Ottawa spreads Pumpkin Parade celebrations

The Toronto born tradition of Pumpkin Parades have taken on a life of their own as whispers about the phenomenon have spread across the country. We spoke with Anita Grace, who brought the parades to Ottawa to get the scoop on what it’s been like bringing the Halloween after-party to her city.

 Getting started

“I wasn’t that plugged into local parks until I had kids,” Grace says. “It was because of my kids that I started hanging out in parks, getting to know families in the area and then gradually getting involved with organizing little community park events.”

When a friend shared a story about the large and successful Pumpkin Parade in Toronto’s Sorauren Park, Grace was suddenly inspired to bring the annual event to her own Ottawa park.

She held her first pumpkin parade that same year, and now, nearly five years later, the Pumpkin Parade has become a much-anticipated annual event within her neighbourhood. She has learned important lessons from year to year and put that knowledge to good use to ensure that yearly, each parade has been bigger and better than the last.

“It started out small,” Grace tells us. That first year, the parade was held at Iona Park and there were about 25 pumpkins on display.  In the parade’s second year, Grace thought she would take her chances in a busier area and moved the event to Byron Park. Byron Park is located along an old tramline that was converted into a pathway with greenspace around it. “It’s a totally accessible space with a multi-use path that a lot of people use,” Grace tells us, “hosting the parade there was really good for publicity. That second year we got close to a hundred pumpkins and people who hadn’t even heard about the event just kind of stumbled on the display as they were taking their dogs out or casually walking.”

What a pleasant surprise!

Value to the Community

 Grace says that she started running with this project more or less on her own, but that she has been overwhelmed by the positive response from the community. “I maybe have been the impetus behind these events, but the community has really taken ownership. If it was just me, there would only be my family’s four pumpkins out there, last year there were about 300,” Grace says. People show up to the parade one year and then come back the next year with more family, friends and neighbours.

The Pumpkin Parade has played an useful political role in recent years as developers have proposed projects in the area that threaten the greenspace at Byron Park. “The community has come out to be pretty vocal about wanting to hang on to this space as it is,” Grace says, “by hosting events like this at Byron Park along the pathway, we are drawing attention to this as a highly valued and utilized community space.”


Learn as you go

 Grace admits that, early on, there were issues with the pumpkin mess that followed the parade. “There’s a hill not too far from one section of the path, kids were rolling pumpkins down the hill and smashing them,” she says. She didn’t let this get her down though. “It’s not malicious, it’s just kids having fun. Sometimes there’s just something about a pumpkin that make it irresistibly kickable,” she tells us light heartedly. To  address this issue, Grace simply reached out to the community via social media asking people who were going to be in the area to keep an eye on things. A very Jane Jacobs approach indeed.

Grace says that social media and local media have been tremendously useful tools in spreading the word and gaining support for the parade. She has made event pages on Facebook and uses Twitter to connect with local community organizations and associations who have re-tweeted her posts to spread the word. Stories have run about the Byron Park Pumpkin Parades in the local Kitchissippi times and also on CBC Radio which spread awareness of the event to new and different audiences.

She has had a lot of success in putting information up on local schools’ announcement boards and leveraging different school and parent networks.

Grace says that she got in touch with her local councilor quite early on. “Having his support has been really helpful,” she says. “I also think it’s really important to foster a good relationship with the city. They have been really great about sorting out permits and helping with the clean-up,” she says.

Volunteer support

Five years on, Grace is finally ready to recruit some volunteers. “I have approached the city councilor to see if we can write off volunteer hours for some high school students,” she says.

I was surprised to learn that until this point, she hasn’t had any designated volunteers or partnerships. “I have sort of been doing it on my own, but it has been amazing to see how many people have stepped forward to help out,” she says. Grace tells us that she has been continually surprised how many people, often whom she doesn’t even know, have seen what she’s doing in passing asked if they can help. “People have really taken ownership of this, and the fact that so many people come out and bring their pumpkins and help get them lit and then hang around and come back the next morning to help pick up all the soggy pumpkins…it’s pretty incredible. It really is a community thing.”

Pumpkin Parade Founder gets to the core of her love of pumpkins

Yes, Pumpkin Parades are a Toronto-born cultural phenomenon. But, do you know the woman behind this great tradition? We sat down with the mastermind behind the 12 years and continuing Pumpkin Parade at Sorauren Park, Colleen Kennedy. And, it turns out that for her, as fabulous though the parades are, they are a happy by-product of what she considers their ultimate benefit- getting people to express their own, inner creativity.

Colleen is a special education assistant with a passion for textile art, photography and all things creative. When her children were small, Colleen would organize a special pumpkin carving night the evening before Halloween. That night, their family would stay in, order pizza and carve their own jack-o-lantern. Even though her kids have now grown, the sculpting of the pumpkins continues to be a treasured tradition for the family.

The idea for Pumpkin Parades came to Kennedy when her husband, Mark, came back from a trip to Nanaimo B.C. “He described to me their pumpkin event held the day after Hallowe’en where people put their lit jack-o-lanterns on fence posts all along a country road,” she says. Inspired by the notion of a darkened space filled with the golden glow of beaming jack-o-lanterns moved them to initiate the first parade solely with the neighbours on her street.


