The Little Green Men of Steep Rock Lake
Near the southern border of Northwestern Ontario, about three kilometres northwest of the tiny town of Atikokan, lies a body of water known as Steep Rock Lake. In 1950, this remote woodland retreat, nestled in the heart of what locals proudly refer to as the “Canoeing Capital of Canada”, was the setting of a bizarre story that has intrigued ufologists (as students of the UFO phenomenon are known) for nearly seventy years.
The Town of Steep Rock
Back in 1938, an Ontario prospector named Julian Cross discovered that Steep Rock Lake lay atop a rich deposit of hematite- a type of iron ore. During WWII, when the Allied forces were in desperate need of steel, the river that fed the lake was diverted and much of the original Steep Rock Lake was drained (the river’s diversion created a web of new floodwater channels, which included a new Steep Rock Lake). That accomplished, miners set to work blasting and extracting the much-needed iron ore, transforming the former lake bed into a vast open-pit quarry known as the Steep Rock Iron Mine.
From the 1940s until the Steep Rock Iron Mine’s dissolution in 1980, a boomtown called Steep Rock thrived just outside the quarry a short distance from the town of Atikokan. For much of this time, a monthly newspaper called the Steep Rock Echo, edited by the Mine’s Chief Chemist, B.J. Eyton, serviced the citizens of this transient mining town.
In September 1950, the Echo ran with a story entitled “Flying Saucer Base?” This story was submitted by an anonymous Mine employee whom Eyton described as “a thoroughly reliable citizen”.
“We have refrained from reporting this before,” the anonymous author began, “as people make so much fun of one who reports these things. However, all the bally-hoo about ‘flying saucers’ has passed, and people perhaps have time to think more calmly. Attached is what my wife and I saw in the dusk of the evening of July 2, 1950.”
The writer went on to describe how he and his wife, on this particular evening, were out fishing on Sawbill Bay, a body of water opposite the quarry from Steep Rock Lake (today, Sawbill Bay is known as Marmion Lake). After spending some time on the water, they paddled their canoe into a sheltered cove and pulled their craft up onto the beach.
“We had our snack and a thermos of tea,” the Mine employee wrote, “and were talking about getting home, as it would be dark by the time we landed, when we felt the air vibrate. My first thought was blasting, as it was like a mine blast that pushes the air; my next thought was that it couldn’t be, as we were too far away.”
Curious as to the source of the shockwave, the man climbed to the top of a nearby rock so that he could get a better view of the lake. To his surprise, he found himself staring at large, shiny, saucer-like object resting on the water’s surface about a quarter of a mile away. Its edge was studded with round, black-edged “ports”, each of them spaced about four feet apart from one another.
Careful not to alarm her, the man motioned for his wife to join him on top of the rock. The couple watched with fear and fascination as a hatch on the top of the saucer opened up and ten small strange-looking creatures crawled out onto the roof.
“These figures I estimated to be roughly 3 ft. 6 ins. to 4 feet high and all were the same size,” the man wrote. “All were dressed the same, with a shiny metallic substance over the chest, while the legs and arms were of a darker material. It was impossible to see their faces- if they had any- it looked like blank surface to me.”
As the creatures went about their mysterious business, an antenna-like object rose up from the middle of the saucer until it reached a height of about eight feet. The antenna was capped with a hoop-like ring which rotated slowly from side to side, not unlike a periscope. To their horror, the couple realized that the ring appeared to be focusing on their location.
“We instinctively ducked at that moment…” the man wrote. “We believe to this day that we were shielded from the ray or whatever it was [by] the wall of rock we ducked behind.”
After some time had elapsed, the couple risked another peek at the saucer and its curious crew. They noticed that one of the creatures was apparently drawing in lake water with a bright green open-ended hose and discharging an equal quantity of water out the other end.
The couple retreated to safety again before deciding to take one final gander.
“The next time we looked,” the man wrote, “everything had disappeared from the surface of the machine and it was about 8 feet in the air, with a red-and-blue tinged-with-gold colour shining on the surface of the water… It tilted to about a 45o angle, there was a rush of wind (like the wind before a storm), a flash of yellow, red-blue and it was gone, heading northward, but faster than the eye could follow.”
Shaken to the core, the couple returned home and vowed to never visit that part of the lake again. Try as he might, however, the man could not get the image of the saucer out of his mind. Eventually, he decided to tell one of his friends about the incident. Intrigued, his friend agreed to accompany him to the cove at Sawbill Bay on the pretext of fishing, hoping to see the saucer for himself. The men brought cameras with them on this excursion, determined to capture the mysterious craft on film if it ever returned.
Unfortunately, the craft failed to appear. Undaunted, the friends made two more trips to the cove, each of which proved similarly fruitless. Eventually, they decided that they might have more luck rowing quietly along the shore. When that failed, they decided to cut across the Bay using the canoe’s outboard motor.
“It all happened in split seconds,” the man wrote. “There was the ‘Saucer’ in the same spot. I swung the boat into the wind, my friend made a dive for his camera, and I for mine, while trying to hold the boat into the wind. My hand was so stiff from the cold and holding the steering control that I couldn’t even feel the camera. My friend was trying to stand up, and in the excitement hold on while the boat bobbed up and down. The result was neither of us even had a chance of a picture. All my friend could keep repeating was, ‘Well by George at least I’ve seen it!’”
