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The Screaming Heads of Burk’s Falls: An Ontario Roadside Attraction Like No Other

The Screaming Heads of Burk’s Falls (or Screaming Heads of Midlothian, as they’re also called) are the life’s work of Canadian artist Peter Camani, and they’re like nothing else you’ll see in this province. UO Contributor Liisa Ladouceur shares everything you need to know to have your own memorable visit there!

Screaming Heads in Burk's Falls, Ontario
Liisa amongst the utterly unique “Screaming Heads.” Photo Credit: Karen Wallington

There’s something strange and unusual on the backroads near Burk’s Falls, Ontario. Giant concrete heads reminiscent of The Scream popping out of a farmer’s field — a little bit creepy, but also full of mystery and intrigue. They’re known as the Screaming Heads of Midlothian. And if you like unique artwork and roadside attractions, they are well worth a detour on a trip through Central Ontario.

For many years, the Screaming Heads were a word-of-mouth, off-the-beaten-path attraction. Like, “sure you know the Big Apple but…. have you seen the ….Screaming Heads?”

Today, the sculpture garden often draws crowds looking for unique activities to do in Ontario, or who simply want to visit unique places in this province.  A pay-what-you-can outdoor attraction that’s family-friendly, the Screaming Heads of Burk’s Falls is one of the most interesting and low-budget things you to do if you’re in that area during spring, summer or fall. 

What Are the Screaming Heads and How Did They Get There?

Screaming Heads in Burk's Falls Panorama
A panorama of the Screaming Heads. Photo Credit: Karen Wallington

Burk’s Falls, Ontario is a village of just under 1000 inhabitants, located 240km north of Toronto and 375km west of Ottawa, in the heart of cottage country and not far from the famous Algonquin Park.

Canadian artist and retired high school art teacher Peter Camani created the concrete sculptures on his property near Burk’s Falls starting in the early 1980s. According to an artist statement, they are inspired in part by the concept of duality, as found in teachings from Druids to Taoists. When the sun rises in the East, it lights up one side of the sculpture so you have a light side and a dark side; as the day progresses the differences blend then gradually reverse.

There are now more than 100 sculptures, each approximately 20 feet tall and weighing as much as 30 tons! In addition, there are a variety of other sculptures on various pathways to explore. The art is on Camani’s private property, but visitors are welcome to explore. 

How Do You Find the Screaming Heads?

The Screaming Heads are at 981 Midlothian Road about 10km outside of Burk’s Falls. There are no big signs on the highway, but it can be located on most GPS and maps. You can also try asking a local, like staff at the Burk’s Falls Welcome Centre. We found on our trip to this area that asking a local was often the best way to get information in general, so don’t be shy.

Approaching the property, the first thing you might see is a castle, complete with dragon sculpture. That’s Camani’s home. We inadvertently parked there, thinking it was the entrance, and were directed instead a few hundred metres onwards, to the public parking lot. There’s quite a lot of tree foliage, but when you’re close, you’ll see the sign, and the entrance. And the heads!

The tall size of the heads is the first thing to impress. But as you wander the property, coming upon more and different heads, it’s the sheer number that sticks with you. On my first visit, I was with my friends’ seven-year-old son, and he thought they were pretty cool. Me, too.

Depending on how much you like to walk, you can either just visit the main cluster of Screaming Heads, relatively close to the parking area, or explore further. On our meandering, we came upon a series of tall standing stones, which turned out to be gravestones, presumably for Camani’s friends and community. There are other pieces too. But it’s best to leave an element of surprise to your visit, so I won’t spoil it here. I heard there were some giant horses. We didn’t see those. But maybe you will!

Things to Know Before You Go

The Screaming Heads of Midlothian are not run like a typical tourist attraction. They are Camani’s life work, which he has opened to the public, with the help of volunteers.

Visitors are welcome to park, walk around the property, take pictures and enjoy the atmosphere and art. There’s an outdoor gift shop with fun merchandise run by volunteers which may be open during your visit. On the Saturday we went, there was even a small farmer’s market.  They have portable washrooms, but don’t expect full-service facilities. And pack out any garbage. 

It’s also important to know before you go that there are no set hours. The parking lot is generally open every day (except in snowy winter times) from dawn to dusk, but if for whatever reason you find it closed, consider it private property and do not trespass. You can still see some Screaming Heads from the road in any case. Note that each year in mid-September, the grounds close to the public for a private music and arts festival. And although the artworks have a spooky allure, they don’t do Halloween “haunted” events.  

 You can try this Facebook group for enquires, just keep in mind you may have to set off to the area without having all the answers. 

So bring your own water, and a sense of adventure. And if you feel the magical vibes after visiting Peter Camani’s Screaming Heads, drop a tip in the pay-what-you-can box in the parking lot on the way out. 

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