Canadian Haunters Convention

As winter fades and signs of spring show up, haunters everywhere start making plans and gearing up for the many conventions that take place during the warmer months.  There are the big boys: Midwest Haunters Convention and HAuNTcon, to name a couple.  And now in it’s second season is the baby, The Canadian Haunter’s convention.  This convention intrigues me because as a visitor to a large one like MHC, I’m used to seeing some crazy stuff.  How do Canadians play a role in the haunt world?  Is there enough interest in Canada to make this a worthwhile convention?  These are all questions I have mulled over and here to answer these questions is the creator of the convention, Matthew Flaggler!

Haunt on the Hill: Last year was the first ever Canadian Haunters Convention.  It was not a huge convention, as you were just starting out.  What new and exciting things can we expect to see this year?

Matthew Flagler: Our first showing, while encouraging, was very modest. We had 212 attendees, a half a dozen exhibitors, and lots of great classes. This year, we’ve got lots of great things planned. We’re planning a tour of the Donnelly Homestead in nearby Lucan. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Donnelly’s, this is a family that was massacred in their beds in cold blood by a vigilante group in the middle of the night, the culmination of a decades long feud. It is reputed to be one of Canada’s bloodiest massacres. As well, we will have a Medieval Torture Exhibit on the tradeshow floor, one of the largest private collections of medieval torture devices in the world; as well as their owner, Mr. Steve Santini, voted by Ripley’s as the World’s Most Extreme Escape Artist. Steve will be doing live escapes and performances throughout the weekend. We have this Monster Halloween Bash planned for Saturday night. Of course, Mr. Leonard Pickel will be in attendance at the convention, a man that I consider the Godfather of the Haunted Attraction Industry; and the legendary Dick Terhune, the Voice From Hell. Rotting Flesh Radio will be on site with the Deadite Crew all weekend, covering the convention. And, just like last year, we plan a full weekend of educational opportunities; and anticipate numerous more vendors on the tradeshow floor!

HotH: Is there anything about the convention that is uniquely Canadian?

MF: Firstly, it is organized by a Canadian; being hosted in Canada’s 10th largest City; and will feature lots of great Canadian exhibitors, presenters, and events. We have Menacing Minds from Sarnia, McCulloch’s from London, the Canadian Haunted Attractions Organized Society, and Northern Screams Attractions from Sudbury all confirmed as exhibitors; and Dotsy’s (St. Thomas), and JenM Designs (Quebec) as likely; as well as an airbrush artist from Manitoba and FX artist from Quebec as possible. Our presenters include a number of Canadians, including me, Robby Lavoie, Calvin Cox, Shelley Summers, Randy Drysdale, Katie Hunt, Rick Finnemore, and Jenn Malo. As a matter of fact, most presenters booked to date are Canadian.

HotH: As a home haunter, what can I get out of attending the convention?

MF: Great question! You know, the thing that I’ve found out is that being a home haunter is where most people who go on to operating a more commercial haunted attraction start. It’s that critical first step. And long before one moves on to something larger or more complex, they are that home haunter, passionate about Halloween, super creative, loving everything about the season. That’s exactly where I started. And as one progresses into other aspects of the season, as things become less a hobby, and more a business, one benefits from information, lots of information. I mean, I’m sure you’d agree that for most home haunters, no one needs to tell them how to make a tombstone; or how to build a creature, they already know that. But if one is thinking about taking that event to the next level, there may not be anyone there to provide guidance on how to produce a business plan, or insurance matters, legalities, human resources, advertising, or any of the other more “business” aspects of operating a haunt.

So, you personally may not be thinking about taking your home haunt to the next level, but there are a lot of people out there who may be considering it; but haven’t taken the “leap” yet because there are a lot of things they need to learn about first, and they have no idea where they could do that. So, my message is, find someone you trust in the business that can take you under their wing, and plug in to a network of resources where you can get information. This convention is one of those conduits for a home haunter. I mean, where can you go for a weekend, to network with other haunters, see the latest products available to you in taking your haunt to the next level; and for like $100 take a whole bunch of seminars on a variety of topics? Or for like $50, spend a half a day with some of the best in their business, to learn from them?

As well, this industry, in my opinion, in Canada, is on the verge of explosive growth. It is looking for leaders, visionaries who can recognize an opportunity when they see one; and are poised to take advantage of it. We need a LOT more haunted attractions in this country. And our best source of possible operators of said attractions is from the ranks of those who have been perfecting their craft as a home haunter for the last number of years; who have invested their time and money in props, equipment, and learning how to operate a successful event. People in that group already have a “leg up” on their potential competition. The only thing they may lack is that mentor, that network, and that business-specific training. So my question always is: Why not it be you? And why not it be now?

But you know, not every home haunter out there wants to take it to the next level. They may be completely satisfied with keeping things as a hobby. And that’s ok, too! Then, this convention represents a great opportunity to audit some topics that one would like to learn more about, perhaps airbrushing backdrops; or building a laser vortex. We do plan to have lots of those more creative/artistic seminars also, and as we get closer to the convention, you’ll see the seminar series fill up. Just keep checking the website for details.

HotH: Why did you decide to start this convention?

MF: After our first successful season as a non-profit haunted attraction in 2005, I felt that in order to take our event to the next level, and needed to attend a gathering where other people like us got together. I started to do some research, and learned about the MidWest Haunters Convention in Columbus, OH. Well, we went and were totally blown away! We knew it would likely be worthwhile, but we had no idea how powerful such an event could be for a company. In part as a result of the things we learned in Columbus, our business doubled the next haunt season! And I started wondering why we didn’t have anything like this in Canada. I met lots of Canadians at the convention, including some members of the Ontario Haunters Club. Now, I’m a big “shop local” guy. And I know how much we spent on attending the convention, money that went directly into the US economy. So, I did some research. I found that a lot of Canadian Haunters attend these US conventions. And the main reason was that there wasn’t one in Canada. So, knowing that Canadians are a loyal bunch, I couldn’t help but feel that if we could grow a Canadian event, these Canadian would far rather attend a Canadian Convention. And so here we are! I suppose we’ll see if my theory is correct.

Thanks to Matthew Flaggler.  If you want to know more about the Canadian Haunters Convention, visit their website!

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