Trent Ernst, Editor
For most people, Halloween is an event held annually, featuring scary costumes and kids wearing costumes.
The Blunden’s haunted house has become an annual tradition in Tumbler Ridge, again meaning it happens once a year.
But for Don Blunden, Terry Cosgrove and their kids, Halloween is an annual event, meaning it happens all year.
“We do it because we love it,” says Cosgrove. She says the whole thing started when the couple had kids. It started out with just a few decorations, but it just kept getting bigger and bigger. “We noticed a lot more people coming the more stuff we put out,” she says.
As time went on, the holiday display became more and more complex. Then, says Cosgrove, one year they had an idea. “If we used our car tent and had a little scene in it, would anyone be interested in walking through?” She laughs. “I think every teenager in town came that year. It was small, but they said how much they loved it.”
So, the next year the Blunden family decided to do something even bigger and better. Instead of limiting the event to the car tent, they spilled out into the backyard. Again, says Cosgrove, everyone loved it. “So the next year we got a few more kids to volunteer. That was our Zombie apocalypse year. We had a lot of snow that year, so we piled up the snow and we had a SWAT team of volunteers that would lead you through this chaos of zombies. And everyone was talking about it. So we were thinking ‘where do we go from here?’”
That’s when they came up with the idea for a maze. “We spent the whole year thinking and planning how we were going to build this maze in our back yard. That was the Carnival year. Again, it was extremely popular. I think we had about 500 people that year. It just keeps going. We always try to do something different, there’s always a different theme. We always try to do it bigger and better and more elaborate.”
Blunden says if the kids weren’t on board, this wouldn’t be quite such a big thing. “You have some kids that absolutely love Christmas, but our kids seemed to love Halloween,” he says. “They still like Christmas, but there’s so much of a different feel to Halloween. Christmas has to be nice and joyful. Here, you can step into the dark side of thing. Our kids were in drama, so this gave them the opportunity to be more on the dark side of thing than your typical play. Some families enjoy going out and hiking as a family, or boating. We do Halloween. It’s almost a national holiday for us here. We build our holidays around Halloween. It’s not a hobby. It’s our life.”
The family plans their future themes out a couple years in advance. This year, they’re riffing on the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas. “We’re always shopping, planning, knowing what is coming. It is all year. We spend summer making props. Because we knew we were doing a Christmas theme this year, we’ve been collecting trees. We work on stuff every month of the year.”
Cosgrove says that it’s fun to plan how to scare people, and it’s fun to be scared. “People come out screaming and you think they’re terrified, and they’ll say ‘that was the best thing ever.’ We’ve had kids go through a dozen times.”
While scaring people is important, the most important thing is to do it safely. Blunden says that, despite all their precautions, stuff does happen, which is why they have four first aid attendants on site at all time. “We have volunteers that roam through the maze, and if someone gets too scared, we’ll escort them out. Once that the volunteers see I’m taking someone out, the volunteers don’t do anything.”
There have been incidents. “We’ve had more problems with our volunteers getting hurt by visitors than the reverse. We’ve had several girls get punched in the face, poked in the eye. Our 11 year old daughter was punched in the face by a teenage boy the first year. We tell the volunteers to stay out of striking distance. The only bad thing that’s happen to a visitor was a girl who had already gone through the maze four times that day. She panicked to get away from a hand that was reaching towards her and ran into a wall.”
They’ve put a lot of time and effort and money into the event (“And we’re never going to admit how much it costs,” says Cosgrove), but that has happened over time. She says they scavenge as much as they can, and recycle what they can from previous years. Building the maze and setting up will take them the entire month. “We started on October 1,” she says. “We’ll finish at 5 pm on October 31.”
Even the family vacations typically happen in October. They go down to Universal Studios and places like that, to get ideas and see what they’re doing. “We’ll look at what they’re doing and try and figure out how to do that. We don’t have their million dollar budget, but we figure out how we can do it here.”
This year’s maze is not as big or as complex as last years. One year ago, the family was in a state of flux, with the mines shutting down and they didn’t know if they’d even be here this year, so they went all out to make it as big as possible. “With the uncertainty right now, we don’t know where we’re going to be in a year,” says Cosgrove. “That was our thought last year. Don worked at the mine and we didn’t know if we’d still be here. If it was going to be our last year, we thought, let’s do it big. It took us two months to build it, and it literally took up every square inch of our back yard. It won’t be quite as big this year.”
The two adults do most of the work building the maze and getting everything set up, and the kids help as much as they can.
This year, the family will be joined by a crew of 21 volunteers on the night of the event who will do what they can to scare the crap out of visitors. “We’ve had so many people move away, we only have a few volunteers that have done this before, says Cosgrove. “We used to buy a lot of props, but we’ve found what people enjoy the most is when people jump out and scare them.”
But, says Cosgrove, most of the work is done by the family. And with two of their three girls graduated and working, the amount of time they can spend on Halloween is shrinking. Blunden is working at Ledcor, which means he’s out of town for a week. And, while they still enjoy doing Halloween, Cosgrove says she can picture a day, when the Haunted House might not happen. Blunden says they had neighbours who were extremely interested in what the family was doing, and they were talking about passing the torch, but then the mines shut down and the neighbours moved, and now it’s just the Blundens.
“Do I ever think we’ll stop doing Halloween? No. Do I ever think we’ll stop doing it this big. Absolutely. The older we get, the harder it is to do. If we can’t actually build it, then no, we won’t do it. Our cemetery out front never changes, but to spend a month or two to build the maze? We’ve run out of space. Last year, we couldn’t get the maze down until May. It’s almost getting too big for us. Almost.”