Nothing says Halloween quite like a haunted house… or a haunted farm? Saunders Farm has been serving up tricks and treats on their 100 acre farm for over 25 years, offering weekend thrills throughout September and October. Starting this Thursday October 24, they’ll be open every evening up to and including October 31 for Halloweek. Don’t be tricked… we hear Halloween is a great evening to visit Saunders Farm while everyone else is collecting treats in their local neighbourhood.
Located just outside Ottawa in Munster, the farm has grown strawberries and trees, but these days, it is growing and supporting local talent. In the summer, you can find them hosting farm to table dinners as part of the Festival of Small Halls. Since 2011, Saunders Farm’s Scaring is Caring has raised over $62,000: $5 from each admission is donated to the local Youth Services Bureau in honour Jamie Hubley, a past employee.
After a visit to Saunders Farm, I needed to know more about the team that has transformed a strawberry field into a killer business (pardon the pun) that has such a strong emphasis on the arts (be it visual or culinary). I reached Angela Saunders, Director of Beauty and Flavour at Saunders Farm, via email to learn more. Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Apt613: Angela, you spoke so passionately about the arts when introducing Saunders Farm. You’ve been a performer and have brought in artists from a variety of disciplines. What’s your background? What is your role at Saunders Farm?
Angela Saunders: I have a degree in music from the University of Ottawa, and toured for three years performing with the international youth program Up With People. I was a music teacher as well. I have a super-fun job title: I’m the Director of Beauty and Flavour at Saunders Farm.
Can you tell me about the shows you have?
We have an original stage show that we create each Haunting Season. It started about 25 years ago when we needed to entertain the line for the Haunted Hayride because it was long. It makes passing time a lot more fun!
The stage show has a melodrama feel to it with our original characters: there’s a villain who is always trying ruin Halloween for everybody, a dim witted monster hero who ends up saving the day, and a strong female monster royal who sets the hero up for success.
The stage show has a melodrama feel to it with our original characters: there’s a villain who is always trying ruin Halloween for everybody, a dim witted monster hero who ends up saving the day, and a strong female monster royal who sets the hero up for success. The audience gets involved: they cheer and boo, and we usually have an audience volunteer become part of the show. While it’s a family show, there are always some jokes and innuendo that are geared for the adults.
Our stage shows were written for many years by Jason Whiting, who played our character “Larry Scary”. He has gone on to be a television writer. We’re thrilled that this year, our show was written by Graham Cuthbertson, who was our villain “Mortimer Toad” for years. Graham is a professional stage and screen actor based out of Toronto.
We also have a really cute puppet show called “The Halloween Howl” that was created 2 years ago by an alumnus of Saunders Farm who went on to star in Avenue Q off-Broadway. He wrote the script, built the puppets, and had his friends in the Broadway and off-Broadway community do the songs and voiceovers.
We do both a daytime and nighttime parade: “The March of the Monsters” and “the Gathering of the Ghouls” respectively.
How do you make the transition between family friendly daytime and spooky nighttime?
Our daytime program really celebrates all things autumn: pumpkins, being outdoors, and fun Halloween. Our Mazes are open during the daytime. We have some of our Haunts open in the daytime, but they’re toned down. For example, by day, The Coven has a fun hostess at the entrance, but there aren’t any other spooky characters.
When nightfall hits at 6pm, we crank up the scare factor.
When nightfall hits at 6pm, we crank up the scare factor: 100 Scare Actors populate our six Haunts and stroll the grounds. Each Haunt has a different theme and a different “chainsaw” rating: 2 chainsaws includes mild scares, 4 chainsaws is intense and disturbing. We don’t recommend children under 10 come to the farm at night.
It’s been years since I last visited and I was so impressed with the level of detail. How often do you change the haunted houses or add new items?
We try to add or change some elements of each Haunt every year, as well as adding a few big new elements for both Haunting Season (daytime) and Frightfest (nighttime) each year. Our stage show is new every year as well.
We have been really blessed with an incredibly talented pool of people who are part of our team and who bring our crazy visions to life—carpenters, artists, prop builders, writers, acting coaches. It all adds up to make the product something we’re very proud of.
The food on site was delicious, and I read online that you make it all fresh. So it’s not just the visual arts you’re supporting, but also the culinary arts. Can you tell me more about your in-house food and treats?
We love food! And we love that coming to our farm can mean having delicious treats like our gourmet apples, or our pumpkin maple Whoopie Pies, but our top seller still is our delicious poutine. We have a few fun twists on poutine as well like Pogo poutine, or “Green Queen” poutine that has chopped dill pickles on top.
We make as much from scratch as possible during our busy season, and try to offer variety to our guests. My personal favourite is our scrumptious chicken pumpkin stew, and our mac and cheese with butternut squash. So good!
Is there anything else I should have asked?
You need to know when you can visit! We’re open Friday nights 6-11pm, Saturdays from 10am-11pm, and Sundays from 10am-5pm. We’re also open for “Halloweek” 6-10pm Thursday October 24, Sunday October 27, Monday October 28, Tuesday October 29, Wednesday October 30, and Thursday October 31. We hope to see you at Saunders Farm!
Saunders Farm is located at 7893 Bleeks Road in Munster, Ontario. For more information about their opening hours and events, visit them online. Tickets are available at the gate and online (but there’s a discount if you pre-purchase!). Parking onsite is free.