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'They can’t escape': Halloween Haunt returning to Wonderland

'We’re excited to bring people into the park and to scare the living daylights out of them,' said amusement park official

Each year ghosts, ghouls, and goblins gather at Canada’s Wonderland to provide hair-raising and bone-chilling scares to the souls brave enough to enter the amusement park during its Halloween Haunt event.

Throughout the fall, the nights of terror transform the park from a land of wonder into the closest thing you’ll find to Halloweentown from Tim Burton’s film The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The 300-acre property chock-full of rollercoasters and rides will soon be ghoulishly teeming with mazes, haunted houses and monsters. 

The preparation and planning that goes into Halloween Haunt, which runs for select nights between Sept. 22 and Oct. 29 this year, basically begins when the previous year concludes.

With everything being built and made in-house with its design team, costume department, makeup artists, prop builders, carpenters and painters, it’s no small process.

“Planning really begins a year out with thinking what attractions we’ll have the next year because the builds take a while,” said Grace Peacock, director of communications at Canada’s Wonderland. “We’ve got to develop new mazes and themes, so the work behind the scenes in terms of production takes six to eight months.”

The creative services and events team are the “imagineers” of the park and they come up with the concepts around the haunted attractions, the mazes, and the outdoor scare zones.

“We’re always trying to identify new experiences that are unique that our guests haven’t seen before,” said Peacock. “We’re always trying to keep it interesting and exciting and the creative juices flow and develop these themes and we start building it.”

There are about 500 costumes, and Peacock said that when they say “hoards of monsters,” they mean it with hundreds of actors taking part in the experience.

“Our costume team comes together around February or March and we start taking inventory of what we have and tackle new areas for what we want to add,” said Julie Skene, area manager for entertainment. “It takes most of the year leading up to Haunt to get it all done.”

The decisions on what costumes for monsters will be needed has a lot to do with the themes of certain areas and the type of scare the park is going for with the attractions and characters.

“Our new attraction, The Dark Ride, is like you’re going through an old abandoned carnival and so there’s very specific rooms and monsters,” said Skene. “We want to give our actors freedom, but we want variety, so having a creepy monster just standing in an area sets up well to have another monster pop out of nowhere when you aren’t expecting it. We’re trying to make it fun for our team and scary for our guests, while varying what our actors do and taking advantage of what they’re best at.”

Developing ideas for new attractions and mazes comes from the entertainment team and creative and events services team, where ideas are floated and built on with them ranging from classics to what’s “in” right now.

“Our Necropolis area is based around a graveyard which is very Halloween and something people find scary,” said Skene. “We want to find traditional scary things, but we’re taking a look at pop culture elements too. We’re adding more clowns because there’s a lot of clown stuff that’s come out lately.” 

Getting everyone ready and in costume takes a few hours before Halloween Haunt is in full effect at 7 p.m., with the makeup artists working like an assembly line.

“We have a team of 25 special effect make-up artists,” said Skene. “They’re insanely fast and they only have 10 to 15 minutes to do someone's make-up. It’s an intense process.”

In its 18th season, after beginning as Fear Fest in 2005, Halloween Haunt’s popularity continues to grow with extra nights being added this year. In 2019, there were 14 nights of Halloween Haunt and it has grown to 20 nights this year.

“We’ve had 30 mazes in that time and it’s really grown over the years to make it a more immersive Halloween experience,” said Peacock. “We want the guests to feel like no matter where they are in the park, they’re in it. There are monsters around them, scary music, themed areas, we want them to feel like they can’t escape it.”

The only maze that has been part of Halloween Haunt from the start is Cornstalkers, which Peacock said full-time staff have to chip in to prepare because it’s such a large undertaking.

“We get the cornstalks from a local farmer,” she said. “It’s about 20,000 corn stalks that have to be picked up, hauled into the maze, and stood up against the walls of the maze and tied and fastened.”

Along with Halloween Haunt, there are performances throughout the evenings and Camp Spooky during the day for children.

Learn more about Halloween Haunt here.

“We’re excited to bring people into the park,” said Peacock, “and to scare the living daylights out of them.”