When the sun goes down, County Heritage Park in Milton becomes a pumpkin wonderland. But these are not your ordinary jack-o-lanterns: they are a part of over 100 dynamic sculptures that take hours, and sometimes even days, to create. Monsters, movie characters, skeletons on motorcycles, and a 50-foot dragon that breathes smoke are just some of the characters that flicker to life in a mystical display.
These sculptures are all part of Pumpkins After Dark, an outdoor art exhibit running until November that has been attracting thousands of visitors from across the GTA.
Event organizer James Fraser has lived in the area his whole life, and saw an opportunity to create a Halloween event that was family-friendly.
“We looked at the area — and we’ve been living in this area our whole lives — and we really just decided that there’s not that much going on that’s family friendly during this time period,” Fraser says. “Our vision was basically just to create an event that anyone could go, that families could go to.”
Creating a family oriented atmosphere is a priority for Fraser, and he explains that the goal is to create a fun Halloween event, without the fear. Pumpkins After Dark doesn’t have any jumpscares lurking in the shadows, waiting to give kids nightmares that will wake them up in the middle of the night. The atmosphere is spooky enough, while still being appropriate for its smallest visitors.
“They aren’t going to be terrified and scared, and worried about things jumping out at them,” Fraser says. “We just wanted something where they can come and look at things, and be in awe.”
Creating Pumpkins After Dark was no quick feat: Fraser says it took him more than two years of organization to pull the event off. He believes the result, however, was well worth it.
“When I see the kids come through, and you see their faces light up when they see a display like Harry Potter, or they see a display like a 50 foot long dragon that’s breathing smoke, they light up,” Fraser says. “You see the pointing, and you see them pulling on their mom and dad’s coats. And for me, that’s the most rewarding part.”
So far, Pumpkins After Dark has been a major success for Fraser and the artists. Visitors from across the GTA have been flocking to Country Heritage Park to see the mystifying pumpkin sculptures— over 3,500 people came on the night of October 5 alone, Fraser says.
“We just want them to leave with a smile on their face saying wow, that was amazing,” Fraser says. “And I can tell you now, we’re in our second week, and that is the vast majority of responses.”
Fraser also says that he is happy to talk to visitors about how the sculptures are put together. “People are just in awe and shock and they’re like, how did possibly do this?” He says. “And we’re happy to talk to them about the process, and about the sculptors, and how they do their work.”
Special effects artist Roy Chrisholm, one of the sculptors for Pumpkins After Dark decided to give pumpkin carving a try after watching the Food Network show Halloween Wars.
“I thought I’d give it a try. That’s all,” he says, laughing. “I got bored of jack-o-lanterns, basically.”
“If it’s just a face out of my head it’s pretty quick,” Chrisholm says. The more elaborate sculptures, he explains, can take hours to finish.
If visitors to Pumpkins After Dark get inspired by the sculptures they see and want to try their hand at carving, they’re in luck: there is also a pumpkin patch, so families can come together and pick their own pumpkins on their way out.
All of the money from pumpkin sales goes to Habitat For Humanity, which is one way that Pumpkins After Dark is giving to the community.
Helping locally is something that is important to Fraser.
“The money from those sales are going directly back to Halton and Mississauga, to help people get housing.”