Mystery Booms in Canada
In late February 2022, residents of the Victoria Park district of Kitchener, Ontario, reported hearing loud booms in their neighbourhood for which there appeared to be no discernable source. Witnesses likened the mysterious noises to gunshots, the backfires of an engine, and cannon blasts, claiming that some booms were so loud that they rattled the windows of their houses. In mid-March, Canadian journalist Krista Sharpe investigated the case on behalf of CTV News and quickly uncovered the culprits. The mystery booms, it turned out, were the backfires of two portable generators at the local Ukrainian Catholic Centre which powered a temporary heating system, the original having been damaged by meltwater.
Not all mysterious explosions are so easy to explain. Every once in a while, hapless witnesses across North America are rocked by tremendous sonic blasts which seem to emerge out of nowhere, which do not appear to be derived from any known variety of natural or technological activity. An alarming proportion of these bizarre booms are purportedly accompanied by the appearance of strange lights on the ground or in the sky. Seismologists refer to such inexplicable explosions as “exotic events”.
The Boom over Lake Winnipeg, 1809
One exotic event appears in the journals of George Nelson, a fur trader who ran a series of Hudson’s Bay Company posts around Lake Winnipeg in the early 1800s. On the evening of January 25th, 1809, while he was working a post at the mouth of the Dauphin River on the lake’s western shore, he and a voyageur named Etienne Charbonneau “heard a Great noise upon the Lake resembling an extraordinary Clap of thunder…” Later that night, he and his men noticed that the planet Venus and an adjacent star not only seemed to be twice as large and bright as usual, but also appeared to bounce “to & from each other, as to excite an uncommon degree of curiosity in every one who beheld it…
“This gives me reason,” Nelson continued, “to relate what an [Indian] from the [North] side of this Lake said in regard to the Moon. He got up in the Course of the night when it was yet very high but when he went out again after having smoked his pipe & made a fire (according to his accounts not near an half hour from when he went out the first time) he found it sinking below the [Horizon].”
Explosion at Niagara Falls
One hundred and forty four years after George Nelson’s strange experience, on the night of March 23rd, 1953, residents of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and the adjacent city of Niagara Falls, New York, were startled by two successive booms and a mysterious flash of light which erupted over the Niagara River, near the border between Canada and the United States. One witness named Joseph Plutere claimed that the first boom was louder than the second, and that the accompanying flash of light was so bright that it illuminated his neighbourhood in Niagara Falls, New York.
Another witness called Joseph Cloutier grabbed a flashlight and ran towards the sound. When he came to the North Grand Island Bridge, which connects the American shore with the large river island for which it was named, Cloutier saw what he believed to be several pieces of wreckage floating down the Niagara River. One of the pieces was six feet long, and purportedly “reflected the light like aluminum.” As he watched, the floating debris sank below the surface.
Many locals suspected that a plane had crashed into the Niagara River, and an official at the U.S. Air Force base in Niagara Falls allegedly confirmed that witness descriptions of the event certainly seemed indicative of a plane crash. When airports across the continent were checked, however, no planes were unaccounted for.
A local resident investigated the site of the suspected crash in his own boat but found no evidence of any wreckage there or downriver. The U.S. Coast Guard subsequently launched a search and rescue operation out of its base at Buffalo, New York, that same night. A two-hour search failed to turn up one shred of evidence as to the nature of the mysterious explosion. According to an article in the July 1953 issue of the magazine Fate, “Niagara Falls police authorities said they assume that the explosion and bright flash may have been made by a meteorite. Nothing at all was said about the possibility that they might have been another kind of aerial phenomena.”
