Unidentified inspiring object: Jim Bryson and The Weakerthans’ Falcon Lake Incident

Originally appeared in National Post on October 20, 2010.

By Brad Frenette, National Post

The story of the Falcon Lake Incident is one well-entrenched in those circles concerned with ufology. In May 1967, Stefan Michalak, a resident of Winnipeg, was prospecting for quartz near the banks of Falcon Lake — a lake located within a provincial park two hours east of Winnipeg. Looking into the sky, he spotted a pair of unidentified flying objects. One of the cigar-shaped crafts approached him, then landed. And after Michalak attempted to make contact, the UFOs left, leaving the prospector with burns on his body and a mystery that the RCMP has filed as unsolved to this day.

“I don’t believe in extraterrestrials,” says John K. Samson, the lead singer of Winnipeg rockers The Weakerthans, “but I certainly believe in people’s encounters. If someone believes something happened to them, then there is something valid in that, and you have to take it seriously.”

The Weakerthans recently had their own encounter at Falcon Lake during a residency in the middle of a sub-zero Manitoba winter, while laying down tracks for their just-released collaboration with acclaimed Canadian indie rocker Jim Bryson. The result: A new album called The Falcon Lake Incident.

Bryson, on the phone from his home near Ottawa, says he arrived in Falcon Lake with a set of songs that had nothing to do with Michalak, but the songs that emerged might give the listener pause. “[The incident] didn’t inform the record, but you can listen to a song like Raised All Wrong and think — ‘that’s [Michalak] for sure.’ ”

The teaming of the two might seem like a mash-up made in some Canadian indie kid’s imagination, but the two musical acts have a history of collaboration. Samson recalls The Weakerthans running into Bryson as the two got their footing in the Canadian music industry, and found “a kindred spirit” in the Ottawa singer, who would eventually tour with the Winnipeg band.

After securing a Manitoba Film and Music grant, Bryson met his collaborators in Falcon Lake, where they rented a pair of cabins — “one to hang out in, one to record in” — over a two-week span in January. Bryson describes the environment they created as “a submarine culture. Everyone’s around each other all the time, recording at all hours of the day.”

“It was shift work, in a sense,” Samson says. “Come in, spend a couple of hours doing things and try to be quiet during takes. But you can hear some chatter on some of the tracks. You can hear some cooking sounds on there too.”

Cooking (and a bit of ice fishing and cross-country skiiing) aside, the singers say there was little to do but write and record. The Canadian Shield’s stunning geology and the isolation added a unique shape to The Falcon Lake Incident.

“The performances were dictated by the surroundings and the weather,” Samson says. “It had a profound effect. I think it would have sounded different recorded in downtown Winnipeg or Toronto.”

Extraterrestrials aside, Falcon Lake can lay claim to having an influence on another well-respected Canadian musician. A teenaged Neil Young lived nearby, and has related the time he spent in a local restaurant there listening to Ian Tyson’s über-Canadian music. Bryson says that while he and The Weakerthans were there, a few locals made a move to have the two acts combine for a show. It never happened, but he says a reunion with the place would be great.

“They asked if we would do a show at the time,” he says. “A concert for the people who were up there. It would be a nice thing to do. Maybe something sponsored by a beer company.


The day this ran, Jim joined me in the Post’s studio to record an In Studio:

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