Gary Moran: Putting the entertainment into agriculture

Gary and his team are busily preparing for the 12th annual Yard & Garden Show which is taking place at Chilliwack Heritage Park March 28-30.

Fantasy Farms owners Lisa and Gary Moran.

Fantasy Farms owners Lisa and Gary Moran.

Gary Moran is both a dreamer and a visionary. His greatest wish has always been to build an Agritainment Park and if creative genius, hard-work and determination are the ingredients to bring this dream to fruition, then there is no question that it will come true.

Gary is a New Westminster boy who spent many years making his living off the water. He began working for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans right out of high school, patrolling the shores between Vancouver and Alaska. He also took to the high seas as a commercial fisherman for a time.

After his first son was born, the time away from home became unbearable so he decided to take a job on the river, to be closer to his young family. He began working for the federal government’s public works department as a tugboat captain. “I worked dredging the river. We’d stir up the bottom of the river then the sand was suctioned up and placed on dry land for construction purposes,” he explained. Gary had always dreamed of working as a tugboat captain. His desire was deep-rooted and inexplicable; it seemed to have always been there. “My mom was terrified when I told her what I wanted to do,” he smiled. You see, his father had once been a tugboat captain himself and had died on the job when Gary was just a year old. The federal government eventually privatized the work and Gary moved on. “I tried going back to commercial fishing. I went on two, 10-day trips and kept a journal through the entire time. I was so homesick and missed Lisa and the boys so badly that I knew I could never do that job again,” he said.

Losing his father and never getting to know him left a huge void in Gary’s life. “I always chose my careers with the freedom to be able to be with my boys. I never missed one of their sports days and I’ve always tried to be there for them. I did it for them as much as I did it for myself. It was just something that I needed to do,” he said frankly.

Gary comes by his determination, creativity and persistence honestly. After his dad died, his mom was left alone to care for her four toddlers, including a baby born just six weeks after her husband’s death. “My mom was an amazingly strong woman. She was never afraid to try new things and just did whatever it took to raise us children. It couldn’t have been easy but she did it. She was also very creative and artistic and I think that I ended up inheriting a lot from her,” he chuckled.

In 1989, the Moran family moved to Chilliwack and bought a house on Fairfield Island. “We had friends that lived here and we had fallen in love with the valley.” Three years later, his mother and step-father suggested that they move onto the same property and so the hunt was on for a two- to five-acre plot of land with a small greenhouse and enough room for two homes. “After looking at three different properties, we settled on a farm on Gibson Road. We moved in on Halloween night,” he smiled.

The year after buying the property, Gary’s creative juices started to flow. He organized a Pumpkin Festival that was well received at the time. He followed that up with Santa’s Ice Castle. Two years later, he decided to concentrate on Halloween and transformed the Pumpkin Festival into Reaper’s Haunted Attraction. Over the years, the event has grown and evolved and is now attracting approximately 15,000 visitors. “Our visitors come from all over. They come from Western Canada as well as the US. Several years ago, we were pleased to welcome a family from Ohio and they come back every year. The funny thing is that when they were crossing the border at Sumas and the border guard asked them where they were going and they told him they were coming to Chilliwack to check out the haunted house, he ended up telling them that it was Reaper’s Haunted Attraction. They were absolutely amazed that he would know that,” he enthused.

To encourage daytime attendance, the Moran family launched Petey’s Pumpkin Patch and it has become almost as popular as Reapers. Many of Chilliwack’s schools take part in the event as it offers a popular education component. Petey’s Country Christmas has also been added and it too is becoming a favourite destination during the Christmas holidays. “We built three state-of-the-art Harnois greenhouses with new facades, upgraded the old Rotary train and refurbished a 40-year-old hay wagon to add to the entertainment value. This coming year will mark the 20th year for Reapers and this will be a whole new chapter in the attraction’s history. We will be revamping it this year and it will be new and absolutely amazing,” he enthused.

For now though, Halloween will just have to wait. Gary and his team are busily preparing for the 12th annual Yard & Garden Show which is taking place at Chilliwack Heritage Park March 28th, 29th and 30th.

“There will also be a leisure and recreation component to the show as well as the third annual Big Red Barn Burner Barbecue Competition which has become a popular attraction. Our son, James, has launched Guerilla Q which is a revolutionary, southern style BBQ food cart. He’ll be competing and vending at the show,” he said proudly.