The Bell Island Boom
In a five month period in the late 1970s, a series of mystery booms, many of which were concurrent with sightings of mysterious flying balls of light, rippled up and down the Atlantic Coast of North America. Beginning in early December 1977 and extending through the spring of 1978, tremendous sonic blasts shook houses and rattled residents from South Carolina to Massachusetts. Some retired military men likened the explosions to the sonic concussions of eight-inch Navy guns. Other suspected they were sonic booms produced by hypersonic aircraft accelerating past the speed of sound, or the acoustic byproduct of secret military weapon tests. From meteor showers and thunderclaps to oil rig explosions and earthquakes, all manner of explanations were proposed, investigated, and summarily refuted. Experts who investigated the phenomena remained baffled as to their causes, agreeing only that the mysterious explosions all seem to have erupted high in the atmosphere far out to sea. Eerily, many elderly men and women throughout New England muttered that the booms evoked an old story that their grandparents told them about the ‘Seneca guns’- a succession of powerful thunder-like claps heard above New York’s Finger Lakes long ago, which their forebears ascribed to the muskets of ghostly Iroquois warriors.
One of the last and most spectacular mystery booms to hit the Atlantic Coast in the spring of 1978 took place on Bell Island, a tiny isle off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, home to several underground iron mines. Nestled in the maw of Conception Bay, on the northern shores of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, this unassuming island has served as the setting for countless tales of ghosts and goblins, from the malevolent fairies said to lurk in the woods and barrens, to a frightening hag whom local legend says haunts an island swamp, to ghostly miners who have been heard tapping on rocks with ephemeral picks in tunnels deep beneath the surface.
On April 2nd, 1978, at about 11:00 a.m., a terrific explosion suddenly and unexpected shattered Bell Island’s sleepy Sunday morning tranquility. A local man named Edward Bennett told reporters how he had been sitting at his kitchen table when forks of blue flame shot eighteen inches out of his electrical sockets. Moments later, his house was shaken by a deafening bang which he likened to that of a Luftwaffe parachute mine. Other island residents described how their televisions exploded into charred and smoking ruins, balls of fire flew through the glass of their oven doors, fuses shot across rooms like bullets, and old electronic equipment which hadn’t worked in years suddenly burst into life.
One islander named Carol O’Brien related her memory of the event to fellow Newfoundlander Joan Horwood, saying, “Before I saw anything, I heard a rumbling sound which seemed to come closer; then I heard an explosion. The room that I was in lit up. I could see the sky was red. I ran out into the kitchen, looked out the window and saw smoke, and I thought a house down the road a ways had exploded. But when the smoke cleared, I saw the roof was still on the house I thought had exploded… It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
A local 12-year-old boy named Darrin Bickford, who had been riding his bike on the island at the time explosion, claimed to have witnessed an extraordinary sight just before the boom. “I was outside riding my pedal bike,” he said in an interview for Season 2, Episode 6 of the 2011 TV series Weird or What?, “and I knew one of my favourite television shows came on at 11:00, so I was peddling back home… As I approached the end of our driveway, all the birds stopped chirping, all the dogs stopped barking. It just went so still.”
All of a sudden, Bickford heard a tremendous boom, which he likened to a shotgun blast, which was instantly succeeded by a second boom. Immediately thereafter, the ground began to shake, producing what Bickford claimed was the loudest noise he has ever heard in his life. In the midst of the chaos, an unearthly globe of light appeared out of nowhere, hovering above the ground. Its body was a beautiful tangle of multi-shaded ribbons of blue light which twisted and mingled with each other. Yellow and orange sparks danced on its surface, producing an awesome and terrifying spectacle. “And then, just like that,” Bickford said, “the ball of light just disappeared into thin air. This is without a doubt the strangest, most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen. I was terrified, but I was transfixed by it. It was so beautiful looking- this ball of light, and the colours, and the way it swirled around. You couldn’t help but stare at it, even though I was scared. I was shaken, but I loved it, and I’ve never seen anything like it… It was all over in four or five seconds, but those four or five seconds are burned into my brain just like a roll of film.
A girl named Barbara McKim saw another strange-looking object from her home on the mainland, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Bell Island. An oval-shaped luminescence hurtled from the sky toward the island’s southwestern end at an angle, leaving a white beam-like tail behind it. Other mainland witnesses who saw this aerial projectile were divided as to whether the explosion erupted after the light hit the island, or while it was still in the air, although all agreed that the blast was powerful enough to rattle the windows and dishes in their own homes.
