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Annual Big Shop of Horrors event at Cowichan Exhibition sure to be a scream

Event gets to a frightening start on Friday the 13th and runs until Oct. 29

The spook-tacular season of Halloween is upon us, and Daphne and Rick Swift are bringing scary back to barn 3 at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds with their Big Shop of Horrors.

READ MORE: Big Shop of Horrors aims to scare

This annual event, guaranteed to be a scream, will feature 3,000 square feet of haunt throughout 15 rooms oozing with eerie effects, spine-chilling props, and hair-raising actors to scare the pants off those who dare to enter at their own risk. The first fright night gets underway on Friday the 13th and the good screams will continue Thursday though Sunday until Oct. 29. It runs from 6 to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and closes by 9 p.m. on Thursday and Sunday — admission is $15 for adults, and $10 for children ages eight to 12. Tickets can be bought though eventbrite, or on site.

“We have people who have been coming since it was in our basement, and now we have some of those kids acting for us which is really cool,” said co-organizer Daphne Swift. “We’re never open Halloween, just because we are volunteer run and we like them to be able to be with their families on that day. Nobody under the age of eight is allowed; it’s too scary. In our first year we didn’t have those parameters and it became apparent that it was just a little too scary for the littles. The Forest Discovery Centre puts on a great haunted house for the littles, so bring us your teenagers we’ll terrify them.”

Now an incorporated non-profit society with a board of directors consisting of 11 members, the Big Shop of Horrors has raised and donated more than $80,000 to local non-profit charities which include The Full Cupboard, Big Brothers, Big Sisters and MS, however their haunt, which now takes 35 volunteers to run each night, comes from humble beginnings through Halloween parties the pair began hosting in 2010 that Swift says became more elaborate each year.

“In 2015 we downloaded a murder mystery that took place inside a haunted house. While the instructions said building a haunted house to host it wasn’t necessary, Rick was ‘like heck we don’t’ and turned our basement into a haunted house,” said Swift.

It was such a good time that the Swifts decided to invite family, friends, and neighbours through Facebook and charged by donation which enabled them to donate $300 to MS their first year. Both Rick and Daphne have people in their lives who struggle with the condition.

The name Big Shop of Horrors stemmed from the 30 foot by 50 foot shop Rick had in their backyard on Bell McKinnon. The Swifts took a year off in 2016 to do research by touring haunted houses and in 2017 continued to do it out of their home with 1,000 in attendance. They doubled that number in 2018, and by 2019 had 2,500 attendees wanting to get in to be creeped out.

“We got permission from Sherry the manager at Cowichan Exhibition Grounds to use their lower parking lot and limousines and shuttle buses donated their time to ferry people back and forth to our haunt,” said Swift. “In 2019 Sherry said if you are parking here anyway, why not just bring the haunt up as well. We closed shop during COVID and opened again in 2022; it was extremely successful. We had over 4,000 people come through, and we’re expecting over 5,000 this year.”

The Swifts hope to raise $40,000 this year even though they have seen some increased costs which included a 40 foot container for $15,000 to store their props. As they continue to grow they intend to donate $50,000 next year. Perhaps fortune teller Madam Zelda, who will be on site, will be able to see what numbers are in store. A few of the many treats, amongst the tricks include sweets from Bite Me Cookie and a witch room for toil, and trouble and selfies. Since the inception of their annual event what the Swifts love the most is the fun and laughter that goes along with it.

“We literally go home every night, and our face hurts from laughing,” said Swift. “It’s just so much fun, it’s a lot of work but we have met some amazing people who have come to us and said we need to be part of this. I just hope they have fun and come back.”

About the Author: Chadd Cawson

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