Ottawa writer explores deeper issues of UFOs, conspiracies in Search for the Unknown

Writer and Northern Lakes College professor Matthew Hayes never expected the research he did for his Ph.D. to become so relevant.

He believed his subject matter of Canadian UFO events from the 1950s to the early 1990s would be a fun deep dive into Canada’s history of the unknown. But recent events, including the January 6 insurrection in the U.S. and the illegal occupation of Ottawa in February 2022, have brought sects of conspiracy theorists to the forefront.

The groundwork for UFOs and their close ties to conspiracy theories is explored in Hayes’ book Search for the Unknown: Canada’s UFO Files and the Rise of Conspiracy Theory, which is being released in April through McGill-Queen’s University Press.

“I live in Ottawa, so I lived through the occupation and I never expected my research to be this relevant and to provide an understanding of what’s happening,” the 35-year-old said during a March phone conversation. “I feel much more informed about what’s going on than I would have been before and it’s coming from an unlikely source: historical UFO records.”

The issues Hayes tackles in Search for the Unknown are not exclusively about cases like Shag Harbour or Falcon Lake, but rather the deeper questions about society and how to deal with great change.

“People latch onto these things in a variety of ways to try to get those feelings and ideas across,” he said, adding that the core ideas of freedom and liberty versus responsibilities have become more prevalent in society.

The conspiracy section of the book explores the feelings of mistrust in a government lying beneath the surface of Canadian society.

“It’s bewildering and it’s unclear what you’re supposed to do, especially in the face of radio silence from governments,” Hayes said. “There’s no guidance out there to handle this, but it’s becoming necessary.

“Again, I didn’t think it was going to be like this when I was googling for UFOs in 2013.”

Admittedly, Hayes wasn’t overly interested in the paranormal, but it “crept in when he finished his first couple of degrees.”

He was googling UFOs in Canada and the National Archives of Canada came up. Hayes said he realized it could be a project, “and it snowballed from there.”

His Ph.D. is in Canadian studies, and he teaches English and philosophy, but his inert interest in UFOs could have been passed to him by his father. Hayes recalled growing up in North York with a father who would watch UFO shows and anything on the Egyptian pyramids.

“He just loved all of it, so it was always on the TV,” he recalled. “And there were a ton of books. I was a reader, and he had all these books about cryptozoology and UFOs.”

Search for the Unknown’s official release will be a soft launch, and Hayes’ parents, dad Gordon included, are proud of his accomplishment.

“I don’t think they think it’s that wacky because that was just in the household,” Matthew Hayes said. “It’s just part of our lifestyle.”

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