Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Shag Harbour Inaugurates its First UFO Festival

USO Emerging From OCean
Nova Scotia village uses UFO sighting to lure tourists

By Allison Hanes
National Post

     SHAG HARBOUR, N.S. -Like all the picturesque fishing villages strung along Nova Scotia's breathtaking south shore, Shag Harbour is a place of weathered cottages perched atop rocky cliffs offering vistas of the Atlantic.

But what sets it apart from other seaside hamlets (other than its frequent inclusion on lists of funny place names) are the little green men.

There is a little green man standing guard outside the post office named Alvin. And there is a three-foot-tall green man at the side of the highway -- a plywood cut-out that beckons travellers to stop in at the Shag Harbour Incident Museum and Research Centre.

"The Incident" as it is referred to in these parts, is the strange occurrence of Oct. 4, 1967, when locals witnessed strange lights hovering in the sky before a dark object appeared to plunge into the ocean.

Shag Harbour residents were convinced a plane had crashed and they jumped into their fishing boats to search for survivors.

But all the fishermen found was a strange fluorescent foam floating on the water that evaporated when they tried to collect it.

The navy, air force, Coast Guard and RCMP continued the search in the morning and for days to come before calling it off, saying they came up empty-handed.

"At least that was their story," said Cindy Nickerson, chairwoman of Shag Harbour Incident Society, chuckling.

Today the mystery of the Unidentified Flying Object endures -- in both the literal and mythological sense -- as Canada's Roswell.

With the dwindling fishing industry, some Shag Harbour residents are eager to trade on the currency of that legacy to attract visitors to their hamlet and boost tourism.

Museum and Research Centre is a fancy title for the kitschy display set up in the backyard shed of a director of the Incident Society.

There are laminated newspaper articles dating from the strange event, copies of original government, police and Coast Guard documents, television screens broadcasting interviews with witnesses, but also an array of alien-themed

For more in our Best of Summer series, including previous instalments, highlights from last year and cartoons by Gary Clement, visit nationalpost.com/bestofsummer

memorabilia, from key chains with little green Martian heads to artistic paintings imagining what happened.

Courtney Banks, a university student hired to staff the museum for the summer, rattled off the yarn to a pair of intrigued passersby on a sunny summer day, but said many visitors know far more about UFO sighting than she does.

"They tell me the story," she said.

The Incident Society has grand plans to erect a facility dedicated to the infamous event on the crest overlooking the watery crash site.

Ms. Nickerson said the group is hoping to raise at least $150,000 for the new building.

In the meantime they hosted the first Shag Harbour Incident Festival on Aug. 8 and 9, with help from a $2,000 grant from the federal Department of Heritage that will feature such renowned ufology speakers as Stanton Friedman and Carl Feindt from the United States.

Don Ledger, a Nova Scotia writer who co-authored a book about The Incident a number of years ago, said two things set the Shag Harbour event apart from many other UFO reports.

"First, it was the RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force] documents that had margin notes designating the incident as a UFO sighting -- underlined three times. In other words, it was a reversal of the normal process of the civilian witnesses reporting a UFO and the authorities claiming a prosaic explanation," Mr. Ledger said. "Secondly, unlike all other UFO cases I've come in contact with, this case was heavily government documented."

Among locals -- both those who saw the lights in the sky that night and those who have heard the tale, Ms. Nickerson said opinion about the incident varies. But perhaps all the little green men about town offer a hint.

"I guess it's kind of something that you have to make your own mind up about," she said.

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