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Fantastic things beyond the ordinary ken, from sailing ships to space ships
Paul Hellyer, a former Canadian defence minister, is an outspoken believer that aliens have in the past, and still are, visiting Earth. He believes the future of our planet could depend on them.
When we sat down together at the Delta Hotel Wednesday, it wasn't a usual interview. No questions. It opened with a statement from the newspaper guy. "I'm a skeptic. Convince me."
An hour later, I had drawn several conclusions. The first being that Hellyer is well north of the sanity line. At 85 he still talks like a politician, easily coming up with names, dates and places. He backs up what he says by throwing in verbal margin notes. He talks about unidentified flying objects (UFOs) without a trace of doubt. They exist. That's all there is to it.
When we parted an hour later, I was still a skeptic, but a more cautious one. It was a discussion of galactic distances that triggered the caution. When our nearest inhabitable planet-neighbour is light years away, it would seem impossible to cross that gap. Hellyer said he didn't have all the answers, but suggested if a body found a way to harness the power of gravity, that may break the speed of light.
Getting the head around that involved going back, and looking at a similar situation faced by another North American skeptical elder, probably in 1497. He must have existed, and he must have wondered if there was another world on the other side, if there was one, of the Atlantic Ocean.
His likely conclusion: It was a moot point. Even if there was another world, people from there could not cross that water. Aside from distance, there were violent storms. No paddlers were strong enough to go the distance, or survive the storms.
That native American had heard rumours of alien visits from people with white skins and flame-coloured hair, going back hundreds of years. (Lief Ericson in Newfoundland in 1003.) But he had only a verbal history to rely on, and being a wise old man he knew time distorted details and fuelled imaginations. But now there were rumours of huge craft appearing on the horizon, but he hadn't seen one. Nobody he knew had seen one close enough to describe it in detail.
Being asked to commit to an opinion, he probably decided to stay skeptical. Nothing could cross that ocean. It never occurred to him that people could build a canoe big enough to ride out ocean storms, and find a power source by harnessing the wind. Why would it? He lived in a world that had not yet seen a wheel or a horse.
So the wise old man relied on his instincts and the knowledge of his lifetime, and said "nuts," or the equivalent.
A few weeks later he was invited to the seaside to meet a man named Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot, 1450-1498). It would have taken some time to get his head around the size and power of the strange craft. The men on it looked like none he had seen before. Swords. Boots. Hats. Gunpowder.
The new arrivals could have anything they wanted, because they had the power of technology. To the south, the alien invaders would take advantage of the power gap and steal land and gold. To the north, in what would become Canada, they engaged in a layaway plan. Take it now and pay later. We're still paying.
The wise old man, by betting against the impossible, lost the trust of his people.
Five hundred years later, another old man sat at a computer keyboard and tried to make sense of an hour with Paul Hellyer. He had too many answers. His beliefs are almost biblical. Everything he says is backed up by something written, or by witnesses. "People who have seen UFOs now number in the thousands, tens of thousands. They can no longer be denied."
Hellyer is also a conspiracy theorist. He believes a global "cabal" has cornered the market on alien visits. Downed spacecraft have been found and dissected and parts given out to be reverse engineered. These have led to the development of fibre optics and the unleashing of the power of the electron.
He says none of his beliefs come from information available to him during his terms as a cabinet minister. "I wasn't in the loop."
He also says he has seen a UFO and, like those Indians of 500 years ago who saw something on the horizon, he knows it's a hard sell. But he's trying.
A spaceship powered by gravity was part of the Dick Tracy comic strip (1931-1977) and so was a villain named Big Boy Caprice, who had the line needed for visitors from space. "Whoever you are, I know we can make a deal."