Photo: Justin Tang, The Canadian Press
The gleeful "trick or treat" that children shout when they call at houses on Halloween is getting a healthier response in some cities across Canada. Instead of candy, little ghosts and goblins on some doorsteps are getting passes to go swimming, skating and even skiing. The eastern Ontario city of Cornwall started selling Halloween swim-and-skate passes in 2012.
Aquatic co-ordinator Lori Gibeau says the city started with 1,000 passes, but the program proved so popular that it now offers 1,500. "And we have sold out every year that we have been doing this."
The Halloween passes are sold in packs of 10 for $10. Each pass is good for a child or student admission to a leisure swim or public skate and is valid from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31. Gibeau, who is a mom to two teenage girls, believes the passes are popular for several reasons, including that they encourage family bonding time and are a good price. Normally, a one-time child fee for swimming is $3.92.
"It might give people an opportunity to get involved in some recreation activities that they might not necessarily have a chance to. It's a healthy alternative to the candy overload. You don't have to worry about handing something out that may cause an allergic reaction," she says. "Some people...use them for the little, little ones where they don't think that they necessarily need candy, so instead of giving a bag of chips out to a two-year-old, they might give this out instead."
Melissa Coderre with Regina's recreation department says the city used to give out passes to trick-or-treaters who went to recreational facilities on Halloween. The program was expanded in 2014 so the public could buy passes and give them out for a "balanced Halloween experience." "It's not just about (recreation) or it's not just about candy. It's about both," she says. "And it also provides the community an allergy-conscious alternative to give out to kids who can't have candy."
Teachers like passes for students, too, she adds. In Regina, the passes for a public skate or swim are sold in packages of 10 for $5. They don't expire. They went on sale after Thanksgiving, but people started calling to ask about them in August, Coderre says.
"We've sold out of our passes every year that we've done this program, and every year we've expanded the number of passes that we've sold by 5,000. The first year we printed 5,000 and this year we're printing 20,000. Last year we sold out maybe within a week."
Kids who get Halloween passes in Strathcona County, just outside Edmonton, can use them for swimming, skating and cross-country skiing. Jennifer Wilson with the county's recreation services says the program started in 2013 after officials saw healthy Halloween programs in Calgary, Lethbridge, Alta., and Ottawa. "We weren't really sure what to expect ... but now that it's been an annual ongoing thing, people watch for it every year and they are super excited to jump on it and get them," Wilson says. "It's been a really, really good program."
This year, the county printed 2,500 booklets of 10 tickets each. A book of 10 sells for $5. All proceeds are donated to a play program aimed at increasing recreational access for lower-income residents. The passes expire after the school Christmas break ends. Wilson says people are seeing the value of moving beyond handing out candy. "That's really what we're trying to do, is trying to shift the culture and shift people's behaviours to seeing that being active and playing and having fun really is the treat."