In 1976, for several weeks, a light followed a school bus on its regular route to Whitehorse from Lake Laberge.
The bus driver saw it. So did her 10-year-old daughter and all the other kids on the bus.
It made her nervous.
She asked for a new route, and transferred to Carcross.
So did the light.
And it was closer.
It would stop and shoot across the sky.
Then, one afternoon just before Christmas, after all the children had been dropped off, something really weird happened.
The mother and daughter were near Emerald Lake, driving back to Whitehorse, when the object swooped and stopped, blocking the bus.
The woman and girl got off the bus and confronted a bright shiny disc.
The mother suddenly panicked and threw her daughter back on the bus.
The object moved away, and then vanished.
They never saw it again.
“We got home and told the rest of the family,” the daughter told a story-collector at UFOBC 30 years later.
“Dad thought we were crazy,” she said.
It’s easy to be a cynic, says the Yukon’s UFO lady.
And it’s hard work — though appreciated and necessary — to oversee the territory’s paranormal narratives.
“If there’s no one here collecting then it looks like nothing happens in the North, and that’s just not true,” says Lorraine Bretlyn.
In the past decade, 160 tales of strange lights and strange sights in the night and day Yukon skies have been collected by Bretlyn and her UFO-investigating associates.
They’re posted online at www.UFOBC.ca.
Bretlyn interviews those with stories to tell.
She also collects their photos and runs a small in-home gallery of UFO and paranormal photography.
She advertises her operation via a bright signboard at 4th and Ogilvie with the words “UFO Adventures” and a phone number.
Her old moniker, “UFO Garage,” is still plastered on her car.
The name — an inside-joke with her husband about Grey Mountain — was too confusing for some of those interested in, but ultimately intimidated by, the UFO subculture.
Though she doesn’t run full-fledged “adventure” tours, she is willing to meet with people and answer their questions about the paranormal Yukon.
Bretlyn began reaching out to UFO-affected Yukoners through this paper’s classifieds a decade ago.
“I didn’t know if I would get any calls,” she says.
“And the phone never stopped ringing,” she says. “It was like a job. It was just continuous!”
Though many calls were recent events — there was a long string of sightings in the North in the mid-90s — several oldtimers called in with their guarded secrets from the ‘60s and before.
“It had been on their minds for years and finally they had someone to tell,” says Bretlyn.
Out of those calls, the “UFO lady” (as some local call her, she says) acquired her first three UFO photos. She eventually compiled 101 anonymous stories into a booklet.
And the stories keep pouring in.
Though the sightings and photographs span the entire territory — from the Dempster Highway to Fox Lake to Haines Junction to Tagish — Bretlyn has one place in mind to direct visiting tourists.
“I would take them absolutely to Grey Mountain,” she says.
Grey Mountain, where you can often see a spooky cloud snaking over the southern end and storms brewing to the east, is an epicentre for UFO activity in Whitehorse, says Bretlyn.
The most recent Grey Mountain sighting came in early May, when a Riverdale couple saw strange dancing lights overhead one evening after dinner.
One of Bretlyn’s favourite paranormal photos was taken by her husband from the small cave on Grey Mountain as he turned to look back over Whitehorse.
“It just looks like a huge UFO is coming out of the mountain,” she says.
Bretlyn also had her first Yukon encounter (she may have seen something strange as a teenager in Manitoba, she says) on Grey Mountain.
Seven years ago she drove up the mountain to investigate a sighting that two tourists sitting in the Gold Rush Inn had reported.
She parked off the gravel dirt road that leads to the microwave towers. Once outside her car, she stood and watched a silver object come and go over the mountaintop for 20 minutes.
It was a nice clear day, she says. There were other planes and jets in the sky, and the object she tracked didn’t look like any of them.
It was a silver disc shape, near the ground, and it went behind the mountain
She started walking up the hill towards a landmark a friend had told her to check out.
“Just as I got close and was going to look, this hellacious wind came and just blew so hard in my eyes, I had to turn around and go.”
Once she got back to her car, the UFO popped up again.
She didn’t snap a photograph.
“I had my camera, but I just couldn’t bring myself to put that between me and it.”
She does have photos, however, of more than 100 other eerie phenomena: faces, strange mists, flying triangles and discs and strange light blooms in sometimes a round orb-like shape.
Many of the photos she took herself once she became interested in putting photography and UFO hunting together.
She says it’s a matter of “eye gymnastics” whether you see something or not.
She doesn’t see all the strange things that show up once the film is processed, she says.
She just snaps away when she gets the feeling to, whether she’s at the Pueblo mine disaster monument on Fish Lake Road, or at the Viceroy gold mine off the Dempster.
Bretlyn does have a theory as to why she doesn’t see things that have showed up on film, such as the phantom red-light breast in the cemetery, the ghostly mists at Viceroy, or the red orb flying out of Grey Mountains.
“You know how whales make such deep sounds that’s beyond the range of the human ear to hear?” she asks
“I often think there’s things about film or the speed of the camera that can catch things that are beyond the range of the human eye,” she says.
UFO and paranormal photo-art covers the walls of her small Takhini studio.
To make her art, Bretlyn has computer-enhanced some of the flying-objects (“to bring out the paranormal part of it”) and re-printed them with their stories on poster board.
Every home has pictures of flowers and mountains, she says.
“Why not the paranormal, for heavens sake! We live in a techie age, so why not?”
Bretlyn also says she doesn’t think it ought to be too much of a stretch to incorporate UFO culture into Yukon tourism.
We should offer T-shirts, photos, souvenirs and tours, she says.
She points to the town of Moonbeam in Ontario’s James Bay region.
Moonbeam is known for its big flying saucer just off the highway. Their town mascot is a little green alien.
A few years ago, she tried an experiment by leaving colourful UFO brochures and her business card at the visitors centre.
She came back to find the brochures had run dry, though her business cards were still there.
“I think people weren’t brave enough to take the next step,” she says.
“But they certainly liked the product.”
Bretlyn also feels encouraged by every new phone call (even if it’s the odd crank) and every letter thanking her for providing outreach.
Though Chris Rutkowski at the University of Manitoba and Martin Jasek with UFO-BC help track reported UFO sightings in the territory, Bretlyn is the go-to gal here, in the territory, on the ground.
When new stories come forward, she can always hear the fear in the teller’s voice.
They’re terrified to talk, she says.
They’re afraid that no one else will believe them.
They don’t want to believe what saw.
“It’s programming,” she says.
“It’s the ridicule factor.”
With a pile of stories and photographs from all decades, all over the Yukon to back her up, Lorraine Bretlyn is simply acknowledging critics, gathering supporters, and moving forward; looking up.