The Stanley Park Hallowe’en Ghost Train has become a family tradition in Vancouver. Since 1999, parents and kids by the tens of thousands have spent their October nights riding the park’s miniature railway through a haunted landscape created by and populated with actors from a local theatre company, the Mortal Coil Performance Society. This fall’s edition was to have a cast of 25 actors playing phantasmal pirates, and a haunted galleon floating in the Stanley Park lagoon. But an ongoing labour dispute over wages and benefits between the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the City of Vancouver has forced the cancellation of the Ghost Train, and will leave the park spook-free this year.
“We have about 20 staff who work on that every year and unfortunately they’re out [on strike] right now,” says Korina Houghton, vice-chair of the city’s park board. “Even if they came back today, we wouldn’t be able to get it up and running.”
It’s not the only program for families that’s been caught in the middle of a municipal budgeting dispute. The City of Toronto, facing a $575-million budget shortfall for next year, decided last month to close community centres on Mondays to save money, a decision it has since reversed. Now, in a bid to save a mere $160,000, the city is considering keeping its 49 outdoor skating rinks closed until January, leaving shinny-playing kids with no ice over the Christmas holiday. It’s part of the cuts Mayor David Miller says will be necessary unless city council agrees to a proposed tax increase. And with cities across the country struggling to make ends meet, more programs that families count on may face the chopping block.
The CUPE strike in Vancouver is grinding toward a resolution, but it’s too late for Stanley Park’s Halloween celebration. “We’re very disappointed that this happened,” says Houghton. “There are 40,000 people around the Lower Mainland who are disappointed, too.” Torontonians eager to lace up their skates will be hoping they don’t face a similar disappointment this winter. M
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