THUNDER BAY – Even in the midst of a global pandemic, people still love a good scare.
The COVID-19 pandemic required some adjustments for the Fort William Historical Park’s annual Haunted Fort Nights, but some things haven’t changed: tickets for the popular event sold out in advance, as they have in each of its more than 20 years of operation.
Manager of visitor experiences Debbie McRae says that happened even earlier than usual this year, partly due to reduced capacity for the event, which runs Thursday to Saturday evenings at the historic fort until the end of October.
Groups are now capped at 10, rather than 20, and the time between tours is extended to allow for sanitizing of buses, buildings, and other high traffic areas.
The fort also had to reduce the involvement of volunteers, relying more heavily on its staff.
But mostly, McRae says the frights are rolling on as usual for those seeking a shiver-inducing thrill.
“It’s been pretty smooth – we’ve been able to make the adjustments and still make it a fun experience for everybody,” she reports.
The story and theme of the Haunted Fort Night changes each year. This year's involves the haunting of a historic village by a mysterious female figure - McRae couldn't say much more for fear of spoiling details for future participants.
It’s an all-hands-on-deck endeavour, drawing on employee’s skills in acting, costuming and set design, special effects, lighting and electronics, and more.
Park staff embrace the chance to flex their creative muscles, with planning starting months in advance. For many, McRae says, the event is an annual highlight – and she believes that sense of fun is contagious.
“We do inject some humour into it,” she says. “There are lots of frights, lots of laughs – it’s just a great way to celebrate Hallowe’en.”