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.

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.


Stay in the loop about Park People opportunities, programs & events

Subscribe to our newsletter!