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Plague-themed haunted house to take over Heart of Riverdale for Halloween

A plague will be descending upon the Heart of Riverdale Community Centre next week — with the approval of the chief medical officer of health.
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A group of friends scream as they walk through the haunted house at The Guild theatre in Whitehorse on Oct. 25, 2018. The Heart of Riverdale Community Centre will be hosting its second annual Halloween haunted house on Oct. 30 and 31. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

A plague will be descending upon the Heart of Riverdale Community Centre next week — with the approval of the chief medical officer of health.

The centre will be hosting its second annual Halloween haunted house on Oct. 30 and 31, with this year’s theme being, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the bubonic plague or Black Death.

“We thought it was kind of funny, but also it’s a theme that I really, really enjoy,” Heart of Riverdale’s visual arts director Camila Gaw said in an interview Oct. 22.

The entry-by-donation event will offer an experience tailored for attendees ages 13 and older on the Friday, with the Saturday iteration designed to be friendly for younger kids.

Attendees can expect to see plague doctors, witches, ghosts and people in Midsommar-esque masks and flower crowns in a dark, spooky setting. People who go the night of the 30th will also be treated to scenes that Gaw described as “maybe witch-y, or sacrificial or more just jump-in-your-face kind of scary” as well as actors dressed up as victims infected with the plague, while the kids’ version is promised to have no blood, gore, jump-scares or plague victims.

“It’s like less actors or anyone coming out at you and more just like a haunted maze,” Gaw said of the haunted house on Halloween day, adding that parents wouldn’t have to worry about “really big scary visuals” for the younger kids.

Planning for the events began back in August, with art groups and classes helping to create props or other scene pieces that complement store-bought decorations.

“The community helps out,” Gaw said of putting the haunted house together.

“I put out a call for leaves this year and they were really quick to bring us leaves and last year, we were able to collect a bunch of willow from people’s yards to build a haunted-forest-sort of walkway, so it’s always an early start but it’s like a slow gather, and then these last two weeks are kind of the hustle-bustle of it all.”

Like everything since March, though, the haunted house, too, has had to accommodate for a disease that’s a little more pressing than the Black Death.

In order to comply with COVID-19 protocols and restrictions, the Heart of Riverdale is asking people to come in groups of no larger than four and for all members of a group to be part of the same social bubble.

There will also be sanitizing stations at the beginning and end of the haunted house, and all staff will be staying six feet away from each other and guests. Anyone who has left the territory and returned within the 14 days leading up to the event — including people who have travelled to British Columbia — will also not be allowed in as a precaution.

As well, while people last year could walk through the haunted house at their own pace and stop to take in the scenes in different rooms, this year, the event will be guided in order to keep attendees from lingering in one spot for too long, and there will be a two-minute delay between groups.

Gaw said masks will not be mandatory and the Heart of Riverdale will not be providing any on-site, but attendees are encouraged to wear them.

“It’s just for their own safety or because of screaming, you know, or … if kids are eating candy or putting their hands near their mouth,” she said. “We would just prefer everyone wore a mask but it doesn’t have to be a medical mask, it can just be like a Halloween mask.”

While the haunted house is a fundraiser, Gaw said there won’t be a required or even suggested minimum donation for entry (although last year, the Heart of Riverdale suggested people donate at least $1 because attendees kept asking how much to give).

“We didn’t want to make it, like, an expensive donation fee because if kids come by themselves or their parents just say, you know, ‘Go on down and check it out,’ we don’t want to turn anyone away,” she said.

The Heart of Riverdale’s Bubonic Haunted House is open from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Oct. 30 and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 31.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com