For sale: prime place for a prophet to play

Raelians want $2.95-million for compound

MONTREAL — As real-estate listings go, this one is out of this world. A property is on sale in Quebec for a cool $2.95-million, and it even comes with its own flying saucer.

UFOland, the playground and pied-a`-terre of the white-robed prophet known as Rael, is on the market — a onetime utopia that appears to have fallen to Earth.

The Raelians, who gained global notoriety in late 2002 after announcing the birth of a yet-to-be-seen cloned baby, say their popularity has peaked in Quebec. So they are packing up and moving south.

“We’ve been in Quebec for 30 years and our membership is saturated. Our future is in the United States,” said group spokesman Jocelyn Chabot, who describes himself as a Raelian priest.

Observers say it’s a sign of decline for a sect that once piled up publicity with its beliefs in telepathy, aliens and free love. UFOland was the group’s headquarters and world embassy, a shrine to its belief that humans were created in an alien lab 25,000 years ago.

Only four years ago, the cloning announcement brought throngs of journalists to UFOland from as far away as Australia and Japan.

Now it’s all available for the right price. The property, which is already posted on one Internet site, sprawls over 110 hectares in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. It offers campgrounds, lakes, an amphitheatre, offices and — for those with otherworldly tastes — a condominium building in the shape of a spaceship.

Also on site is the copy of the UFO that Rael says he encountered while hiking along a volcano in France in the 1970s. Before that, he had been a race-car driver and failed sportswriter named Claude Vorilhon.

“It’s not a conventional property because we aren’t conventional,” said Mr. Chabot’s sister Sylvie Chabot, a Raelian priestess.

Mr. Chabot said the group wants to relocate to the southern United States and already holds self-enlightenment retreats in Las Vegas, which happens to be where Rael spends some of his time these days.

“Our next sessions will be in Palm Springs,” Mr. Chabot added.

Although the group continues to have adherents in Quebec, the exit of the headquarters from the province further signals its waning popularity, experts say. The Rael museum closed in 2003, and local residents say that activities have been slowing in recent years.

“If your nerve centre moves to the U.S., it’s the chronicle of a death foretold,” said Alain Bouchard, who teaches the sociology of religion at Laval University and has tracked the Raelians for many years.

The group has always found its strongest support in Catholic societies, while it has been met with “indifference” in the United States, due to that country’s Puritan tradition, Prof. Bouchard said.

Rael and his followers have also had a series of setbacks in Quebec. A crucifix-burning campaign provoked an outcry. Rael, who insists on being addressed by journalists as Your Holiness, had his topknot pulled by a fellow guest on a popular talk show in 2004. Former Quebec cabinet minister Pauline Marois, also a guest, then called Rael “raving mad.”

The tabloid Journal de Montre’al ran an unflattering expose’ on the group, and the Raelians’s cloned baby never materialized.

“Quebec was an extraordinary land of welcome for the Raelians,” Prof. Bouchard said, adding that the province had the highest number of followers per capita worldwide.

“But the wind shifted. [Rael] became an undesirable. For some people, the Raelians were seen as dangerous.”

How well the Raelians play the real-estate game remains to be seen. This week, the village of Maricourt, where UFOland is located, began fielding calls from prospective buyers, and a local RE/MAX agent said he’s had interest from as far away as the United States and Europe.

According to the recollection of Maricourt Mayor Re’jean Paquette, the Raelians paid $200,000 for the property when they bought it in the mid-1990s. Today, it’s officially evaluated at $1.4-million.

Mr. Paquette said that group members made their mark when they came into nearby Valcourt to do their shopping. He once spotted Rael wandering around in his futuristic-looking robes and surrounded by women; sometimes a couple would be seen kissing while out shopping for groceries.

“Maybe they were a bit exuberant,” he said. “But they always paid their property taxes on time.”

But if the Raelians go, Mr. Paquette won’t miss them. He said he hopes someone returns the site to what it was before the Raelians alighted: a bucolic campground — without the space travellers.

Sidebar: Out-of-this-world destination

The Raelian movement was started by a former race-car driver, Claude Vorilhon, who says an encounter with a UFO in France in 1973 led him to understand the true origins of humankind. The Raelians established their headquarters and UFOland theme park outside Valcourt, Que. It was put up for sale last year. The group’s listing on LandAndFarm.com says the property covers 275 acres (110 hectares). The asking price is $2.95-million. Highlights include:

A sentry booth with safety fence and intercom

A 20-hectare campsite

Several lakes, including one filled with trout

A 468-seat amphitheatre

34 picnic tables A volleyball field, pe’tanque court, swings, table-tennis table and horseshoe pit

A building with 18 condominiums and underground parking

A pigeon house, barn, chicken cage and enclosure for big-game breeding

Source:
The Globe and Mail, Canada
Feb. 16, 2007
Ingrid Peritz
www.theglobeandmail.com
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Keyword(s): Topic(s): Raelians

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