When Châteauguay resident Laura Cochard saw an ad on Facebook for a Montreal festival boasting life-sized dinosaur robots, fossil displays and amusement rides, she snagged tickets to attend with her two-year-old, dinosaur-obsessed son, Alex.
"We have dinosaurs all around the house, he goes to bed with dinosaurs — I said 'he's going to absolutely love this event,'" said the mother of two, who spent $50 on early bird tickets.
But mere seconds after Cochard made the purchase on the festival's website, red flags started popping up.
"I simply bought the tickets and I never got the confirmation email that you usually get immediately after," she said. "That seemed a little bit odd for me."
Cochard sent an email to the festival, and after six days of radio silence, she said a friend informed her that a host of online posts said the event was a scam.
Users warned prospective attendees that the festival, similar forms of which are said to have taken place in Australia and are scheduled in Alberta, bilks people of their money and doesn't deliver.
This week, Cochard learned the venue that was slated to host Jurassic Fest Montreal — Quartier Dix 30 in Brossard — abruptly pulled out, making the idea that it was a hoax sound even more plausible.
Festival is real, says organizer
Jurassic Fest Montreal bills itself as a week-long, outdoor, interactive dinosaur exposition, running from Oct. 22 to Oct. 31, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
"A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up close and face-to-face with various, gigantic moving prehistoric creatures," reads the festival's Facebook page.
Early bird tickets (purchased before Aug. 31) range from $14 to $18 and are non-refundable, despite the festival having no concrete location.
In an official statement from The Dino Expo, the company behind the dinosaur-themed events, Montreal ticket holders were asked to remain calm amid rumours that the event was a scam, guaranteeing that all tickets remain valid.
"We are aware of anxiety being caused by unfair comments, fake news, and competition," the statement reads. "We remain committed to our objectives to deliver the show in Canada.
In an interview with CBC Montreal, the director of the South African company said they are looking for a new venue for the Montreal festival, which is going to happen. He says rumours saying otherwise are part of a social media smear campaign from competitors.
"The customers are buying tickets because they want to come to the event," said Dino Expo director and producer David Huni. "But because now somebody's coming up with rumours that the company is a hoax, is a scam, is a fraud, then people are panicking."
Huni said the exhibit will tour Canada soon starting out west, and students in select schools will be given free tickets as part of an educational initiative. The organizer said it's unclear why Quartier Dix 30 — who did not respond to CBC's request for comment — pulled out.
The Dino Expo said it recently put on two successful shows in April and May in Adelaide and Toowoomba, Australia. They said photos on their Facebook pages and website are taken from previous exhibitions in different parts of the world.
"My message is that the show is coming," said Huni. "If the event is cancelled, we'll refund [tickets]. If the event is not cancelled, if it's going ahead, why should we refund?"
But Cochard implores the company to inform Montrealers of the location and dates of the festival.
"I would be adjusting my agenda and my life around," she said, worried they could change the location of the festival to Ontario.
"For them to change things last minute, it kind of gives you cold feet about going at all," she said.
"I'm a customer. And as a customer, my expectations are high."