Wakefield trick-or-treat tradition called off

A beloved residential neighbourhood that's visited by hundreds of children on Halloween has cancelled this year's trick-or-treating event, saying the pandemic has made it too difficult to run safely.

Halloween event that attracts hundreds of children called off because it's too risky during pandemic

About 40 residences along leafy Chemin Burnside and Chemin Elmdale participate in the annual, organized trick-or-treating. The much-anticipated event is cancelled this year. (Stu Mills/CBC)

A beloved trick-or-treating tradition has been called off in Wakefield, Que., this year, a harbinger of what might happen in cities and towns across Canada during the pandemic.

Chemin Burnside, a winding, narrow road with a tumble of brightly painted heritage homes, looks like something out of turn-of-the-century Quebec oil painting.

For decades, Burnside has been the go-to destination not just for local children of trick-or-treating age, but also those from neighbouring villages with no walkable strip of suitable homes of their own.

Only about 20 children of trick-or-treating age are residents of the street itself.

But the kilometre-long winding strip of storybook houses — which the municipality closes to vehicles the evening of Oct. 31 — has become such a popular destination that parents in the villages of Low, Duclos and Masham arrange for children to be bussed to Burnside.

On most Halloweens, buses arrive at the parking lots of the Vorlage Ski hill, full of screaming children excited to begin their ghoulish procession through the heart of the village.

In 2019, heavy rain meant only about 700 ghosts, superheroes and witches marched through the neighbourhood. The previous year, the number of visitors to a typical Burnside door was closer to 900.

A post on a local social media group announced on Wednesday that, because of COVID-19, organizers would cancel Halloween 2020. (From Facebook group Wakefield Folks)

To make it manageable for the residents who must finance treats for the annual invasion, volunteers collect sweets donated by residents. Those volunteers then redistribute the neighbourhood allotment of candy to the 40 or so participating Burnside households who then exchange it for "tricks" on Oct. 31.

"This breaks our heart," wrote volunteer Dawn Airey in a social media post announcing the cancellation. "But the pandemic is just too risky."

Airey declined to be interviewed.

Though individual residents will still be free to light jack-o-lanterns and hand out their own candy, the municipality of La Pêche has been asked not to close the road to vehicular traffic.

"I think it's sad, but wise," said Coun. Claude Giroux, who confessed he normally dons a costume and attends the party.

"Yes, it's outside, but the kids are close to each other, especially at 'rush hour', when the sun goes down." 

With its century-old homes, winding Chemin Burnside through the village of Wakefield, Que. has become the area's most popular Halloween destination. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Chemin Burnside resident Michelle April, who normally lights and decorates her home and broadcasts spooky music for the event, reluctantly agreed.

"We have 50 to 60 kids come into a yard at one time — it's hard to manage that," said the psychotherapist.

April said she normally handed out about six boxes of candy herself, in addition to her share of the sweets collected centrally by the neighbourhood volunteers.

"It's a bit sad, but I think it goes along with all the sadness of living in a pandemic," she said.

We hear reaction from the neighbours on one of the most popular streets to trick or treat. 4:09

Over in Ottawa, public health officials aren't calling curtains on Halloween yet.

"Just like many other activities and events this year, Halloween will require some adaptations and changes in our usual behaviours," Ottawa Public Health said in a statement.

Earlier this summer, medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches responded to questions about the tradition.

"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 like door-to-door visits in lieu of lower risk activities," she said at the time.