving his secret to the world. It must be a fact that the inventor is the most successful keeper of a secret to appear on the scene for quite some time and yet this seems the most rational explanation put forward Too many have seen the mid night visitor for people of common sense to doubt the presence of a mysterious something...

Mr. B. Shrapnel writing from Old Oak Bay says myself and other members of my family watched the same brilliant light as described by the above mentioned firemen for nearly two hours. The only difference was that it appeared to be above Mary Todd Island swinging from side to side slowly and sometimes rising and falling in a similar manner. It was decidedly no reflection being quite as bright if not brighter than the nearest stars in view.

Have you seen the light in the heavens?... if not you are not up to date. It has been hovering in the skies above Vancouver almost every night this week, and has been viewed by many. It was last seen on Friday evening and may be on view tonight, and again it may not. Last night the strange object in the skies was noticed to the north of the city across the city traveling in an easterly direction.

The luminous ball of fire or airship as some call it was closely watched. It approached with great swiftness, paused in midair, then surrounded itself with flashes of colour and moved towards the northeast. At times it looked like a ball of fire at others it had a dull lustre and small particles of fire would shoot from the great glowing mass.

The sight was a great one and should be looked out for this evening.

N. C. Schon of Burnaby saw the luminous body while on the steamer Rithet on Monday night. He states that it moved parallel to the sea far below the star line and looked like a bright red star surrounded by a luminous halo. It was cigar shaped and seemed to travel slowly and occasionally there seemed to drop a shower of sparks like the sputtering of an arc light.

A World man saw the beautiful object from the office of the Chilean consulate under a powerful glass. A wag suggested that it was the Klondike star pointing the way to untold wealth.

Victoria Daily Colonist, August 14, 1897


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