The Undead Are Coming!

All photos by Andre Gagne.

With broken, battered bodies they walk the streets. Their hungry moans can be heard for blocks. Many are calling out for “brains” but most would probably settle for a pumpkin spice latte. They are the undead –or at least a reasonable facsimile of the undead– and they are headed to Parliament Hill today!

Ottawa is set for its annual zombie invasion in a few hours when the Ottawa Zombie Walk ghouls and ghastlies take to the streets to lurch their way from City Hall to the Hill. The event began back in 2008 when a small group of Ottawa University students thought October in the capital needed more zombies and organized the first walk from Beechwood Cemetery, through the market and the downtown core. The hoard did not show up that year, explains event organizer Tracey Craig. Only 25 of the undead appeared which, you know, would still be pretty horrific under usual circumstance. Eight years later and the event now sees thousands take part –some missing parts.

“With the popularity of zombie movies and TV shows, it excites people to be able to dress up like their favorite zombified character for a day,” Craig tells Ottawa Life.  “Being the original Zombie event in Ottawa, this has become a huge friends and family affair.”



Craig touches upon the uprising of zombie culture over the last ten years in various forms of media. Where only a few films, for example, featuring the undead were released in the ‘70’s, ‘80’s and ‘90’s, since 2001 hundreds of films have invaded the cinemas with gnashing teeth only looking to accumulate more films into the hoard. Though undead cinema has been dying out of recent –only five films have been released this year featuring zombies– one cannot discount the popularity of the genre with a show like The Walking Dead now entering its seventh season and the multitude of zombie walks like Ottawa’s appearing all over the globe.

dd5ecb_b856902542d1464eae46c81d4cb06527“The creativity that people get to put into their zombie characters, the make-up that they are able to use and the props they create” all factor into the enjoyment people get in becoming a zombie for an afternoon. “It gives people a reason to gore-up other than Halloween.  People get to have some fun.”

But it hasn’t always been fun for the macabre masses. In 2011 a zombie hoard estimated at 1,000 in number accidentally crossed paths with an RCMP funeral. The event, which had been more of an underground gathering before, had now alerted city officials. The 2012 event was the first to become officially registered which increased awareness to others. Organizers thinking that maybe less would turn out were mistaken as the event doubled in participants that year and 2013 more than tripled in attendees.

dd5ecb_7cf8b9649f6a498498fa5eca69b38adb“Due to the overwhelming success and size of the 2013 Ottawa Zombie Walk we could no longer keep the participants to the sidewalks. With numbers reaching close to 3,500 the walk was now a full on parade!” says Craig. “This meant that a new route and starting point were needed. This began the walk as we know it today.”

The following year, however, despite the rise in popularity, organizers faced the one thing that could stop their zombie invasion. More than bullets, chainsaws, swords or flames, nothing kills a walk of the undead deader than lack of funding. With now a need for the event to be funded –things like paying for permit fees, event insurance and police presence added up to one hefty bill–, organizers turned to sponsorship. In 2014 one of those sponsors were unable to commit and the result was a gory hurdle for organizers to leap over.

“The walk became so big that the city needed to block off sections of the road and provide police services to ensure the participants were able to enjoy the event in a safe manner. Ottawa traffic can be hazardous on a good day; not to mention adding thousands of zombies onto the streets!” says Craig, adding that they turned to crowdsourcing to help foot the costs of staging the event.

This year, organizers will be registering everybody at the walk which, they say, will possibly give them the opportunity to receive Government funding for the 2017 event. Activities before this year’s walk include various games like zombie tic-tac-toe as well as a zombie-up version of the popular Pokémon Go ap.

dd5ecb_b6316968864b44bc9009bceafe84c071Over the years, people have become pretty creative with their attire. There was the time the cast of The Wizard of Oz showed up having devoured the Wicked Witch instead of simply just melting her or the time, during an election year, a zombie showed up at City Hall impaled by a Vote For Jim Watson sign. Some of the undead even find love at this event as, last year, a zombie bride to be was proposed to in front of the hoard on the Hill.

As for what makes up a great zombie outfit, Craig says you really need to invest in your make-up.

“It really comes down to the character that the person creates with costumes being altered, broken down, gored up and the originality behind it.  To finish it off, it comes down to the overall look and how they portray their character. When you think about it anyone can become a zombie once the apocalypse happens.”

The undead continue their march for a good cause. This year organizers continue to host activities like raffles, silent auctions, hearse photo-ops as well as selling t-shirts and having make-up artists on site in an effort to raise money for the Ottawa Food Bank.

As for the future, organizers hope to add music, celebrities and food trucks to the event to make the walk a real tourist attraction with zombies welcoming all to Ottawa with open arms. Well, at least those who have arms to welcome with.