How the Campbells Create Haunted Calgary
Get a sneak peek at what you can expect at one of the largest privately operated haunted attractions in Calgary, open Oct. 30 and 31
Jenna Leclaire (right) and Myrna Campbell put together one of the scenes of this year’s haunted attraction.
A spacious yard, a double garage and a large basement are ordinary items on a checklist for anyone shopping for a house. But when Myrna and Ian Campbell were in the market for a new home in 1997, the reasons for wanting those things were anything but ordinary.
They needed space to store tools, wood pallets, a 20-foot animatronic necromancer and more Halloween decorations than the average box store has by the beginning of October. The Campbells found their dream home in Rocky View County.
Today, those spaces and additional storage units stay full until the end of September, when more than 150 volunteers spend their weekends setting up and running one of the largest privately operated haunted houses in Calgary. It takes more than 800 hours of manpower to set it up, and nearly 200 to take it down.
“We started adding to it year after year, and it just got bigger and bigger,” says Christine Campbell, Myrna and Ian’s daughter and the creative director behind the house.
“Christmas gifts and birthday gifts around here are almost always haunted house products,” she says.
What started as an afternoon decorating their yard with garbage bags full of leaves and tombstones made of cereal boxes 25 years ago at their home in Rundle has turned into a year-round passion for the spookiest time of the year. “It just sort of snowballed from there,” she says.
At that time, the Campbells considered having 500 kids stop by to see their decorations made their home a Halloween hotspot. Now they expect to have anywhere between 5,000 and 7,000 people visit them on the days leading up to and on Halloween itself.
Out-of-towners, people from opposite ends of the city and neighbours alike come to see the spectacle that is the Campbells’ home.
Tunnels built out of scrap lumber lead the thrill-seekers through a path surrounding the house, taking them through a series of carefully thought out scenes and scares.
Each year, the house is given a different theme. Past themes have included a zombie apocalypse, carnie-ville, and twisted fairytales amongst others. This year’s theme is the Coven. Those who dare to walk (or run) through will witness a recreation of the Salem with trials of 1692.
Jenna Leclaire, a professionally trained actor and family friend of the Campbells’, spends her time running acting workshops leading up to the big event. Leclaire teaches the volunteer actors about character development and how sustained creepiness is often more effective in haunted houses than startle scares.
“We try to have a good mix because people are not scared of the same things,” says Leclaire. “You touch on people’s senses.”
On each night of the event, more than 50 actors can be found within the walls of the haunt.
LeClaire spends weeks working with the actors to prepare them for any situations that may arise. They learn how to improvise – and how to react if they get punched.
One year, Christine had her nose broken by a visitor who let adrenaline take over.
“I don’t consider it a job well done if we don’t send somebody to therapy afterwards,” says Christine, laughing. “If no one comes out with wet pants, then that’s unfortunate.”
Christine and the other actors have seen parents use their children for protection, a law enforcement officer reach for his weapon, and pregnant women come through in hopes of inducing labour.
“We haven’t had anyone give birth yet,” she says.
All proceeds from Haunted Calgary are donated to the Calgary Food Bank and the Oops-a-Dazy Animal Rescue & Sanctuary society. Admission is by donation; $10 and two non-perishables per person is recommended.
Haunted Calgary is open Oct. 30, 31 and Nov. 1 from 6 to 10 p.m., rain or shine. A low-scare version with no actors will be open Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 from 12 to 5 p.m..
Haunted Calgary, 222 Rocky Ridge Bay N.W., 403-239-8590, hauntedcalgary.com