For many of us who grew up in Ottawa, a visit to Saunders Farm has always been an important part of the Halloween season. Whether it was a trip to the pumpkin patch during the day, or having your wits scared out of you at FrightFest by night, it was always a time on which we looked back on fondly. COVID-19 may be causing a scare of its own this year; however, we are happy to announce that a visit to Saunders Farm can still be the integral part of your Halloween season it has in years past.
While you can still visit the farm day or night, some necessary changes have been made. Saunders Farm is taking safety very seriously and is only open to 2–10 per cent capacity, tickets must be booked ahead of time, masks are to be worn throughout FrightFest as well as most of the daytime activities, and only outdoor attractions are open this year.
Despite many things not happening this year, a notable new addition to the farm are campfire nights, which we were fortunate to have been invited to attend. They encompass all the best parts of sitting out by the fire without the need to plan a trip to a cottage or campsite, or even to pack yourself any of the campfire essentials like graham crackers and marshmallows. The only things you must make sure to bring along are some lawn chairs to sit on and a blanket or two to keep yourself cozy.
One important bit of information: When you arrive at Saunders Farm, there are signs that read “campfires” that direct you towards the far end of the parking lots. Rather than parking your car and heading out to find a check-in, stay in your vehicle and follow the signs. As we initially thought we would need to exit our car, we parked and headed towards the entrance to the farm, where the very friendly staff informed us that we could drive our car all the way to the campfire check-in by heading to the very end of the parking lots and turning right down the lane opposite the exit on the left. We would also find out that you don’t need to exit your car once you’ve arrived at the campfire check-in and can remain in your vehicle until you’ve parked at your own campfire site.
Once you arrive at the check-in, you roll down your window and a masked staff member greets you and asks you for your name. They then go back to their booth and return with a big brown paper bag full of your campfire snacks and your wooden roasting sticks, which they will load into your back seat or trunk for you. They let you know which of the many campfire sites is yours, and you can drive right up to it and park your vehicle there.
Each site comes equipped with a table on which to place and prepare all your campfire snacks, a stack of wood which the staff use to tend to your fire for you (while keeping a safe distance), a portapotty just in case, a garbage receptacle and, of course, a beautiful fire pit with a fire that is already ablaze upon your arrival.
We were lucky to have visited on what was likely the last night of the lingering summer’s warmth, but the cooler fall evenings bring the opportunity to snuggle close under a blanket watching the fire’s glow. The sky was overcast when we first arrived, but cleared up as the night went on and provided an incredible view of the stars, far from the light pollution brought on by the city lights. Beneath a sky full of stars and the field aglow with many a fire, it truly is a beautiful sight to behold.
Tickets get you two hours of time by the fire, which seems like a lot until you get there. While it isn’t by any means “not long enough,” the time goes quickly and when staff come around to give you a 15-minute warning you won’t have realized that nearly two hours has gone by.
While we did not visit FrightFest that night, we can attest to its certainty to scare, as chainsaws and screams could be heard from the campfires. If you have the perfect campfire soundtrack in mind, but are worried about music bothering the neighbours, never fear: So long as you keep the volume to a minimum, we wouldn’t be too concerned. Bring along your portable speaker and break out the tunes. The sites are very well-distanced at roughly 30 metres apart and the area is by no means quiet.
An evening in front of a campfire is the perfect way to unwind at the end of the week. You don’t realize it as you are roasting hot dogs and enjoying your s’mores, but on the drive home it hits you just how relaxed you are.
Saunders Farm is located at 7893 Bleeks Road in Munster, just 10 minutes from Stittsville. They are open every weekend through October (Friday 6–11pm for campfires; Saturday 9am–5pm and Sunday 10am–5pm for Haunting Season (daytime) and FrightFest (nighttime). Tickets for all events must be purchased ahead of time so be sure to check out the website to plan your visit and learn about their COVID-19 safety protocols.