Tim McLeod knows the former Tranquille sanatorium has always piqued the interest of locals.
“So many young kids have broken into the tunnels — everybody that’s local. It’s like a right of passage, but now they come on our terms,” said McLeod, who owns Tranquille Farm Fresh with his wife Anette.
“We began thinking about this whole notion of people wanting to go exploring in this space,” McLeod said.
Building on that interest, the McLeods have found a new way of telling the long history of the ghost town at the northwest corner of Kamloops.
Come Thursday, Sept. 6, the property’s first-ever escape room — a physical adventure game in which players trapped in a room together solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues to escape — will be up and running until Nov. 3.
With a grin on his face, McLeod happily walked through the aging laundry building where the game takes place and shared details on each room’s puzzles and the secrets behind how various mechanisms will work.
“The whole idea is to freak people out,” he said.
For the past seven years the Mcleods have held interactive theatre productions and heritage tours on the property, telling stories from Tranquille’s 150-year past, which includes years as a farm and institution for the mentally ill.
“Every year, we pick something that is from our history,” Anette said.
Through the new escape room experience, the McLeods will utilize more recent history of the property as a failed resort community.
Dubbed Escape from Padova, the escape room tells the real-life story of an Italian immigrant who bought the property in the 1990s intent on developing it in the likeness of the northern Italian city of Padova.
McLeod said they chose Padova to attract millennials who refer to the place by that name.
The rest of the story blends in elements of fiction in the vein of The Da Vinci Code.
Participants will find themselves locked behind an entrance to the tunnels built under the deserted facility with little light and strange symbols and machinery that will fill the chambers beyond.
The rooms will be dressed up as the laundry facility they once existed as, McLeod said.
He’s encouraging people to wear their best attire from the 1990s, which is the time the story is set.
Escape From Padova is also billed as Canada’s only tunnel-escape room setup and will incorporate eight spaces in the former laundry building of the property.
The project was created with a few silent partners who design these types of games, McLeod said.
Groups of no fewer than 20 will need to solve the puzzles in one hour to gain access to a tunnel leading to freedom from Padova. Losers will have their picture on the wall of shame.
Typical escape rooms host four to six people, McLeod said.
“Escape rooms are something that people are really enjoying and we looked at combining the escape room with the theatre or the story being told in more than one way,” Anette said.
Actors from Chimera Theatre will help guide escape room participants and host this year’s tunnel theatre production Padova: The Untold Story, which also focuses on the history of Padova City in the old cafeteria.
While the tunnel-theatre show won’t be required viewing before taking on the escape room, it will provide some helpful background for those looking to beat the clock.
The escape room was slated to open Aug. 31, but the creators want to conduct a few more trial runs to ensure the game isn’t too easy or difficult.
The game will be operational three days a week with three shows per night. Tickets have already been selling out and McLeod said there have been many businesses who want to book the escape room for staff training.
“I think it’s going to be a fun and unusual story,” Anette said.
While Tranquille Farm Fresh continues to find ways to tell the history of Tranquille in the short-term, the long-term goal is to generate interest and have people build houses on the picturesque piece of land.
The property is owned by Tranquille Ltd. Partnership, for which McLeod is the development manager. He said they are continuing to look for partners to invest in the property.