Pumpkin Art display creator John Vickers prepares a new carving for this year’s display behind Oak Bay municipal hall which starts on Oct. 24.

Waiting for the great pumpkin

Oak Bay Business Association's Pumpkin Art launches in Oak Bay on Friday

Each year John Vickers spends hundreds of hours carving more pumpkins to add to his collection.

“It originally started when I first placed pumpkins with Christmas lights in them in front of my house,” said Vickers.

In the 17 years since, Vickers estimates his annual Halloween Pumpkin Art display, which now includes more than 600 intricately carved pumpkins, has raised more than $200,000 for various charities.

Vickers, who spearheaded the Buskers Festival, Chalk Art Festival and this year’s newest, the International Kite Festival, calls Pumpkin Art the catalyst for his other forays into providing free, family-oriented events in Victoria.

“For the first year or two it was not a fundraiser,” said Vickers. “Then a neighbour asked if they could put a Unicef donation box out and we collected a few hundred dollars.”

From there the event grew and charities such as the Stephen Lewis Foundation,  New York City firefighters families fund and the Victoria Youth Clinic have been supported by the display.

“It’s nice to have something that’s so well respected by the community. People used to leave uncarved pumpkins on my doorstep to encourage me to keep on going,” said Vickers.

Over the years, Vickers’ pumpkin display has appeared at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, at Government House in Victoria and at locations across Vancouver Island before relocating to Oak Bay in 2011.

As the display grew, Vickers began using polyurethane moulds to carve everything from local media personalities to Star Trek icons and a Beatles display that includes more than 40 pumpkins featuring album covers and band members at various stages of their career.

“Originally there were only about 20 real pumpkins and by the time I got to carving number 21, number one was turning to mush,” said Vickers.

The polyurethane pumpkins made the display more permanent, but storage then became an issue.

Since the Pumpkin Art display moved to Oak Bay, it has been supported by the Oak Bay business association which arranged to store the pumpkins and some 1,000 black milk crates and strings of Christmas lights that are used to create the display.

Each year Vickers continues to add to the show, carving 30 to 35 new pumpkins.

“This year there’s a new Victoria police chief and you have to keep the media people up-to-date. The business association comes up with new ideas: what’s new and current this year,” he said.

He usually begins carving in early August, taking up to two-and-a-half hours to create one pumpkin. This year the display will include characters from the television show The Big Bang Theory and the Walking Dead display will be expanded.

“You’re always looking for that wow factor from people. It’s great to hear from lots of families that it’s not often you can take your teen to an event and they’ll enjoy it as much as the little kids or adults will,” he said.

The Pumpkin Art display will come to life over two-and-a-half days of construction prior to opening on Friday, Oct. 24 at 5 p.m. behind the Oak Bay municipal hall at 2167 Oak Bay Ave.

The display continues 5 to 9 p.m. daily until Oct. 31. Admission is by donation in support of Oak Bay Kiwanis.

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