On Aug. 4, 1977, Paul Shishis was just a regular teenager working at a Scarborough grocery store.
But, it was no ordinary evening shift. He remembers that day well.
That Thursday night, he said, out in an adjacent open field, the 18-year-old saw what most people encounter only in science-fiction movies: a pear-shaped unidentified flying object with rotating multi-coloured lights in the night sky.
"I was dumbstruck with what I was witnessing," Mr. Shishis said, now 48 and living in Oshawa.
Mr. Shishis' experience is recorded alongside thousands of Canadian sightings, and the recent recounting of his story comes at a time when many continue to pose the elusive age-old question: Are we alone in the universe? This year marks the 60th anniversary of the crash landing in Roswell, New Mexico, where some believe the U.S. military covered up evidence of an alien craft. And this weekend, Edmonton's TELUS World of Science, a respected museum complex, hosted a two-day UFO conference exploring the possibility of intelligent alien life.
For some, the possibility of alien beings visiting Earth is hard to swallow, the stuff of science fiction along the lines of the X-Files and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
But one independent Canadian UFO investigator said mysterious sightings in Ontario appear to be on the rise, with this year potentially seeing record numbers.
Brian Vike, who runs HBCC UFO Research from Houston, British Columbia, records Canadian incidents with the help of a British website.
They reported about 150 Ontario sightings so far this year up to the end of August out of a rough total of 300 in Canada.
Compare that with 188 Ontario sightings in all of 2006, according to another count that also includes Mr. Vike's numbers, the Canadian UFO Survey, and the results could be surprising, he said.
"You're going to have a record-breaking year, no doubt about it," he said.
The Canadian UFO Survey is tabled by leading UFOlogists Chris Rutkowski, who spoke at the Edmonton conference, and Geoff Dittman, perhaps providing the clearest snapshot of Canadian sightings.
B.C. used to be the UFO magnet of Canada. According to last year's survey, B.C. beat Ontario in sightings despite having a smaller population.
In 2002, B.C. logged 176 sightings. Ontario had 128. And the next year, it was even more lopsided: 304 to 150.
But, so far his year, up to the end of August, B.C. only has half of Ontario's numbers, at 81 sightings, according to Mr. Vike.
Mr. Vike said he's at a loss to explain it. He said several sightings were spotted near the Pickering nuclear plant.
"Is it something that's attracting them? Is it something like the great bodies of water that you have?" After all, Mr. Shishis said he saw the UFO hover over what he believed to be Pickering that August night.
Ottawa is tied in eighth place in the number of municipal sightings with Edmonton and Burnaby, 12, according to the 2006 survey.
The No. 1 municipality attracting UFOs? Maidstone, Saskatchewan.
Whatever the reason for higher Ontario numbers, many experts say that Canada lacks a centralized database for sightings.
That means no accurate count exists.
"We really need to have a better way for people to report and making people aware of the proper channel of reporting these things. It would be great if there was a centralized thing," said Frank Florian, director of space sciences at the TELUS World of Science.
"A lot of people who report these things don't want to be labeled as quacks and things like that. They just want a question answered. Sometimes if you bring up the word 'UFO,' most people just kind of laugh or scoff at it," he said.
And some don't know where to turn to or are too embarrassed to say they saw a UFO.
"Most sightings don't get reported. Its very hard to get a handle of what's going on, because we don't hear about most of the cases," said Stanton Friedman, a former nuclear physicist who was the original civilian investigator for the Roswell incident.
Mr. Friedman, 73, at first blush doesn't seem like a man who believes in UFOs. In fact, he's never even seen one.
"I've never seen Tokyo. Do I have to see it to believe it's there?" he asked rhetorically.
Mr. Friedman once worked as a nuclear physicist for engineering giants like General Electric, General Motors and McDonnell Douglas. He now calls New Brunswick home.
"I'm convinced the evidence is overwhelming that planet Earth is being visited by intelligently controlled extra-terrestrial spacecraft," said Mr. Friedman, who was a guest speaker at the Edmonton conference. "We have sightings by scientist and by astronomers. There's a tremendous amount of evidence out there." Sometimes, the UFOs can be explained as the International Space Station, planes, even stars, Mr. Vike said.
"Let me tell you, we get hoaxes, lots of them. But you try to sort it out the best you can," he said.
As for the Roswell incident, which he calls "cosmic Watergate," Mr. Friedman believes the U.S. military did recover a flying saucer.
Asked if the truth about Roswell would someday be revealed, he said "if some major newsgroup would spend as much effort blowing the lid of the cosmic Watergate as the Washington Post did on the political Watergate, sure."