In 2003, Thea Munster organized the first Annual Toronto Zombie Walk. Seven people showed up (including herself). Right after the event, she wrote in Equalizing X Distort Magazine (EXD Vol. 04, Issue 01, Jan. 2004): “Plans for the Zombie Walk 2004 are now in the works. I know everyone who was at the walk had a blast so I expect each of them will bring at least 2 more people… my goal is to get at least 40 zombies next October.”
This October the Toronto Zombie Walk is expected to get 10,000 zombies to show up.
Guest Post by Thea Munster
“There were a couple of things that spurred me to start the first ever zombie walk in 2003. At the time Halloween had become so commercial and I felt that it wasn’t about horror anymore, but more about wearing a gag costume or even wearing costumes that were nothing but thinly veiled marketing ploys of the latest television shows or movies. I wanted to create something that embraced the roots of Samhain, where the veil between the living and the dead becomes thin and the dead are invited to return to feast with the living. Add a steady eyeball diet of Romero, Fulci and Bob Clark and the zombie walk was born! I needed to resurrect a group of corpses to shamble through unsuspecting neighbourhoods causing panic and fear in their wake.
Unfortunately, the friends I met after moving to Toronto loved horror, but were not interested in dressing up as zombies. I held out faith that surely I couldn’t be the only person who would want to do this and finally I made posters and put them up all over town, dubbing the event “The First Annual Toronto Zombie Walk.” As a result, six people (besides me) showed up dressed in their ghastly attire (see photo below). We took to the streets shambling, groaning, and losing limbs through a quiet east end neighbourhood. People who lived in this neighbourhood were genuinely scared at witnessing this small rotted group, they locked their doors and closed their blinds, one man even turned and ran as far and as fast as possible from the zombies. When we were finished our trail of terror, we were elated by how much fun we had. Who knew playing dead could be such a release?
After everything was done I started planning the next walk for the following year. One of the people who had attended my first walk had moved to Vancouver and had started a zombie walk there. The plague was starting to spread. From the third year on it was also starting to grow exponentially in numbers. It was like watching a snowball of maggots grow as it rolled down a hill of corpses. The event had also grown its audience, not only limited to horror fans but also inclusive to families and people who just wanted to join the dead.
Over those years we had started paying for permits, insurance, and operations fees as required by the city of Toronto. Our mandate became to keep the walk free and inclusive, so that absolutely anyone could attend and walk with the dead. We felt strongly that restrictions such as entrance fees or participation charges implemented by other zombie walks or horror events severely limited the accessibility to attendees of the walk. Plus, the dead can’t get jobs!
Growing Zombie Walk Means Growing Costs
We had been operating out of Trinity Bellwoods Park for years, which had kept the “neighbourhood like” feeling of the zombie walk going, but we had stipulations and rules governing our use of the park that did not allow for us to be able to raise any money for the event. We were not allowed to collect money on site and we were not allowed to have vendors. Upon growing too large in numbers, the city required us to leave the park as the size of the event outgrew the parks capacity. By 2011 we had 7000 walking corpses and 3000 onlookers participate in the event. We were moved to Nathan Phillips Square, the only public space available [big enough] to us in downtown Toronto.
With the new space came new costs. We started to apply for grants, and found out quickly that we did not fit into any of the normal grant categories. It is important to realize that we are not considered an arts event, even though we bring together an extremely creative group of people, in the eyes of granting bodies. We also do not fit into the category of a community event under the granting bodies guidelines. These resources do not have categories that deal with zombies, or the dead, or Halloween, even though we believe the dead are a vast community with immense community spirit and are a part of cultural heritage. The only grants we could apply for were for tourism grants. This required us to implement registration strategies as well as create business partnerships with hotels, restaurants, entertainment providers and local Halloween businesses. For years we have been struggling to prove that we have all the necessary qualifications to be a successful grant candidate. Some of these qualifications have a hefty financial cost.
In 2014 we were finally successful in securing a “Celebrate Ontario” tourism grant. We were so excited to get this grant that we did not consider the strict requirements to accessing the grant monies. [It turns out] the grant money can only be used to cover the parade portion of the event, and we are required to put in twice the matching funds as the “new” addition [the Halloween Parade]. None of the money can go to any of the Nathan Phillips Square activities, including entertainment, security, sanitation, stage equipment, and numerous other costs. They won’t support what we already have been doing, just the new initiative. In our zombie naiveté we believed we could raise enough money to cover costs through sponsorships, vendor booths, and fundraising, but we have fallen short in the tomb of around $7000.
For years people have suggested trying a crowd funding campaign, and I have not been the least bit interested in doing so. It was not because I don’t think crowd funding does not help a lot of people, but because I was afraid to see how little support we might get, which would absolutely be a dream crushing experience for me. Well desperate times call for desperate measures! I had recently been contacted by the people from TILT, a crowd funding platform. They were willing to help out our organization and get me started— that has made the whole experience a little less intimidating. But really putting ourselves out there and asking for help is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Being dead is so much easier.*
I never imagined that I would be running an event so large and so loved by so many people. I would hate to see the event not run due to lack of funds, or be taken over by a corporate entity who does not foster the same love of horror and Halloween, or to have it diminished in its legacy of being a fun, free, inclusive event that absolutely everyone can participate in.”
JOIN EVERYONE AT NATHAN PHILLIPS SQUARE, SATURDAY, OCTOBER 25!