Movie backlot in rural Pickering to host Halloween event to recoup losses from Hollywood strike

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Published September 7, 2023 at 2:46 pm

Alan Ritchson on the set of Reacher at the William F. White Backlot in rural Pickering

The 23-acre William F. White Backlot in north Pickering, the backdrop for countless Hollywood productions over the past two-plus years, will be repurposed next month as a Halloween-themed attraction to bring scares to the visitors and some much needed cash to the property, which is already a bit of a ghost town because of the ongoing strikes of writers and actors.

Pickering Council gave conditional approval to the plan Tuesday, providing the operators satisfy concerns with traffic and parking and get the okay from Building Services, Municipal Law Enforcement, Fire Services, the City Solicitor, and the Finance
Department.

William F. White International signed a nine-year deal last June (effective October 1) for exclusive rights to the “modern day small town” purposely built on a 90-acre plot of land on Sideline 32 for features, TV series, and commercials. In addition to the 30 stores and shops currently on the property, the town is easily expandable and can be converted to suit productions of all types, from rustic western settings to bustling New York City streets.

It was most recently used to shoot the Reacher television series starring Alan Ritchson but has languished of late because of the strikes by the Writers’ Guild and SAG-AFTRA that has haled movie and television production around North America.

William F. White pays Pickering $30,000 rent per month in the deal and Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe noted the company is looking to recoup some of those losses through other means.

“They’re looking to repurpose the place and make some revenue in a time when their revenue stream has been interrupted because of what’s happening right now in Hollywood.”

The Halloween event, dubbed ‘Haunting of Hexwood,’ will happen all through October, with 2,000 visitors a day coming to the rural property – 40,000 people over the course of the month.

The haunted town attraction, in partnership with Ell’Events, will have specially designed sets, actors, and special effects and will feature haunts, a corn maze, store front displays, a licensed bar area, a pumpkin patch, carnival games, food trucks, and other entertainment vendors.

Councillor David Pickles expressed concerns with the traffic – “40,000 people is a lot of people, and a lot of cars” and wanted assurances from staff that traffic management controls would be in place.

That sentiment was shared by Councillor Maurice Brenner, who worried about the pressures the traffic would have on the sidelines and concession roads in the area.

Council was assured by staff that there will be prohibitions in place to prevent “excessive travel” through the grounds and that fire and building staff are involved in discussions with William F. White to ensure outstanding conditions are met.

Councillor Lisa Robinson cited the $300,000-plus in annual fees paid to the City and said she was happy the company would get a chance to earn some money in the midst of the strike.

The property is located at 3800 Sideline 32, about midway between Highway 7 and the Seventh Concession.

The William F. White International Backlot on Sideline 32 in north Pickering

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