After the last of the tremors died away, the people of Bell Island gathered their wits and assessed the damage caused by the mysterious explosion. Mercifully, none of the island’s human inhabitants suffered anything worse than a bad shock, although the chicken coop of Darrin Bickford’s grandfather, James Bickford, was littered with dead hens which had bled from their eyes and beaks. The elder Bickford’s barn had been blown to matchwood, none of the boards from which bore any burns or scorch marks. At a point in his backyard which witnesses determined to be the epicentre of the explosion, Bickford found three strange cone-shaped depressions in the snow, all of them two feet deep, two of them about four feet in diameter, and the third resembling a rabbit burrow.
In the aftermath of the event, locals proposed an assortment of theories to account for the bizarre boom that had rocked the island. Some suggested that Bell Island had been subjected to a Soviet military test, perhaps being the recipient of a powerful electromagnetic wave shot from an EMP cannon, or the unwitting guinea pig of some weather modification experiment. Others wondered whether the citizens of Bell Island and Conception Bay were the victims of a black op mind control experiment conducted by the Canadian or American military. Others still proposed that the island had been visited by ‘ball lightning’, a rare, mysterious, and volatile globe of what is suspected to be ionized plasma which has baffled scientists for centuries. Many historical accounts of ball lightning indicate that the ghostly globes have a tendency to float erratically through the air, and often explode with tremendous violence, leaving behind an offensive sulfurous odour.
In an effort to solve the mystery once and for all, two teams of scientists independently headed to Bell Island to conduct their own tests. Geologists John Malpas and Ken Collerson, who worked at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, the provincial capital, made up one of the teams. The other set of scientists to investigate the Bell Island boom consisted of plasma physicist Dr. John Warren and weapons design engineer Dr. Robery Freyman, both of whom worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory south of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Disturbingly, the Los Alamos lab was the facility at which the first atomic bombs were created, where scientists were said to develop top secret weapons not unlike those to which some proposed Bell Island had served as an unsuspecting practice target.
In an interview with journalist Rick Seaward for a documentary on the Canadian TV program CBC News: The National, John Malpas claimed that upon first meeting Drs. Warren and Freyman on Bell Island, the Los Alamos scientists asked whether he and Collerson had security clearances- a question which caught the Canadians off guard. The American scientists proceeded to explain to their Canadian counterparts that they had been aware for some weeks that a mystery boom would hit Atlantic Canada around early April, but did not know the exact time or place at which the explosion would strike.
After examining the wreckage on the island and interviewing witnesses to the strange event, Drs. Warren and Freyman concluded that the Bell Island blast was caused by what they called ‘super lightning’- an extraordinarily powerful and long lasting lightning bolt- despite that the weather at the time of the event did not appear to be conducive to lightning. Although other scientists have since arrived at the same conclusion, many Bell Island residents who witnessed the mysterious event of April 2nd 1978 remain adamant that phenomena they experienced could not have been caused by lightning, super or not.
- “Mysterious ‘Loud Explosion; Sound Rocks Victoria Park Neighbourhood,” by Krista Sharpe in the March 17, 2022 issue of CTV News: Kitchener
- “What’s Behind Those Mysterious Booms in Washington State?” – Alec Cowan and Libby Denkmann’s interview with Steve Malone in the April 1, 2022 issue of KUOW Radio (Puget Sound)
Explosion at Niagara Falls
- “Mystery Explosion,” in the July 1953 issue of Fate
- “Mysterious ‘Explosion’ Investigated,” in the March 23rd, 1953 issue of The Expositor (Brantford, Ontario)
The Bell Island Boom
- “No Explanation: Mystery Booms reported in York County,” by Curt Sutherly in the December 24, 1977 issue of the Lebanon Daily News (Lebanon, Pennsylvania)
- “Nobody Can Explain Those Mysterious Booms,” by William Claiborne in the December 23rd, 1977 issue of the Washington Post
- “Atmospheric Blasts Off East Coast Puzzle Scientists and the Military,” by Walter Sullivan in the December 23rd, 1977 issue of the New York Times
- The Invisible Machine (2004), by Barbara Doran and John Whalen
- “Tesla Weapon Event at ‘Bell Island,’ Canada, 1978,” by TJ Elias, Lee Tizzard, and Joan Horwood for the June 10, 2002 issue of World of the Strange