By Charlie Senack
Streets in Kitchissippi could be empty this Oct. 31 if Halloween is cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Politicians from all levels of government say it’s too soon to make a final call on whether the annual candy-filled day will go ahead as planned.
With Ontario now entering a second wave of COVID-19, health officials across the province say no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in then, it won’t be a normal year of trick-or-treating.
In a recent statement, Ottawa Public Health said decisions will be made by Ontario’s health unit at a later date, but large gatherings or door-to-door visits are strongly discouraged.
“Generally, we are strongly encouraging all the usual COVID wise and SocialWise measures – limiting gatherings and activities to your usual contacts, small groups and physical distancing,” the health unit said in a statement. “Wearing a mask — and finding creative ways to include [them] into any costumes — being outdoors, and vigilance with regular hand washing.”
As a ward, Kitchissippi has celebrated Halloween heartily in the past. There have been costume contests, pumpkin carving competitions, fun runs and fundraisers, movie marathons, haunted houses, pumpkin paths, spooky bashes and ghostly plays and exhibits. Annually, festivals like Wickedly Westboro have brought families together for trick-or-treating, live entertainment and more. Dovercourt even hosted the first Ottawa Halloween Dog Parade (and fundraiser) in 2018.
This spooky season will look different locally. Despite the limitations on trick-or-treating, Ottawa Public Health said there are still many fall and Halloween activities families can take part in.
Saunders Farm has announced they are open with a wide variety of “spooktacular” Halloween activities to enjoy, but the farm is only operating at 10 per cent of its normal capacity. Events will be held strictly outdoors this year to adhere to physical distancing requirements. Ticket prices have also dropped due to a decrease in attractions because of public health restrictions. While dressing up on the farm has been discouraged in previous years, it’s now being encouraged to make the trip even more exciting for kids.
Pumpkinferno has also returned to Upper Canada Village, located about an hour east outside of Ottawa. The trip takes you back in time, centuries before the world was gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, and allows you to see spectacular pieces of artwork created from over 2,000 carved pumpkins which light up the night sky.
In a normal year, more than 5,000 people would visit the park every night to see the pumpkin carvings. This year, due to social distancing, the park is only allowed to have 360 guests per night.
Ottawa’s health unit says it’s attractions like these that families should be considering as a way to bring a sense of normality during these uncertain times.
“Just like many other activities and events this year, Halloween will require some adaptations and changes in our usual behaviours,” Ottawa Public Health stated. “While many beloved activities will remain the same — pumpkin carving, decorating the home, creative costume making, crafts and baking — we are encouraging creativity to think of other ways to celebrate that don’t involve large gatherings with people outside your social circle, and adapting children’s activities to lower risk activities in lieu of door-to-door visits.”
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said there are many questions as to who has the authority to cancel Halloween. Like Ottawa Public Health, he said it’s hard to predict how people will react on Oct. 31.
“I think what may end up happening is that most people, who I talk to at least, say they don’t want to open their doors,” Watson said. “We may find ourselves in this awkward situation where kids may want to go out — some parents will want to go out and others won’t — but they will maybe not find many doors that are open or lights on.”
Watson said he was forced to cancel his annual Halloween party at City Hall, which typically attracts upwards of 5,000 people, because physical distancing would not be possible.
The mayor said he could only recall one time in his life when Halloween, also known as All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, was cancelled.
It was back in 1970 when the October Crisis, also known as the FLQ Crisis, was gripping parts of Quebec. The commotion started after Quebec Deputy Premier Pierre Laporte and British diplomat James Cross were kidnapped by Front de libération du Québec (FLQ).
Then Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau enacted the War Measures Act — the first and only time it’s ever been applied during peacetime. The kidnappers killed Laporte, but negotiations led to Cross’ release.
“In my town of Lachute, Quebec, James Cross’ daughter taught at my school, so I think the town agreed at the time that we would not go out for Halloween because there were bombs in people’s mailboxes and so on,” Watson said. “It was a different time and circumstance, but COVID-19 has killed a lot more cases than just one, which was the case during the FLQ crisis.”
Ottawa Public Health advises the public to find out the latest updates on COVID-19, and guidance for the upcoming holidays and events, at the health unit’s website at ottawapublichealth.ca.