Day of the Dead

Review and photos by Brooklyn Hollinger

When I think of Halloween, the typical front porch jack-o-lantern comes to mind: a basket-ball sized gourd with a droopy smile and triangle eyes. However, Pumpkins After Dark in Borden Park is anything but that. 

Pumpkins After Dark is an outdoor event designed to be a casual evening, meant for all-ages. It runs Thursdays through Sundays from September 22 until October 31, and ticket prices range from $15.95 to $18.95 (or $64.90 for a family). I went with my sister, who was the surprisingly perfect partner. 

I was skeptical at first when it came to attending this event. I mean how impressive could pumpkins really be? However the pumpkin displays I saw exceeded all my expectations. 

The main event is the Pumpkin Walk, where we saw all sorts of squash sculptures. These “pumpkins” are made from a mix of synthetic foam material and organic pumpkins, so that they do not rot, and the arrangements are crafted by Canadian artists, who worked on these sculptures for nearly eleven months!

Throughout the walk there are different sections of displays, all with varying themes: Rock n’ Roll, Day of the Dead, Van Gogh, Under the Sea, Indiana Jones, Anime World, Car Show, Star Wars and more. I was blown away by the first display we came across–Rock n’ Roll. Here we walked past a gourd sculpture of Elvis Presley while his music played in the background. Each sculpture is entertaining in its own way, ranging from spooky to entertaining to flat out impressive. Every section is different from the last, meaning that you get to see everything from the Seven Sins to a beautiful display of flowers.

Rock n’ Roll

Partway through the journey is a pumpkin arch with hundreds of tiny pumpkins suspended in a semi-circle, and each face is different from the rest. This is a great spot to take some pictures, and to get some creative inspiration for your own jack-o-lanterns to carve at home! I know I saw some faces I plan to recreate. 

Pumpkin Arch

My favourite was the Greek Mythology section. I was bouncing with excitement as we approached the sculptures, while my sister merely gazed upon them with moderate interest. This themed display features the head of Medusa, Polyphemus the one-eyed cyclops (from Homer’s Odyssey), the Hydra (a multi-headed serpent), and a cluster of Greek skeleton warriors! The 3D nature of the sculptures, coupled with the many vibrant colours, make the mythological figures come to life. As a lover of mythology and ancient Greek literature I was ecstatic walking through this section. The attention to detail in the sculptures shows that the artists really did their research, while putting their own creative aspects to it. 

While my sister was not as fond of the Greek Mythology section, her personal favourite was a close second of mine: The Harry Potter display. This section of the Halloween walk features classic characters from the series like Ron, Hermione, and Snape encased in pumpkin self-portraits. The detail is pristine, from the folds of their robes to their varying facial expressions, every element is meticulous in how it is represented. The most impressive part of this display is the iconic wand duel scene between Harry and Voldemort, although Hagrid’s ten foot sculpture next to it was nearly the runner-up. 

Harry Potter: Hagrid

The pumpkin walk itself takes about 30 minutes to do, and is designed for you to take your time walking, capturing photos, and admiring the artwork. The art presented in these pumpkin sculptures is beyond what I was expecting, and it is a spooky twist on what the typical Halloween jack-o-lanterns usually are. 

Near the entrance there are three food trucks that have everything from loaded grilled cheese, to mouth-watering poutine, to sugary mini donuts. I had to get my hands on a pumpkin-spiced hot chocolate, and it did not disappoint. Before the Pumpkin Walk there is a tent full of carved pumpkins of various styles and forms that look as if Van Gogh himself crafted them. The next thing to do is to check out the live pumpkin carving demonstrations. Here we watched the experts carve jack-o-lanterns in real time – although it would have been more fun to take a stab at it ourselves. 

Additionally, Pumpkins After Dark is fairly accessible: with conveniently placed porta-potties halfway through the walk, and a paved and well-lit path. However the area with the food trucks and other activities is in a large grassy area. 

Lastly, at the exit there is a spot to purchase your own pumpkin to take home with you. These pumpkins come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colours; I should have bought one so that I could try carving my own version of Medusa’s head, and put it on my porch to spook the trick-or-treaters on Halloween.

Pumpkins After Dark

Location: Borden Park (7727 Borden Park Rd)
Price: Youth ($15.95), Adult ($18.95), Family ($64.90)
Runs: September 22 – October 31, 2023 
Open: Thurs-Sun after sunset