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"No," the voice says from the shadow of Mount Baldy.

"I'm not at all surprised."

John Musgrave does not, it must be pointed out, speak for all Canadians -- many of whom are still trying to settle their eyebrows down following the news that came out of Ottawa this week.

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The National Archives has opened cabinet documents from the tense spring of 1966, revealing what the heavy thinking was in a time of deep Canadian political crisis: Soviet spies showing up in the Vancouver post office, a sex scandal involving a former Conservative minister, heated debate over the death penalty and even a rumour that the prime minister of the day, Lester B. Pearson, was going to resign.

And what, exactly, was on Pearson's mind that morning of April 5, 1966, when he met with his nervous cabinet to discuss the situation?

Sex scandal? Spies? The death penalty?

No.

What the prime minister asked for was defence briefing on Unidentified Flying Objects.

Pearson's reasons for his sudden interest in UFOs are not given in the documents. But sightings were the rage of the day, one of the most fascinating involving Canadian boxer George Chuvalo, who claimed to have seen strange objects flying over Toronto the night after his loss to Cassius Clay.

His wife also claimed to have seen them, thereby eliminating any connection cynics might have made between George's vision and Clay's gloves.

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If Pearson's request seems passing strange to some, it seems nothing of the sort to Musgrave, who a quarter of a century ago was himself a bit of a government scandal when the Canada Council awarded him a $6,000 grant to track down Canadian UFOs.

Musgrave, who then lived in Edmonton, was savaged in Parliament -- the politicians having no idea what a serious researcher Musgrave was and how long and consistent has been the Canadian connection to other worlds.

Musgrave had gathered sightings dating from Oct. 12, 1796 -- Simeon Perkins noting in his diary that he had counted 15 strange ships floating above the Bay of Fundy -- right through to Chuvalo's flying saucers and for years beyond.

But no longer. Today, Musgrave lives in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley close to the U.S. border and his interests have lately been far more grounded. His research these days is far more likely to be on native issues than extraterrestrial, but he still has his rows of filing cabinets filled with Canadian UFO sightings and is still himself a believer in the phenomenon if not the fact.

In fact, he only recently came across a report in an 1897 edition of the local Vernon News that someone had seen an airship -- "And it was obviously reported as if to say, 'Here's another one.' "

Such a casual attitude to a possible visit from space also does not surprise Musgrave. Polls have consistently shown that Canadians, for whatever reasons, are quite content to believe there is intelligent life out there.

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Perhaps this is because they find so little here.

An Angus Reid poll found not long ago that seven out of 10 Canadians "definitely" or "probably" think intelligent life would be found on other worlds. As well, 55 per cent say it is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that Earth has been visited in the past by these extraterrestrials -- with 43 per cent saying that during their lifetime extraterrestrials are more likely than not to visit this planet, perhaps even dropping in on Canada.

Sightings seem to go in cycles. And if so, we are currently in a high cycle beyond even what captured Pearson's interest 36 years ago.

According to Chris Rutkowski, a Winnipeg-based researcher with Ufology Research of Manitoba, sightings in Canada reached 375 in 2001, a 40-per-cent increase over the year 2000.

And with the tally for 2002 said to be more than 400, this last year has seen another significant increase.

Rutkowski likes the idea that the 1966 cabinet documents reveal an interest from the prime minister and a request for a serious briefing from the defence department.

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"It's verification that the matter was being discussed at high levels of government," says Rutkowski.

One can only wonder, then, if 36 years from now, the National Archives might release cabinet documents showing the current cabinet talking about the Raelians, the Quebec cult that claims to have produced the world's first cloned babies -- and who maintain humans were spawned from extraterrestrial DNA.

Neither Rutkowski nor Musgrave, however, take the Raelians very seriously, though both do admire their extensive funding and ability to capture media attention.

"If there's a group independently capable of producing cloned babies, it would likely be them," says Rutkowski, "but it's pretty hard to forget that they're led by a man who says he was given divine revelation by little green men."

"It could be that they're right about us all being aliens," chuckles Musgrave from his mountainside retreat near Mount Baldy.

"I've always wondered about my sister." rmacgregor@globeandmail.ca

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