Imagine a town full of zombies, ghouls, ghosts and spooks, all living in harmony. It's tough to wrap your head around (unless your name is Linda Blair) but that's exactly what you'll find in Spookytown – a miniature Halloween village, created by Jessica Nuttall.
Spookytown began in 2004 with the purchase of Castle Blackstone. This towering fortress began a 14+ year passion to build a community for the living, dead and undead to coexist together. After Castle Blackstone came the construction of the cemetery, the business district and then the "spooky" end of town, which holds the magnificent Victorian Mansion. The town includes hotels, cathedrals, restaurants, cafes, museums and a grain elevator. The town is like any other small town during the day – quiet, peaceful and relatively pleasant, but once night falls, Spookytown becomes a creepy village full of flashing lights, blood curdling screams and eerie music.
When asked about the population of Spookytown, Nuttall answered "Dead or alive?", followed by a mischievous smile. A quick headcount found about 75 spooks hidden among the village's dozen buildings, but that might not include the ones living in the buildings or sleeping within their coffins.
Spookytown's buildings come from two main miniature architectural companies: Lemax and Department 56. These buildings are purchased at a variety of places, such as Michael's stores, or Spirit of Christmas in Banff, Alberta.
When asked what part of the village she would live in if she could, Nuttall showed me The Happy Halloween Cat House, which is located outside of the main townsite. This house is a small, cozy building with a haunted church next door and a yard full of bright orange and red leaves and the occasional headstone. Nuttall said she would like to live here because it reminds her of her childhood home and "because of the cats".
Last year Nuttall entered the Lemax 2017 Video Contest, where contestants from around North America submitted videos to show off their Lemax Halloween villages. Nuttall approached the contest differently than most and submitted a video letting the village explain itself through snapshots of daily rural life. Instead of explaining each piece, she let the ambient music, flashing lights and moving figurines speak for her. Due to her creatively done video, she won the contest and was awarded over 20 new pieces to add to the village, including Wanda's Cupcakes, Reaper's Landing and the Dead Fraternity – a frat house inhabited with zombies.
Like any community, the town has a wide range of citizens, but Nuttall's favourite two are the "two old ladies" that spend time near the gazebo in the middle of the town. They fit in well and are "hilarious", although Nuttall never would explain why.
Spookytown has gone through a lot of transformations over the years, but the next year will see some drastic changes. Now that the population is increasing, and infrastructure is starting to take shape, Nuttall plans to turn the village into a proper town by adding more roads, trees and enhancing the surrounding landscape. With a surplus of buildings, she's also planning to expand into smaller townsites, like The Happy Halloween Cat House.
If you visit Spookytown, however, one of the things you'll notice after the village are the three, five-foot-tall skeletons sitting around the village like undead overseers. These skeletons are having a dinner party next to the village, with plates full of fingers and scooped out eyeballs. These skeletons are a new addition to the village and was meant to the replace the village for the first time in over a decade. However, Nuttall decided to mix the two and create one of her spookiest creations yet.
Spookytown, the surrounding skeletons and all the other Halloween decorations throughout the house – and there are many – are taken down the second week of November. "Some people," Nuttall says, "leave them up all year. I don't though. I'm not that crazy."
Although Lemax isn't putting on another video contest this year, Nuttall decided to create another video about Spookytown, this time focusing around "Robert Zombie."
If you've ever passed through Medicine Hat, or you're spending a few days in the area, you've probably wondered what to do there. To most people outside the city, Medicine Hat might seem like a sleepy little prairie town in the Canadian Badlands; but for those who live in Hell's Basement, they'll tell you that this city is one of the most exciting places you can explore in all of Alberta.
I've gone to Medicine Hat three times in the past two years, and while I'm no expert on this thriving city, I know where the hidden gems are. If someone I know is passing through the area, I tell them they need to visit Medicine Hat. To help explain why, I put an article together for anyone else interested in visiting the Hat.
If you're spending 24 hours in Medicine Hat, you'll need somewhere to sleep. Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is a little under an hour away and a great place to camp. Camping in Cypress gives you the choice to explore the park, the city, and everywhere in between.
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.
Just over a year ago I wrote an article about the glockenspiel that once stood in downtown Regina. I had fond memories of the glockenspiel as a child and was sad when they took it down to renovate the park. I was even more sad when they didn't put it back up, and I was angry when I discovered it was sitting in a junkyard (sorry, outdoor "storage facility") for the past ten years. That article got a lot of attention, from both the public, the city and the press. Today, efforts are being made to restore the bell back to its original location.
I'm telling you this because preserving heritage – may it be a 25-year-old bell, or a fourth century building – is important. Without heritage, we lose who we are. Often, the desire to move society forward steps over the heritage and causes it to get lost. As impressive as tall glass buildings might be, nothing is better than a smoky red brick structure.
Saskatchewan is beginning to realize how important this is – and thankfully it's happening now and not in a few decades after everything is gone. But, our neighbours have been on the heritage preservation band train for several years now, especially in Alberta.