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Scaring up some Halloween fun in Elmira

Yo Wang outside the family home in Elmira, which has been decked out for All Hallows’ Eve and where the public is invited to take their chances with a walk-through on Oct. 31. [Veronica Reiner]

Those in search of the Halloween spirit need look no further than the vibrant, spooky display at an Elmira heritage home, an experience that adds a charitable aspect into the mix.

The Wang family has converted their Arthur Street property, the former Bristow Inn, into a free haunted house open to all in the community. While going through the course is entirely free, donations to “Team Liam” are welcome. This chosen charity is dedicated to raising funds for the family of Liam Moyer, a young EDSS student who was recently diagnosed with leukemia.

“We try to change it every year depending on the needs of the community and what we can support,” said organizer Yo Wang of the charitable contribution. “My mom told me about Liam’s story, and I thought, ‘that’s definitely something I’d love to help out with.’”

Local trick-or-treaters may be familiar with the display already: this will be the 10th year carrying on the longstanding tradition in Elmira, with 2018 the only year the Wang family didn’t put on the display because they had considered moving. Wang added that neighbours were thrilled to hear that the haunted house would be active once again this year.

The inspiration to start the month-long project came from a friendly rivalry in his former Kitchener neighbourhood. 

“When I was trick or treating as a kid, there was always one house on my street in Kitchener that did a display,” explained Wang.  “I thought ‘this is so cool!’ I love getting scared. But I said, you know what? I think I could do it better. It became a little competition – ever since then, we tried to make it a little bit different, a little bit better every year.”

Previous charities chosen as recipients include Friends of Hockey, the Waterloo Region Food Bank, and Marillac Place, a homeless shelter for young mothers and their children.

There are already plenty of props up on display well ahead of the big day, including gravestones, ghosts, skeletons, zombies, and pumpkins set up on the property to prepare for the big day. On Halloween, special effects including ambient music, fog, floodlights, animation, and strobe lights will help to set the tone. Wang said the materials had been gathered from thrift shops and other places over the years.

“We try to be creative with different things; we had some old wood from a fencing project that we’ve decided to convert into a stake for a zombie,” said Wang. “We use the things that we’ve already owned, to make other things out of it.”

The course will run from the front of the house, along the porch, into the backyard, through a hockey shed, and then back around the driveway. Guests can expect spooky actors to join them on the adventure.

“The most scary part is we do have people trying to jump scare you,” said Wang. “There are other things that are cool to look at … but I think the most fun part is to have people in there, and engaging with you.”

The building’s storied past may help to add to the atmosphere: it was originally owned by Edward Bristow, the town’s first settler, in 1860. The house was converted by the following owner, then eventually into a series of small apartments in the 1960s.

It was turned into a bed-and-breakfast in 1989, along with a transformation to Victorian-era style.  The Wang family purchased the home in 2008, returning it to a single-family residence.

If trick-or-treaters are too nervous to make the full trek, there will still be candy available even if they don’t make it all the way through.

The free haunted house tour will take place on 80 Arthur St. S. on Halloween (October 31) night from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. 

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