Rural escape house offers visitors history and mystery

The Alta. business is set in an old home and incorporates the area’s early agricultural, military and coal mining history in its theme rooms

NAMAO, Alta. — When is a clock not just a clock? Or a lamp not just a lamp? These are clues to cracking the code and resolving the riddle when working against a timeline to be set free in Locked.

The escape house, set in an old home in this central Alberta hamlet, incorporates the early agricultural, military and coal mining history of the area.

“Every day people share their stories of days gone by,” says Amanda Dubé, a local businessperson, who also runs Maristins Market in Johnny’s Store, next door to Locked.

“It was clear I wanted to honour the history of the area.”

Dubé, along with her Locked business partners Carl Rivest-Marier and Donna Goeckel, opened the escape house in early February.

“It’s been super busy,” says Dubé, “with families, groups, and corporate events. We’ve had lots of back-to-back bookings.”

The trio spent months on restoration and design but say it wasn’t all hard work.

“There was a fun part,” says Dubé. “Sourcing props through antique stores, buy-and-sell sites, and garage sales.”

Her most memorable buy was a telescopic cigarette holder.

“I waited three or four years to find this. I was literally jumping up and down when I found it.”

There were also a lot of donations.

Rivest-Marier says they expected to be picking up a mechanical piano in a few days.

The Locked facility has five theme rooms: Love and War, Farmhouse, Schoolhouse, ’50s Diner and Cardiff Saloon, which is expected to open this summer.

“Cardiff Saloon is going to be the story of the Cardiff Mines,” says Dubé. “The clues will be based on the coal mine. It will be the biggest room.”

Dubé wrote the storylines and says they’re a mixture of fiction and area history.

“They’re living, like a book. We’ll add the next chapter of the story in every room every six months.”

The object of the game is for players to solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints and strategies. Each mystery takes about an hour to solve, other than Love and War, which can take up to an extra hour because of the detailed storyline. That room, however, is an open room, meaning the players are not locked in.

“And there’s no scare factor,” says Dubé. “I don’t do scary.”

A unique aspect to Locked is that many of the props are for sale. So, with a changing storyline and varying props, people can experience Locked again and again.

“But the props are extra pieces,” says Dubé. “They won’t affect the storyline”.

The Locked house is estimated to be about 80 years old.

“I found newspapers dated from 1935 insulating the attic,” says Rivest-Marier.

They do know that the house was moved in and was not built on the site where it now sits.

Property owner John McNeilly, 62, said it was the early 1960s when his parents bought the house. He said it came from the University of Alberta area in Edmonton. Once moved, it replaced an old farmhouse that was torn down.

The time period sticks in his mind.

“We lived in a granary for six to eight weeks that summer waiting for the house to come,” he says. “I remember because I had the mumps and I couldn’t go out. I had to stay inside the granary.”

Dubé, Rivest-Marier and Goeckel are excited about their new venture.

“People have been really receptive. It’s great to have some local entertainment that incorporates the history of the area,” says Dubé.

The escape room trend began in Japan in 2007 and was inspired by computer games that required players to escape a seemingly empty room. Things have come a long way from the single room online environment from which escape rooms were born. Today, it is a worldwide trend and some can be more like small-scale theatrical productions.

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