WINNIPEG - Two children out sledding told their parents they heard a beeping noise before seeing what looked like a flying hotel, a massive structure with protrusions and windows. It flew over a nearby house and vanished.
The encounter is listed in an annual survey that reports that 1,180 UFOs, or unidentified flying objects, were spotted in Canada last year.
A Winnipeg group called Ufology Research has been compiling data on suspected spacecraft sightings across the country for the last 25 years.
In its latest survey, released Tuesday, it said most of the 2013 observations were of lights in the night sky. The most common sighting was of an orange star-like shape that lasted an average of 13 minutes.
Almost half the sightings took place in Ontario. British Columbia and Alberta had the next highest numbers.
"It's a matter of eliminating possible explanations, until we're left with something we can't explain," said the group's editor, Chris Rutkowski.
"It may or may not have anything to do with aliens, and very likely not. And yet the possibility that there's an interesting phenomenon there is something that scientists should be curious about."
Rutkowski, a media relations staffer at the University of Manitoba, studied astronomy and started the ufology group when he realized no one in Canada was collecting data on UFOs. His hobby morphed into annual surveys and several books.
He said the 2013 sightings are the second most he's recorded since 1989, when there were just 141. The highest number — 1,981 — was tallied in 2012, although the survey suggests that was an anomaly because people were anxious about the Mayan calendar's prediction about the end of the world that year.
Rutkowski also explained that it has become easier for people to report sightings through the Internet and, in general, he believes more people are looking up.
"I think people are growing more curious about what's up in the sky and the possibility of something out there that they don't understand."
It may sound a bit out there.
Among last year's sightings, three were classified in the category C3 or "close encounters of the third kind," because people reported seeing actual extraterrestrials. Another three were listed under C4, "close encounters of the fourth kind," described as alien abductions or having alien contact.
The survey said some witnesses were "pilots, police and other individuals with reasonably good observing capabilities and good judgment."
A few of what the report calls its most reliable and strange "unknowns" include the one involving the two children out sledding in Musquodoboit, N.S., on Jan. 8, 2013.
Rutkowski said some people argue that children make up stories all the time. But this sighting struck him as sincere.
"The kids remained true to their story even while the RCMP were talking to them. The parents were quite sure the children were not making stories up and they were not prone to making stories up.
"It's quite likely that they did see something. The question is what?"
Another interesting sighting came from a retired helicopter pilot, who said he watched at least 50 orange, round lights flying in pairs across the sky in Portage la Prairie, Man., on Sept. 28.
The man, named Arnie, asked in a phone interview not to have his last name published. It's a bit embarrassing, he said.
"I've always been a UFO skeptic and yet I saw those lights," said the senior, who added the lights moved like no aircraft he'd ever seen before. "It was so crystal clear and so sharp and I was just puzzled."
He recalled that he was standing in a parking lot, on his way to pick up Chinese food, when he witnessed the bizarre, five-minute light show with another couple.
Arnie swears he's not crazy. And while he still doesn't believe in aliens, he knows he saw something out of this world.
"I allow the possibility that there is something out there."
— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton