Halloween attractions shutter from COVID-19 fears

The scariest ghouls and monsters have met their match in COVID-19, as fear of contracting the virus has caused a number of homeowners to turn the lights off on elaborate Halloween displays this year.

Peter Lyons’ Morbid Motel isn’t open for visitors. The Saanich resident usually spends 300 hours on a creepy Halloween display that takes up both his front and back yards.

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He has been building elaborate Halloween displays for a dozen years — his latest was inspired by the Bates Motel, a psychological horror television series and a prequel to Psycho, a classic Alfred Hitchcock film from 1960.

Completed last year, the motel-themed display attracted more than 900 visitors. At almost 1,200 square feet, it’s his most extensive creation, usually requiring him to spend six hours a night putting it together, starting in mid-September.

But due to COVID-19, all the props are still in storage this year. “We decided back in May that we couldn’t put it on and still ensure safety,” said Lyons. “We thought about making it just drive-by, but decided on coming up with a display where we can safely entertain the public even if there still are social-distancing protocols in place next year.”

The silver lining is the freedom to be able to go out at night to see the displays that are still operating. “I’ll be back next year, most likely as a two-night affair.”

COVID-19 has also helped put the final nail in the coffin for a popular Halloween attraction that raised more than $20,000 for local charities last year. The Heritage Haunted House, a Halloween staple in Victoria for the last six years, is closing its doors.

Carly Burbank started with just a handful of props 15 years ago in Calgary. She bought a heritage house in Victoria six years ago and soon turned it into 6,000 square feet of haunting, indoors and out.

Each year had a different theme, including an homage to cult classic horror films, Phobias, Terminus, The Circus Freakshow and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

“The event turned into somewhat of a monster itself, growing into a full-scale production that took an army of 65 volunteers months to set up,” said Burbank, who is still planning a Nightmare Before Christmas display from Nov. 15 to mid-January. “Each year was more elaborate than the last. I am embarrassed to admit how much I spent on purchases every year.”

The thousands of guests who toured the display enabled her to raise more than $20,000 for the Help Fill A Dream Foundation, other charity organizations and food banks last year, with support from local businesses that provided props, costumes, building materials, food for volunteers and portapotties.

“We have six years of great memories and great support from Carly,” said Craig Smith, executive director of Help Fill A Dream Foundation. “But as the crowds grew larger, it was clear that the event had grown past its residential roots. COVID-19 further complicated matters this year.”

Burbank has sold 80 per cent of her displays locally, including many of her animatronic props. Some have gone to businesses, such as Galey Farms and the Bard and Banker, while others went to about 50 individuals, some for their own spooky collections.

“It was a bittersweet decision, but if I ever get nostalgic, I can always visit some of them — now that I have more time — every Halloween,” Burbank said.

Oak Bay Avenue is still lit up and decorated, with illuminated pumpkins on the street and store windows sporting spooky displays. But the annual trick-or-treating night, which usually sees the road closed between Foul Bay Road and Monterey Avenue, has been cancelled.

“With the guidelines on social distancing, it won’t take that many people to jam the sidewalks and make it a problem — even with the road closed,” said Heather Leary, marketing manager for the Oak Bay Business Improvement Association.

Pumpkin Art on the Avenue and the traditional bonfire also won’t be happening.

Monica Miller’s Oak Bay home will be eerily quiet over Halloween, as well.

She is well known in the neighbourhood and beyond for her elaborate displays — with lights and large inflatables — that spring up every Christmas, Halloween and Canada Day. Miller typically greets visitors from her front porch from the beginning of October to the beginning of December, handing out almost 23 kilograms of candy, as well as toys and trinkets.

But not this year.

“I know that if I open, people will congregate,” she said. “I want to be part of the solution, not the problem.” She also decided to scale back the Christmas decorations this year.

But she is determined that she will return next year, with a display that will satisfy any social-distance requirements that might be in place.

“Stay tuned,” she said.


Add your house to our spook-tacular map of displays

Do you have a spectacularly spooky Halloween display for drive-by viewing? Let us know where it is so we can share the location in our online map. If you’d like, include a photo of your display.

Fill out the form at ­timescolonist.com/life/halloween or email localnews@timescolonist.com, with the word Halloween in the subject line. Be sure to include your address.

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