Screamfest owner Mike Sheppard offers tricks and treats to fear loving freaks
For some, Halloween is an exciting time of year. But for one Calgary professional couple, it is a hell of a lot of work.
Mike Sheppard and his wife Maureen earn their conventional living teaching part-time at Mount Royal University and collecting rental income from a property they own.
In 2001, they invested in something less conventional; they bought a haunted house and invested in the business of Halloween. The Sheppards once simple haunted house has since evolved into Canada’s largest and what they claim to be the “scariest” Halloween event in Canada: Screamfest.
“The retail end of (the Halloween business) is huge, it’s growing,” said Mike Sheppard “From our perspective, the haunted house side, we’re nowhere near where the US is…We’ve got more of a niche market.”
Photo by Paul RodgersScreamfest has grown from it’s humble beginnings in the parking lot of Marlborough Mall and is now located in Stampede Park.
Sheppard, who along with his wife also owns Cobb’s Corn Maze and Family Fun Park said, “(From) Screamfest, we’ve never taken a dime, we always throw it back in to grow it. The corn maze is new so that’s all out of pocket and we’re not making a profit there yet. It is very much so a labor of love.”
Sheppard feels that Screamfest has reached a “peak” in Calgary, and in order to stay relevant, he adds new attractions each year, including zombie paintball, a monster truck ride, and non-haunted house rides.
“It’s becoming more of a Halloween carnival,” said Sheppard.
For this huge carnival to run smoothly, Sheppard employs a dedicated staff of over 200 people. Mark Engel, a journeyman plumber in his day-to-day life, will return as the “chainsaw guy” for the ninth year, and says “Halloween is a lifestyle for me.”
Engel said that during his years at Screamfest he has had three instances of customers being frightened to the point of soiling themselves.
Photo by Paul RodgersBut Engel assured me that the “scarers” know that there is a line between a customer being frightened, which is fun, and being uncomfortable, which is not.
“If someone gets too scared, you’ll want to break character and make sure they’re ok.”
Screamfest runs every Friday and Saturday night through until the end of October.