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photography by darren rigo

A Macabre Castle in Cottage Country

A retired teacher filled a 310-acre property with monoliths that look like screaming heads

July 8, 2024

Up in Burk’s Falls, Ontario, among the quiet country roads and dense greenery of cottage country, sits an enormous, macabre castle surrounded by monoliths that look like screaming heads. 

The 310-acre property belongs to Peter Camani, a retired high school art and science teacher. When he purchased it in 1981 for $70,000, it came with an old four-bedroom house, dating back to 1912. “The bay window was falling off the front, the basement was flooded and the roof had holes in it,” he says. 

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The building required a full makeover: it was small, poorly insulated and outdated. So Camani removed the old lathe and plaster walls and added a bathroom. When it came to adding more usable space, he wanted to avoid the red tape that comes with renovations—so he turned the house into an art project. “At that time, if you were building an artistic piece, you didn’t have to worry too much about the building code,” he explains.

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Camani mail-ordered a few books on working with concrete and, while updating the home’s interior and fixtures, he created concrete structures inspired by druids and Celtic culture. He’d been born north of Southampton, near Stonehenge, and was inspired by the famous megaliths.  

First up were three concrete towers built in 1990 and 1992 at three corners of the house. He created them by himself during his summers off from teaching, sometimes working up to 14 hours a day. “I had an electric mixer and I’d fill the wheelbarrow with cement, wheel it over to the bottom of the tower then use an electric winch to pull it up and pour the cement into the forms that I had made,” says Camani. 

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The towers range in height from 36 to 40 feet, and each has a different theme. One has a dragon on top, which doubles as the chimney for a large fireplace that Camani built below it. “The smoke goes right up and out the dragon’s mouth,” he says. The second tower has “hear no evil” head with hands covering each ear, and the third has a Kilroy—a graffiti meme of a person poking their head above a wall that became popular during the Second World War. “That tower has a bathtub on top of it, so the idea is that he came up through the tower, looked over the wall and saw the bathtub on top,” Camani says. As the new structures went up, he named his home the Midlothian Castle after the street it sits on.

In 1995, musician and TV presenter Wayne Ronstad booked an interview with Camani for the CBC TV show On the Road Again. Camani had five weeks’ notice for the interview, and in that time, he built a concrete monolith about 20 feet away from the home—a “screaming claw” that looked like a shark’s fin with an open mouth and two eyes. He soon decided there ought to be more claws to join the first. Eventually, he’d built more than 100 “screaming” monoliths in the forms of heads and trees. “The idea is that there are threats outside the wall of the house,” he says. Each monolith weighs about 16 tonnes. He creates a form out of wire and plastic, pours the concrete flat then hires a crane operator to lift the structures into place.

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A few years into the project, Camani wanted to place his monoliths in patterns that could be seen from above. He’d recently learned about the Nazca lines, a group of geoglyphs in the Peruvian desert, as well as the Spiral Jetty by sculptor Robert Smithson in Utah’s Great Salt Lake. He was inspired to create something similar. He added ponds to his land, planted trees and carved fields and paths to make his entire property look like a dragon from an aerial view. To create the dragon’s eye and eyebrow, he arranged a set of 25 screaming heads.

Word spread about his unusual project. In 2006, Camani was approached by the organizers of the Harvest Festival, a four-day Burning Man–style music and DJ event. Since then, the annual festival has taken place on the Midlothian Castle grounds. The payment that Camani receives from the Harvest Festival organizers helps him pay his property taxes and buy more cement to keep building. He estimates that each screaming monolith costs him about $1,000 in materials, plus costs to hire the crane operator. “All my money goes into it,” Camani says. 

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Camani retired from teaching in 2008 and now spends all his time maintaining his land and building more structures. Visitors can tour the grounds for free, although he asks them not to enter the home without permission. After a few cars got stuck in his muddy fields, he built a road that snakes through the property. “People have come from all over the world: Poland, Ireland,” says Camani. “I don’t mean to be entertainment. But I’m entertaining myself, doing what I do.”

Camani says he plans to continue creating and building structures as long as he can. When the weather is good, he spends about four hours a day pouring concrete, in addition to mowing the lawn and maintaining the road and trails that wind through his property. While he has no clear succession plans for the Midlothian Castle, he hopes the size and scale of his sculptures will help them stay put long-term. “It’s going to take far, far more effort to remove all these things than it did for me to put them up,” Camani says. He hopes it’ll remain a place for people to marvel at, whether they’re coming from near or far. “There’s nothing like it in the world,” he says.