Travelers are looking for a little more ‘action!’ in places where TV shows and movies have filmed.
Anyone old enough to remember Relic and the Beachcombers may well be accused themselves of being relics, but the thrill of seeing a slice of cinematic or television history in the flesh never grows old.
I never did spy Relic, the motley log salvager so ably portrayed by Robert Clothier in the CBC-TV comic-drama, but I’ll never forget my teenage excitement at seeing for the first time Molly’s Reach, where he and Nick (Bruno Gerussi) would hang out between boat chases up and down the B.C. shoreline.
Molly’s café still stands stalwartly guarding the Gibson’s waterfront, on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, serving hearty meals and boomer memories. Fans of the program, which ran from 1972 to 1990, are thinner on the ground, but the tourist bureau continues to give it a plug — albeit with the proviso that most of today’s visitors come for the town’s “chilled-out blend of water and land activities”
Today this kind of tourism has a name — “set-jetting” — with Toronto and Vancouver sparring over the right to claim the title of Canada’s “Hollywood North.”
Long after the Beachcombers rounded up their last stray log, the West Coast earned new fame as the gloomy backdrop for sci-fi favourite the X-Files. Actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson made much of Vancouver’s melancholy evergreens and unrelenting downpours, throwing in the occasional potted palm when they wanted to pretend it was Bel Air rather than Burnaby.
Over the Rockies, Alberta’s rustling grasslands and Badlands were passed off as the American prairies in Clint Eastwood’s acclaimed 1992 western, Unforgiven, which used a wild-west mock-up in the village of Longview as the setting for Big Whiskey, Wyoming. Closer to home, and playing itself for a change, the Wild Rose province was also the setting for Heartland, a drama charting the ups and downs of a Canadian ranching family and set in High River south of Calgary, whose visitors bureau links to a self-guided “Home of Heartland” tour.
Neighbouring Saskatchewan will forever be linked with the beloved sitcom Corner Gas, inspired by series creator Brent Butt’s experiences growing up in a small town in the grain-growing province. The set for the series, located in Rouleau, 65 kilometres southwest of Regina, was torn down in 2016 because it was structurally unsafe, but visitors can take a one-hour self-guided walking tour that includes the original site of the gas station, Oscar and Emma’s house, the grain elevator and the Dog River Hotel.
“I think the solution we’ve come up with is really wonderful,” Virginia Thompson, the executive producer of Corner Gas, told Global News at the time. “And I think there will be more for fans to do with the Corner Gas walking tour then coming to the station, which was falling into disrepair and wasn’t safe.”
Further east, Winnipeg has been quietly building a reputation for movie and streaming productions, with its Exchange District — once known as the Chicago of the North — proving a worthy stand-in for 19th-century American cities. Notable credits include The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, starring Brad Pitt, and Capote, featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman. The tourism office maintains an online guide to what’s been shot in and around the city.
Enough chirping. Grab a Puppers beer and head for Sudbury, where the hicks and skids of Letterkenny mangle the English language with a hat-tip to all things hoser and hockey. The cult Canadian sit-com is filmed in the northern Ontario nickel-belt capital and is loosely based on creator Jared Keeso’s hometown of Listowel. Devoted fans have turned the Sudbury farm that doubles as the Letterkenny home base into something of a temple.
“The farm that we shoot at, they’ll get the occasional knock on the door,” Keeso told the Hamilton Spectator. “Just from complete strangers who want to see the place and walk around the property.”
Talking of hot properties, no Canadian set-jetter can ignore the biggest kid on the backlot: Schitt’s Creek. Fresh off its sweep of the Emmys, the homegrown comedy series is sure to attract more starry-eyed tourists to the Rosebud Motel, where the fictional Rose family goes from riches to rags. The real-life motel, in Hockley Valley north of Toronto, is up for sale but that shouldn’t alter its appeal as both a filming location — it has been listed since 2011 — and as a place of pilgrimage.
It’s no laughing matter for aficionados of the period drama Murdoch Mysteries, who can get their fill of rudimentary crime detection — and a little steampunk whimsy — at several locations in southern Ontario, notably in Hamilton. With imposing piles like the Scottish Rite Masonic hall, English-style row houses and grandiose Victorian pumping stations, the steelmaking city is much loved by directors tasked with bringing author Maureen Jennings’ concept to life.
Another crime drama, Republic of Doyle, which aired from 2010 to 2014, made stars of Allan Hawco and the city of St. John’s. Featuring Hawco as a retired cop-turned-private detective, the CBC production deployed the Newfoundland capital’s hilly streets and historic bars to full advantage. Key locations include the Duke of Duckworth tavern, the fishing village of Quidi Vidi and the candy-coloured homes of Gower Street.
Always leave ’em laughing, so let’s yell ‘Cut!’ at Sunnyvale, the dysfunctional digs of the Trailer Park Boys. Filmed in several locations in the greater Halifax region and Truro, the Canadian mockumentary follows the misadventures of Ricky, Julian and Bubbles, with several caravan parks in the Nova Scotia capital filling in for Sunnyvale until a dedicated set was erected in Dartmouth. Pour a rum-and-coke and savour the East Coast vibe. As Ricky, the king of malapropisms, might say: “Two birds get stoned at once.”
— Andre Ramshaw
IF YOU GO:
- sunshinecoastcanada.com (Gibson’s, B.C.)
- visitcalgary.com (Heartland tour)
- moviemaps.org (for filming locations)
- imdb.com (move and TV database)