Assiginack’s Pumpkin Festival and Haunted Ride draws out happy crowds

The family that haunts together gets gory together. Residents pulled out all the stops to help make the Haunted Ride a night to remember. photos by Michael Erskine

MANITOWANING – There were plenty of thrills and not so many chills during this year’s Pumpkin Festival thanks to some very cooperative weather, even during the very well-subscribed Saturday night Haunted Ride.

The festival started off with several tractor-drawn hay wagon rides making their way through the streets of Manitowaning, where residents competed to bring out their best scares to entertain the wagon riders. There were a lucky 13 stations set up along the route and the efforts made by each of the sites were nothing short of elaborate.

The turnout was so great for the Haunted Ride that, even with the half-dozen tractor and wagons in service, there was bit of a wait in store for late-comers to the lineup to board. Still, spirits were high and there was plenty of laughter inside the arena where children and parents were entertained by costumed attendants.

Assiginack events co-ordinator Jackie White was beaming as she surveyed the crowd. “It really is a good turnout,” she smiled as she directed volunteers and made last-minute adjustments to preparations. It was clear that, thanks to the well-organized preparations, those adjustments were few and far between.

The anticipation among the performers lining the street for the Haunted Ride was palpable as youngsters called out the approach of each wagonful of audience. The participants in the Haunted Ride stations ranged widely, with young children, teenagers, parents and grandparents taking on their roles with great enthusiasm.

The next day saw plenty of activities for all ages. Comedic ventriloquist Mark Crocker and his co-conspirator (“don’t you call me dummy”) Chester kept the crowd in stitches. Mr. Crocker is a self-described “vocal illusionist.”

A bloody bit of operating takes place as these ghoulish health professionals practice their trade on a hapless victim.

“Ventriloquists have gotten a bit of a lame rap as strictly a kid’s show in the past,” he confides. But his program performances can be tailored to just about any audience, but with one thing in common. For a comedian his shows are remarkable in their “clean adult” content, with none of the offensive language or material that seems to be a staple with adult comedian performances these days. Instead, Mr. Crocker relied on clever and innovative interactions with his audience that brought them onto the stage even if they remained in their seats.

Several vendors were on hand to ply their wares to the crowds with merchandise ranging from woodworking to knitting to Girl Guide cookies and magic wands.

Outside on the tennis courts various games were set up for the younger set, including giant Jenga, Lego blocks, various kinds of tosses and chalk drawing, while just outside a hay bale lined pumpkin bowling alley was ready for action.

David Eade mounts his victorious catapult to celebrate his win. photo by Marilyn Harasym

Finally came the piece de resistance, with the various ingenious home-built catapults and trebuchets lined up and ready for action. This year the top contender, Dave Eade of Little Current, had to turn down the power setting on his launcher by half. “We did a test shot and it went pretty far,” he said. With Highway 6 crossing the far end of the range, organizers decided to err on the side of safety. It was clear that Mr. Eade’s entry could easily surpass the limits of the range if left at full power.

“We may have to move this event to another location nest year,” said organizer Jackie White, admitting that the engineering skills of the pumpkin tossing competitors were surpassing her committee’s original expectations. “We have to consider safety first and foremost,” she said.

Safety was certainly in plenty of evidence during the launches, with the spectators kept well back and behind/to the side of the firing line.

In the end it took only one shot from Mr. Eade’s launcher to secure the $500 top prize. The winner would be determined by the average three shots—Mr. Eade’s highly engineered contraption only needed a single launch to more than triple his nearest competitor’s range. Still, there was camaraderie in abundance among the competitors, with each lending a hand or tools to the others as needed.