Colleen feels that each jack-o-lantern is a personal piece of art and an expression of individual creativity. However, in the bustle of Halloween night, the jack-o-lantern on the porch sometimes gets overlooked.  Now with the pumpkin parade on the night after Hallowe’en, each pumpkin gets its own chance to shine.

“I think it’s important for us as human beings to create,” Colleen tells us. “Increasingly in our modern culture, people are spending their days with their eyes glued to a screen.  Crafts and Arts in general, bring us back to active hands-on processes.  There’s nothing like the feeling of satisfaction you get when you’ve finished designing and creating your pumpkin.”


It’s true.  In our daily lives, we have fewer and fewer opportunities to partake in creative activities that nourish us. We know that complex creative activities, like pumpkin carving, are good for you.  Recent studies have shown that these kinds of activities can help to alleviate symptoms of stress and depression and give us a general feel good buzz.

Kennedy says that sharing the creativity of carving pumpkins and displaying them collectively with others, “really builds an atmosphere of community and togetherness.”

In the spirit of giving people a safe and inviting environment to showcase their work, Kennedy has tried to keep her parade at Sorauren Park as grassroots, uncommercial and uncompetitive as possible. She doesn’t want anyone to feel their creativity is being judged. People come out to the parade to show off their creations and to marvel at what other people have created. It’s not about being the best of the most extravagant.


At their gooey, pulpy core, Pumpkin Parades are a celebration of creativity, self-expression and community. Here are Colleen’s tips for making the most out of the pumpkin carving experience:

Set aside family time.

Make carving a special occasion for the whole family to sit together and work on their individual crafts. When people are creating together and relaxed and at ease, the conversation tends to flow more easily. Try not to resort to the internet to get ideas for images and designs. Just draw a few ideas of your own on paper and then pick the one you like.

Make it accessible to everyone.

Very young kids may not be able to carve intricate designs, but they can be creative. Whether they decide to draw on their pumpkin, stick on glittery stickers, everyone should get in the act. Remember, some seniors may have mobility issues that may make traditional carving a bit tricky.

No judging.

There’s no such thing as a good or bad pumpkin design, just overly judgey people. Put aside judgement (even of yourself!) and let creativity rule.

Get messy.

In our daily lives we tend to be so tidy! Carving pumpkins is a chance to get your hands dirty and make a mess. Lay out the old newspapers and get in there and have some fun.

Pumpkin Parades: What you need to know for 2018

Pumpkin Parade season is upon us. Last year, there were 47 Pumpkin Parades held in parks in every corner of the city. Whether you’re hosting a parade for the first time, or you’re a seasoned pro, there are a few important things to know about planning your parade in Toronto parks this year. The deadline to apply to host a Pumpkin Parade is October 12, so don’t delay!

Pumpkin Parade permits during election period:

Due to the elections, the application process for Pumpkin Parades is different because Councillors cannot sponsor the community event.

The permit fee is waived for not-for-profits and community groups. Unless the not-for-profit or community group has insurance, the fee for insurance is:

*The City will require this information to determine the size of bin needed. 

For Insurance, you must submit proof of third party liability insurance, naming the City of Toronto as an additional insured, in the amount of $2,000,000.

BIA and others would have to pay a permit fee of $99.91. Insurance would be free because it is assumed that the BIA and others have insurance.

Pumpkin Parade application:

The deadline to apply is October 12, 2018. You can call Paula Simms (416-338-3940) or Carol Lord (416-397-9982) or go to the City of Toronto website and request the application package. They will only give out one pumpkin parade permit per park.

You will have to submit:

3 Reasons Pumpkin Parades are the Best Part of Halloween

Tuesday night, as I was strolling, with my daughter, through Sorauren Park’s Pumpkin Parade I heard numerous people echo what I was feeling. Over and over again I heard:

“Hands down, Toronto’s pumpkin parades are one of the best things in the city’s community calendar.”

There are many factors that make Toronto’s Pumpkin Parades the best part of Halloween. Here are a few:

It’s Simple Fun:

Pumpkin Parades defy all of the laws of event planning. They are informal, organic and take very little advance preparation. As I saw kids playing in the empty waste bins that were later to be filled with that parade jack-o-lanterns, I was reminded that most people don’t need much to be engaged and entertained. Sometimes we forget that. Pumpkin Parades are a great reminder that often, simple ideas are the best ones.

The City Is A Key Participant:

The City of Toronto’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation Department does so much to help make Pumpkin Parades happen across Toronto.

Having the City on-board makes these events so prolific and successful. It’s amazing what happens when the community and City work hand-in-hand. It’s incredible to see in action.

It’s For Everyone:

There aren’t many events that are for everyone–young, old and everyone in between. The event attracts local photographers, artists (who put an incredible amount of effort into carving pumpkins), families, etc. There’s really not a single demographic that is left out of the pumpkin parade celebrations.

A huge thank you to City staff, Park Friends groups, volunteers and citizens who make Pumpkin Parades the best made-in-Toronto tradition.


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