On July 2, 1950 on Steep Rock Lake, north of the small mining town of Atikokan, an isolated community in Northwestern Ontario, Gordon Edwards and his wife were fishing. Suddenly they felt the air vibrate. Their first thought was that they were experiencing the effects of a mining blast- a common occurrence at the time as Steep Rock Iron Mines and Caland Mine were both operational. Gordon climbed up a rock face to peek over the bay and get a closer look. Peering through a space in the rock he "could see a large shiny object resting on the water in the curve of the far shoreline..." His wife climbed up to join him and "it was still there. It looked like two saucers stuck together, one upside down on top of the other. Round, black-edged ports appeared to be about four feet apart around the edge." Even more surprising, "the top had what looked like hatch covers open, and moving around over its surface were about ten queer looking little figures." These figures "moved like an automation, and did not turn around- that is right around: they just changed the direction of their feet." After a few moments, the spacecraft lifted itself into the air. A flash of yellow, red and blue lights emanated from it, and then, without warning, it vanished into thin air. Terrified by what they saw, Edwards and his wife vowed never to return to the site.
But Gordon broke his promise. A few days later he went back to the site with a friend under the pretext of fishing, so as not to alarm their wives. This time, he brought a camera. On their first visit Edwards and his friend saw nothing, but on the third evening at Sawmill Bay on Steep Rock Lake they came into contact with the saucer. Edwards recounted:
It all happened in split seconds. 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 had a chance of a picture.
Edwards figured that the "little beings" must have heard them clumsily grabbing for their cameras because they started to disappear into the craft's hatches. "There was a terrific high-pitched whiz, almost a blast, and [the spacecraft] was gone."
The above story and quotations are taken from the September and October 1950 edition of the Steep Rock Echo, a monthly periodical issued to employees of Steep Rock Iron Mines. (For a full rendition of the sighting please view the Steep Rock Echo pages found at the bottom of this blog post.) The sighting received a mix reaction from the community, with one letter to the editor sarcastically asking, "are you sure it was tea your correspondent was drinking, and not something stronger?" Nevertheless, media interested was piqued, and the account was picked up by the Port Arthur News Chronical. One woman felt that the Steep Rock Sighting was a wonderful story, and said that her children enjoyed it very much. In contrast, another woman was reportedly scared for days after reading the story.
B.J. Eyton, a Chief Chemist at Steep Rock Iron Mines, claimed that after the Chronical story was released many other Atikokan men began reporting sightings of unidentified crafts. Some saw "what appeared to be very small manlike figures on the craft, which fled at their approach." Eyton also stated that Gordon and his wife's account was the most detailed of the stories, and that he believed their account because they were "well known to him."
Although the sighting made quite a splash in Northwestern Ontario, it was Frank Edwards (no relation to Gordon), a leading American broadcast journalist and "flying saucer" enthusiast, who first brought mass attention to the Steep Rock Sighting in his 1966 book, Flying Saucers - Serious Business. Edwards became one of the most recognized American broadcasters of the era through his numerous publications of strange occurrences, including Strangest of All (1956), Stranger than Science (1959), Strange People (1962), and Strange World (1964). The Steep Rock Sighting fit perfectly into the mould of stories he liked to tell, and his recounting of it helped put the sighting on UFO researchers' map all the way up to the present day.
Unfortunately for UFO enthusiasts and researchers, the Steep Rock Sighting turned out to be an elaborate hoax. As was later revealed, Gordon wrote the story as a means of entertaining his colleagues and to "ridicule newspaper accounts that described 'little green men'- accounts popularized by Frank Edwards." In 1974, UFO researcher Robert T. Badgley wrote the President of Steep Rock Iron Mines to inquire about the sighting and get at the full truth. He received the response that "the story was entirely fictitious and written solely for the amusement of our somewhat isolated community."
But by the time of Badgley's 1974 inquiry, the Steep Rock Sighting had already taken on a life of its own. After Edwards's 1966 book, scientist and UFO researcher Jacques Vallee repeated the story in his own 1969 work, Passport to Magonia, a popular book that is still considered part of the UFO literature canon.
Today, it might seem easy to ridicule those who believed the sighting actually occurred, especially since it was revealed that Gordon Edwards wrote the story as a prank. But the sighting's original, purported authenticity must be placed in its historical context. The Cold War was in full swing and the space age was heating up. As just one example, in the same Steep Rock Echo issue which reported the sighting, one headline read "First Rocket Trip to Moon Planned." North Americans were looking to the skies and wondering, fantasizing about where humans would be living in the next decades and century. A plethora of science fiction movies (of varying quality) over the 1950s and 1960s also helped to stimulate already fertile imaginations. The Steep Rock sighting also occurred only three years after American pilot Kenneth Arnold's famous claim in June 1947 that he saw several UFOs near Mount Rainier, in Washington state (the first "modern" UFO sighting), and the infamous Roswell UFO sighting only a few weeks later. In this context, it is easier to understand why the Steep Rock Sighting was taken at face value by UFO enthusiasts and some members of the public.
Almost seventy years later, very few people in Atikokan seem to remember the Steep Rock hoax, even those who were alive in 1950 when it occurred. But its legacy lives on in various websites and books, some of which still present the sighting as a factual occurrence rather than the hoax it turned out to be. For UFO researchers and enthusiasts, it has all the makings of a great sighting: a landed UFO, coloured lights, vibrating air, and strange little aliens. Perhaps that is why the story took on a life of its own, and why it has such longevity. Certainly some peoples' desire to believe the story must account for part of it. What can be said for certain is that when the story is distilled down to its core, the Steep Rock Sighting provides a fun and humorous example of a small town man committing a big time hoax.
This blog post was co-written with Adam Montgomery.
 Steep Rock Echo, September and October 1950. Atikokan Centennial Museum.
 John Robert Colombo. UFOs Over Canada: Personal Accounts of Sightings and Close Encounters (Willowdale: Hounslow Press, 1992)