Last month, Bob Dechert, a senior aide to Canada's foreign minister, was dispatched to Detroit with an important diplomatic mission: To stop a highly annoying noise. The so-called Windsor hum, described as a low-frequency rumbling sound, has rattled windows and knocked objects off shelves in this border community just across the Detroit River from the Motor City. Locals have said it sounds like a large diesel truck idling, a loud boom box or the bass vocals of Barry White. Windsor residents have blamed the hum for causing illness, whipping dogs into frenzies, keeping cats housebound and sending goldfish to the surface in backyard ponds. Many have resorted to switching on their furnace fan all season to drown out the noise.
Even weirder, Americans can't seem to hear it. Canadians find that suspicious—especially since their research suggests the hum is coming from the Yankees' side—and accuse U.S. officials of staying silent over the noise. "The government of Canada takes this issue seriously," Mr. Dechert said after his recent fact-finding trip, which included a visit to a heavily industrialized area on the American side of the river that some Canadian scientists believe is to blame for the hum. Unexplained noises have tormented city dwellers for centuries. Residents west of Green Bay, Wis., have been trying to identify an occasional loud boom that they say sounds like a cannon blast—geologists have said earthquakes made the noise. Locals in upstate New York and other places have described similar episodes. But few such cases have become international diplomatic incidents.
After three months of seismic studies conducted by Canada's natural resources department, scientists said the noise was likely coming from Zug Island, a nearly 600-acre man-made island on the Michigan side of the Detroit River. The coal-blackened industrial zone is dominated by steel mills, including facilities operated by U.S. Steel Corp. and others whose blast furnaces belch out steam and flames. The area is off-limits to the general public and surrounded by wire fences, with the only access via a guarded gate. A spokeswoman for U.S. Steel didn't respond to requests for comment. The sound has been plaguing Windsor residents on and off for two years. Last May, a particularly loud eruption shook Windsor resident David Robins as he watched the National Basketball Association playoffs. The room began to vibrate with a loud throbbing noise.
Mr. Robins hit mute, fearing he had gone overboard on volume. But the noise persisted. Stepping outside, Mr. Robins said he found the "entire neighborhood pulsating." "To be honest, I was scared," he said. Hundreds of other sleep-deprived locals have demanded action from politicians in Windsor and Ottawa. Locals blamed earthquakes, local salt mines, an underground river and wind turbines in the past. But Canada's seismic study last summer narrowed the likely source down to approximately 250 acres in the vicinity of Zug Island. American officials say they aren't so sure. "It may not be actually emanating from Michigan," said Hansen Clarke, the U.S. Representative for the East Detroit congressional district that includes Zug.