Families prepare for pandemic-era Halloween with public health restrictions in place

·4 min read

TORONTO — Canadian families mixed long-standing traditions with new, pandemic-ready rituals on Saturday as they tried to celebrate a festive occasion while keeping themselves and their children safe from the risks of COVID-19.

Many families opted to forego trick or treating on the advice of public health officials wanting to quell the spread of the novel coronavirus in hot spots, while others in regions with lower case loads headed out for the annual festivities while donning masks and keeping their distance.

The patchwork of recommendations had some Canadians dreaming up new ways to mark the holiday with candy scavenger hunts or using chutes, pipes and tongs to pass out treats.

Four booming metropolitan areas of Ontario, as well as the Campbellton region of New Brunswick, will see particularly quiet streets as most families heed public advice to confine Halloween activities to their own households. 

But such edicts have allowed one pair of Toronto-area siblings to break Halloween tradition by handing candy out to others rather than seeking it themselves.

Oreon Mounter acknowledged his children Maxim and Maya were sad to skip trick or treating, but said the eight and five-year-olds were keeping busy by preparing treat bags to deliver to friends instead. 

He said the kids, who live in one of Ontario's COVID-19 hot zones, stuffed each with as much candy as the average child would bring home during more typical Halloween rounds and were preparing to make physically-distanced drop-offs later in the day. The treat bags also contained information about donating to food banks, he added. 

Mounter said Maxim and Maya also planned to take part in distanced Halloween activities at the local zoo and held a photo shoot in their respective Hulk and princess costumes. 

"There's always bad situations, but there is good that comes out of all of them," Mounter said.

"They've been very aware of everything going on and very on board because with every challenge we see we come up with a solution together as a family."

Cautious approaches to Halloween were also on display in regions with lower COVID-19 case counts.  

Erin Daly, an early childhood educator in Brantford, Ont., said her daughters would be engaging in some friendly competition to see who can spot the most Halloween sights near their home. 

Molly and Charlotte, ages six and three respectively, planned to break into teams with their parents to see who can find the most ghosts, jack o'lanterns and other spooky creatures on a walk around their neighbourhood.

"We will have to go on the honour system, so if someone comes back saying they've seen 400 witches we might have a dispute," Daly quipped.

The winner, she said, will get to smash the family's pumpkins after Halloween.

The girls also dropped off treat bags to a local charity, stopped for a distanced visit with their grandparents to show off their witch costumes, and raced to collect treats during a candy scavenger hunt. They capped off the festivities with a pizza party complete with witches brews made of pineapple juice, ginger ale, lime sherbet, gummy worms and for the adults, a hint of alcohol.

"We are looking at it more as an opportunity to make new traditions and spend time together," Daly said. 

"It's not the full-blown door-to-door Halloween, but it's something we can build on every year maybe and have some fun with."

Elsewhere, public health officials urged people to keep Halloween parties small, if they're allowed to go ahead at all. 

The Alberta government encouraged residents to invite fewer guests to Halloween parties and to stay home if they feel ill.

The government recommended those hosting such parties hold the events outdoors, choose activities that don't use shared items and allow people to stay at least two metres apart.

British Columbia's top doctor also ruled out massive Halloween bashes, saying families need to keep gatherings to their immediate households and their "safe six," though trick-or-treating is still a go.

Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador gave trick-or-treating the green light as well, so long as people maintained physical distance from those not in their household.

In Quebec, Premier Francois Legault previously said Halloween should be for kids only this year and urged adults to cancel their plans.

At least one regional police force had plans to enforce the government's advice. 

The province's public health department said children can’t trick or treat with their friends and only people who live at the same address can go out together, Trois-Rivières police spokeswoman Const. Michele Loranger said.

Police would intervene if they receive calls about Halloween parties in residences and could issue fines of up to $560 for minors and $1,546 for adults.

Officers will focus first on raising awareness of public health guidelines, but Loranger warned tickets could follow for those that don't co-operate.

“But don’t worry, we won’t be doing a witch hunt,” she said with a laugh.

— With files from Nicole Thompson in Toronto and Jacob Serebrin in Montreal. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2020.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press