The anonymous storyteller finished his narrative by explaining that during this second encounter, he and his friend observed the little creatures performing the same operation with the green hose that he and his wife had witnessed on July 2. Apparently, the creatures discovered that they were being watched, as they hastily climbed into their saucer, which subsequently departed at tremendous speed.
At the end of his article, the man implied that the creature in charge of the hose operation did not make it into the craft in time, and tumbled into the lake when the saucer took off.
Intriguingly, following the publication of this story, the editor of the Steep Rock Echo received letters from citizens who claimed to have also had strange experiences at Sawbill Bay. One writer related that when he was leaving the lake one evening at dusk, he “heard a sound like the noise a flock of ducks make, and at the same time saw what [he] thought was a shooting-star flash across the bay.” The following week, while fishing in one of Sawbill’s coves, he discovered a number of dead fish floating in a patch of water that bore a curious greenish hue.
Another man came forward with an almost identical story. He informed the editor that, while returning home from the floodwaters at dusk, he saw what he thought to be a meteor streak down in the direction of Sawbill Bay and disappear. He also mentioned that the water in one of the inlets in upper Sawbill Bay had a strange, almost fluorescent green tinge, and that he was unable to catch any fish in that inlet despite that he had no trouble catching fish anywhere else in the lake.
Some letters to the editor were less charitable. One reader wrote, “Are you sure it was tea your correspondent was drinking, and not something stronger?”
The article was reprinted in the October 1950 issue of The Steep Rock Echo. In this edition, editor B.J. Eyton commented, in regards to the article:
“I cannot verify the story one way or the other. It was written by a senior employee of the mine. However, about that time flying saucers were seen by a number of people in this locality… Men in groups working in the mine at Steep Rock saw them at night, and many residents of the town of Atikokan gave eyewitness accounts of the saucers. They were seen in different localities all the way from here to the Lakehead cities of Fort William and Port Arthur 140 miles away. One was flashed b Canadian National Railways station operators all along the line until it reached here. Then it turned back again. There was not the slightest doubt in the minds of the eyewitnesses that what they had seen were flying saucers.”
Since the Steep Rock Echo was a relatively obscure newspaper, the story of the flying saucer of Sawbill Bay was, for many years, largely confined to the memories of the citizens of Steep Rock and Atikokan. Then, in the 1960’s, a popular American writer and radio broadcaster named Frank Edwards got wind of the story, likely having read a reprinting of it in the February-March issue of the magazine Fate, and resurrected it on his radio program and in his 1966 book Flying Saucers- Serious Business. Other ufologists followed Edwards’ lead and began including the Steep Rock story in their own books and articles. In a few short years, the tale of the Steep Rock saucer and its mysterious crewmen transformed from a dim rural Canadian legend into a tabloid sensation with an international audience.
In the winter of 1974, Canadian UFO researcher Robert T. Badgley wrote a letter to the president of Steep Rock Iron Mines in which he inquired about the flying saucer story. The president informed Badgley that the story was written by a Mine executive named Gordon Edwards (no relation to Frank), and that it was completely fictitious. According to the president, Edwards wrote the story for the amusement of his colleagues and the citizens of the remote towns of Steep Rock and Atikokan, and to mock contemporary accounts of encounters with little green men that appeared in newspapers from time to time. Edwards and others privy to the hoax were delighted and amused when larger media outlets picked up the story and popularized it.
For better of for worse, Badgley’s work has remained nearly as obscure as the story it addressed prior to its adoption by Frank Edwards. Despite its debunking, the tale of the little green men of Steep Rock Lake has failed to die, and continues to be presented as fact in books and articles to this very day. Even Atikokan’s historical authorities remained ignorant of the story’s true nature for decades after Badgley’s revelation. In a letter to American Fortean researcher Gary Mangiacopra, dated February 6, 1992, a representative of the Atikokan Centennial Museum wrote, in reference to the aforementioned articles:
“When I first read these articles myself, I asked a few locals about it. Apparently there were numerous other sightings of different happening [sic] in the area. However, this particular incident was the only one documented to my knowledge.”
Despite the efforts of serious ufologists to set the record straight, the tale of the little green men of Steep Rock Lake remains to this day one of Ontario’s great urban legends.
- Flying Saucer Base?; written anonymously by Gordon Edwards; in the September 1950 issue of the Steep Rock Echo; courtesy of American Fortean researcher Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra
- Correspondence between Gary S. Mangiacopra and the Atikokan Centennial Museum & Historical Park; dated February 6, 1992, and February 25, 1992; courtesy of Gary S. Mangiacopra
- Steep Rock Flying Saucer, in the February-March 1952 issue of the magazine Fate, courtesy of Gary Mangiacopra
- UFOs Over Canada: Personal Accounts of Sightings and Close Encounters (1996), John Robert Colombo
- July 2, 1950, Steep Rock Lake, Ontario, Canada, A Man and His Wife; by Patrick Gross; in January 21, 2007 issue of Ufology.PatrickGross.org
- Image of flying saucer and little green men courtesy of FrimfuFilms
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