By Melissa Villeneuve
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Signs reading “We Love Haunted Mansion,” “Why are we still protesting this crap?” and “Small Town, Big Hypocrisy” gathered honks of support from drivers as they passed the Village of Stirling Office last Thursday.
It was an altogether peaceful protest in support of the Stirling Haunted Mansion, which was issued a “stop order” by village administration on Jan. 26, giving them “30 days to cease basically all business, except for the mini railway.”
On the same day, owners Richard and Glory Reimer launched a petition asking administration to revoke the stop order and issue an apology. It received over 1,500 signatures online before it and the local signatures were presented to Council.
The protest, organized by friends and supporters through Facebook, attracted dozens of participants throughout the day, as well as the support of several local businesses.
They even broke into song with the Twisted Sister hit, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
Located right across from the Stirling School yard, children can be heard chanting “Stay open, Stay open” in a video posted to the Haunted Mansion Facebook page.
On Feb. 8, Glory and Richard Reimer wrote an appeal rejecting the stop order as it is “an infringement on our human rights.” If the stop order is not retracted, they will begin legal proceedings and seek damages for past and future revenues, undue duress and slander.
“We have poured our hearts into promoting this village,” the letter reads. “Fifteen years of labour, time, and money creating a beloved attraction.”
Village administration released a statement dated Feb. 9 explaining the issuance of the stop order “pertains to a long-standing issue associated with non-residential uses on the property.”
Administrators say a development permit for home-based businesses was made a requirement in 2012.
The Reimers say they have been issued business licences before without the need for the development permit. They claim the Haunted Mansion and its activities should be subject to a “grandfather clause.”
“We are entitled to remain open according to the Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation, which refers to being led to believe that we have the right to do business through issuance of licences, advertising and 15 years running,” it reads on the petition website.
Reimer alleges, “due to the lack of adequate record keeping of licences on the part of the Village administration, the stop order document is not only null and void but persistent harassment.
The village has promoted the Stirling Haunted Mansion as an attraction in tourism booklets and on their website. One Tourism Alberta booklet states “Built in 1919, the old mansion is the biggest haunted house in southern Alberta.”
The Haunted Mansion is a popular float that has won many parade awards including the Lethbridge Whoop-Up Parade, Medicine Hat Stampede, and Calgary Stampede.
An Oct. 2014 Sun News article proclaims it as the number seven “Top Haunted House in North America,” and they attract tourists from around the world, said Glory.
Bonnie Soltys has been a resident of Stirling for 35 years. She came out to support the protest because she believes the increased tourism helps her own business, the Treasure Barn, and Stirling’s economy as a whole.
“We have very little business base,” said Soltys. “Also I think that after almost 15 years of operation, to have this sudden big, dramatic blowup between two disgruntled people is ridiculous. I firmly believe a mediator should be brought in between all of the parties involved to help them calmly make some concessions, so both parties can be satisfied without going into legal drama. It just should never have happened.”
Vicki Holmes, a student from Raymond, has worked part-time at the Mansion for six years.
“It’s a big part of my life. By them taking it down they are taking all of us down. We’ve become a huge family.”
Resident of 13 years, David Miller, volunteers at the Mansion, and believes the Village should pay attention to its constituents.
“The town is not right. We live in a democratic society. If you send a letter out to all the neighbours and one or two say no, that’s not how a democratic society works. It’s majority rules.”
Glory said she’s grateful for the outpouring of support from both businesses and the community.
“I think we’re making a point. That’s what matters. It’s great for the community to see there are lots of people who support us from all over Alberta. I think when 99 out of 100 people say we’re in the right, then council better step up and listen.”
She said if council overlooks the petition and the protest, they are prepared to file a lawsuit.
“It’s horribly stressful on us as a community. It’s horribly stressful on us as a family, and all our tourists and fans that love us. It’s a crime, it’s a shame and it’s just not right.”
Representatives at the Village of Stirling Office refused to comment regarding the protest, instead referring media to the letter dated Feb. 9 on its website http://www.stirling.ca.
The petition supporting the Reimers was submitted to administration and local MLA’s on Feb. 9. The online petition contained nearly 1600 names and 250 local names were collected on a seperate, second document.
Anticipating a long legal battle, the Haunted Mansion is collecting donations at http://www.gofundme.com/mh8oio to help cover legal fees.