20th McCarey Haunted Back Yard

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It's a labour of love for Bob and Monica McCarey.

Each year for the past 20 years, with the help of volunteers, they've unpacked and set up dozens and dozens and dozens of Halloween props, costumes and related paraphernalia to create their annual Haunted Back Yard on 3rd Concession Road, No. 6, between Mall Road and Simcoe Street on the east end of Tillsonburg near the Norfolk Mall.

Every year there are new twists, a new or modified exhibit, and new actors.

And every year they collect food donations for the Helping Hand Food Bank as the price of admission. Hundreds visit their back yard annually, and for the past number of years the McCareys have been able to deliver 1,000-plus pounds to the food bank.

"We started with it with my Spark groups (Girl Guides) and we wanted to do something different, so we asked them to bring food," said Monica. "The first two years, it was a couple Girl Guide groups that we knew, and then the third year we opened it up to the public.

"The first year that we actually hit 1,000 pounds of food, reached that goal, that was an exciting year. I don't remember what year it was exactly, but to be able to meet that goal every year once we hit it..."

Last year was one of their all-time best years for attendance.

"We had over 560 people come through."

They hope to have even more in 2017, their final year. When the McCareys and their volunteers 'tear down' on the weekend of Nov. 4-5, it will be the last time.

"Getting the volunteers is tough," she said. "And it's time to pass the torch on to somebody else. Time for us to retire. Our children are grown and moved away, so there's nobody in our family to help us any more. We're relying strictly on volunteers and sometimes it's hard to get them."

Over the past two decades, some of her favourite animated props included the (shocking) man in the electric chair, their entire collection of creepy clowns, and the Zombie granny with her pack of Zombie babies.

"I guess the best part is just seeing the people, young and old, wanting to go through, having fun, and hearing the screams and the laughter. I'm in front of the house, so I don't see what goes on in the back. So being able to hear a scream now and again, it's great knowing that what we intended is working."

This year the McCarey Haunted Back Yard opens Wednesday, October 25th for its 20th season. It will open again every night up to and including Halloween night, Tuesday, Oct. 31st, from 7-9 p.m. Weekends are typically their busiest nights, Friday-Sunday.

Special arrangements can be made for the McCareys to open the Haunted Back Yard Sunday, Oct. 29 for young children, from 2-4 p.m.

"Then they can walk through with no smoke machines, and we'll leave the animated stuff off, just so they can look at stuff and not get scared."

The McCareys planned a trial run Tuesday to work out any bugs before the opening night, but Monica noted they will continue to add to exhibits through the week leading up to Halloween.

"During the day, Bob will go out and tweak and add a few more things. So it could change every day from now till Halloween until we get everything out."

The graveyard at the back of the yard has grown substantially, as graveyards often do.

"It did get bigger," Monica laughed. "It used to be just a few tombstones back there that you looked at through the gate and now he (Bob) has a walk-around so you can actually go through there and check it out."

Skeletons are digging a grave, tombstones have eyes that light up, and a costumed character may - or may not - be lurking in the trees.

"Maybe somebody back there behind the bushes with a chainsaw," Monica smiled.

After Halloween, the McCareys plan to sell the majority of their Halloween collection.

"We'll save enough for a nice little front yard display. That's what I said to Bob, you can do the front yard, but we're not going in the back yard again.

"It would be different if we had an indoor space where we could leave it up all year," she laughed. "It would be great! But I'm not going to turn my back yard into a big garage."

Going into their final season, has been a little bitter-sweet.

"The more we look at it, the more we're saying, 'Yes, this is a good year. Twenty years. We figured this was a good year to say 'it's time to go.' We're hoping some people will take some of the props and do the same sort of thing somewhere else. Bob and I have both said, if someone wants to do something like this, we are more than willing to help. It would be nice to help on someone else's project... but not 'our' project."


Volunteers are still needed to help at the McCarey Haunted Back Yard.

"Not every volunteer can come every night, so we are still looking for volunteers," said Monica. "So if anyone is available during the 'haunting time,' we're still looking."

Call 519-842-3384 if you can volunteer.




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