Merchants battle for best of carved gourds

Oak Bay costume parades and trick or treating include kids and pets

The Oak Bay BIA halloween pumpkin carving contest starts in August with a Pinterest page for Elizabeth Cull

The chill of Halloween starts in the swelter of August for those at Dig This.

Staff at the Oak Bay Avenue shop get an early start on the Oak Bay BIA Merchant Carving Contest that kicks off this morning (Oct. 28).

“We do take this seriously,” Dig This owner Elizabeth Cull said with a laugh, gesturing to the top award certificates hanging on the wall in pride of place where staff can enjoy. “We actually start in the summer with a Pinterest board … then we keep kicking ideas around until something comes together.”

It’s something of a bonding experience, that includes a pumpkin carving party just hours before the display goes up.

“We always have a pumpkin carving party. It gives us an excuse to get together and eat delicious fall food and have a good time,” said longtime staff member Chelsea Uphoff. “I think that’s why our windows are so successful, we have fun with it… whimsical themes.”

They do the carving as close to competition time as possible, learning a lesson the first year, when the warm windows of the gardening shop speeded up the natural decay process before judging.

Staff hurriedly carved new ones and still had an award-winning display up when the BIA panel of judges came around. That first year’s win spurred the following competitions.

“We visited and carved pumpkins together, then we won,” Cull said. “The next year we thought ‘we have to win again’.”

Cull loved last year’s theme, which struck a nerve with her garden in particular. They carved animals including raccoons, squirrels and of course deer – a warning to gardeners, there are worse things than ghosts.

“I really liked the animal theme, just because I had a nasty experience with the deer and my broccoli,” she said. Channeling her deer frustration toward the window display, it even featured her broccoli stumps.

As to this year’s theme?

“It’ll be another gardening theme,” Cull said with a laugh. “It always has something to do with the garden.”

More than a dozen Oak Bay merchants have pumpkins on display in shop windows throughout Oak Bay village now through Monday.

On Halloween, the BIA hosts family trick-or-treating on Oak Bay Avenue from 2 to 5 p.m. Oct. 31 with the road closed to vehicle traffic. The event features circus-style entertainment including costumed stilt walkers, hula hoopers and music.

Participating businesses are identified by a pumpkin poster in the window.

Pet owners can register for the second annual Oak Bay Village Pet Costume Contest at the Victoria Pet Adoption Society booth at Trick-or-Treat on the Avenue from 2 to 4 p.m. There are prizes for best dressed pets and owners are invited to make a donation to Victoria Pet Adoption Society upon registration. Pet trick-or-treat also returns and pet owners are invited to collect “doggie bags” at participating stores.

Following the trick-or-treating Oak Bay Fire Department and Kiwanis Club of Oak Bay host the annual community bonfire at Fireman’s Park.

The event harkens back to 1949, inspired by the department’s first fire chief Ed Clayards, also a member of the Kiwanis Club of Oak Bay. Instead of a communal dumping of burnables, these days Vancouver Island Pallet donates the massive pile of wood pallets lit at 6:30 using propane tiger torches.

Many years ago the department would use diesel fuel mixed with gasoline this practice stopped when several residences that back onto fireman’s park had their windows broken due to the ignition of the fire.

Children also learn fire management, with trained firefighter assistance, taking turns manning the hoses that night.

Kids devour 600 to 800 hotdogs each year at the event, courtesy of the Kiwanis, who also host a children’s costume parades at 6:30 p.m.