It isn’t every day that a former high school located in a tiny village here in rural Saskatchewan is transformed into a living, breathing, screaming entity of all things dark and scary, but then again, creativity has a way of running rampant in smaller communities, where one has to rely on imagination and innovation as a way to provide any number of entertainment options.
And entertaining this venture definitely is; that is, if one is a fan of all the ghosts, goblins, vampires and creatures of the night that Halloween celebrates every October. As far as this reporter goes, the ‘Halloween High School’ located in Hawarden that opens up in time for the holiday every year is a hit; a haunting walkthrough of all things horror that will undoubtedly be worth the $5 admission when it opens this Friday.
For Alvin Patterson and Jaime Spence of Hawarden, scaring people and giving them a thrill is what makes the work and effort worth it by the time Halloween arrives and a steady stream of guests are waiting to walk through the haunted high school.
“To hear people scream is kind of cool!” said Jaime. “Teenagers go, ‘Nobody’s gonna scare me!’ and then they start yelling. It’s fun!”
The exhibit opens this Friday, October 20 and runs from 5-9 pm before running from 2-9 pm on Saturday and Sunday. The same schedule applies to the weekend after that, and of course, it’s open on Halloween night from 6-9 pm.
This being its seventh year, the exhibit has managed to garner a reputation and become popular with a large number of followers.
“Oh definitely,” said Alvin, when asked if the attendance numbers are high. “We get roughly 300 people just from Saskatoon, and they bring people back. People I work with come down and volunteer and it’s just great! A lot of local people come out too. A lot of them like to go out to our fall supper first, and then come over here.”
After doing haunted house exhibits at the couple’s own home for years, Alvin made a deal with the owners of the school building that saw him become the caretaker of the property, and in return he was able to expand greatly on his Halloween exploits and create the walkthrough exhibits that have only grown in popularity. The two certainly aren’t alone in their venture, as Patterson stresses that volunteerism is key to pulling off a nightly experience such as this, and the more people that Alvin and Jaime can sign up to lend a hand helps lessen the workload.
The two also try to get a feel for the number of people who walk the halls of their haunted school each year.
“We try, and we’re getting a little better at it,” said Alvin. “We’ve got a guestbook in the back, and when they leave they can leave some comments. We’ve had people from as far as Australia and Germany who were just going to school here in Saskatchewan; they’ve never seen anything like this!”
Planning and designing a new exhibit each year brings its own set of challenges, both physically and creatively, as Patterson doesn’t want to bore people and insists on changing things up every Halloween.
“I’ll never do the same thing twice,” said Alvin. “I keep my cemetery, but I change it up. This year we’re doing a health care theme, and in the past we’ve done Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and we’ve also ‘killed off’ Santa. I’m hoping that once I get enough volunteers – I have to be guaranteed volunteers – I want to do a Christmas theme and a trophy room.”
If Patterson ever repeats himself with the exhibit, it’s unlikely that one would notice. Alvin and Jaime were kind enough to give this reporter a walkthrough prior to the exhibit’s opening, and trying to remember all the vivid imagery and ghoulish setups is almost enough to give one a nightmare on any street. Within steps of entering the haunted school, you come face to face with a roaring, breathing, are-his-eyes-following-me werewolf; not exactly the neighbour’s friendly dog we’re all used to seeing every day. Another turn down a dark hallway gives way to an insane asylum; there’s that health care theme Patterson had mentioned.
Walking through the haunted surroundings, it’s easy to see that it’s both a labour of love and a venture that probably hasn’t been friendly on the wallet over the years. But like any true collector, Alvin has no qualms about spending money if need be, and all sorts of new toys and gadgets have a way of coming from other sources.
“Lots of Christmas presents are Halloween supplies!” said Jaime.
“It’s all my money,” added Alvin. “I get a bonus at work, and then I’ll go buy another prop. I got a set of twins in here – I thought it was a coat one year for Christmas – and I opened this big plastic bag, and my eyes just lit up; a couple of zombie twins!”
Having done this for a number of years now, the proceeds from this year’s haunted high school will go towards replenishing and replacing some of the supplies.
“This year, we’re actually going to have to put it towards replacing a lot of the props because we’ve had them for 10-15 years, and some of them are getting worn out and people have damaged others,” said Patterson. “Otherwise, in years past, proceeds would go to the Humane Society of Saskatoon.”
For Patterson, it’s the positive feedback he gets on the displays that enables him to keep going with them every year. If people are enjoying it, the odds are good that he and Jaime will keep doing it.
“It gives me something to do,” he said. “People just end up talking about it. I can be at work and there’ll be a couple guys standing in the lumber run going, ‘Hey, I was down there’ and I’ll say that it was me and my project and they’ll go, ‘yeah, it was great!’ It’s the comments you hear; people are enjoying it.”
Believe it or not, both Alvin and Jaime aren’t that big on horror movies, although Alvin states that he leans toward the classic Alfred Hitchcock films, citing him as an influence in some of his Halloween activities.
Outside of that, Patterson simply says he lets something else guide him on his nightmarish journey to creating Hawarden’s yearly house of horrors.
“I come up here with a case of spirits, let the spirits tell me what they want, and away I go!” he said, letting the double meaning hang in the air like so many ghosts in the night.