As another Christmas movie shoot transforms Gibsons, four actors visited Gibsons Landing to mark the anniversary of a very different shoot – the debut of iconic The Beachcombers series.
It’s been 50 years since the hit CBC show started filming in September 1971, but it has continued to put Gibsons on the map, as people in more than 50 countries tune in during her 18 years. The show also kicked off local film production and gave several young stars their first experiences in the world of acting.
On Thursday, September 16, Pat John, Bob Park and Nancy Chapple reunited for the first time since the end of the first season. Jackson Davies, who joined the show as Constable John Constable in recent years, also marked the occasion with the trio.
Park, who played Hughie Carmody, said the experience was like being “a deer in the headlights … Over weeks and months it would become like a second home – a second family”.
For Chapple, the visit was the first time she had returned to Gibsons since filming the series as a young girl.
Chapple was 10 when she made her acting debut as the original Margaret Carmody, granddaughter of Molly (played by Rae Brown) and sister of Hughie, in the first season of The Beachcombers.
She appeared in the first season – 27 of the series’ 387 episodes – until she got older and her family moved to Montreal for her father’s radio job with CBC. (The role was then played by Juliet Randall.)
“My bragging rights are that I can always say I was the first, the original, and still have such amazing memories,” said Chapple, who now lives in Ontario. “The three of us were part of the very first season and it’s so special to me. It’s really special for me to see these guys after all these years.
While Park, who now lives in Qualicum Beach, and John last saw each other eight or ten years ago, neither had seen Chapple since 1972.
“I had a real tear in my eye when I got to see my sister,” Park said of his onscreen brother.
Pat John, who played Jesse Jim for the series, still lives on the Sunshine Coast. He was only 18 when he was chosen.
“What did I get involved in?” John remembered thinking at the time. He was told he could have the job for two and a half months. “And then 19 years passed.”
While the show focused on the antics of titular characters in the log piracy Nick and Relic, Molly’s Reach was home to a family whose tastes were new to viewers.
Davies describes the premise of the show as “that kind of wacky, wonderful … diverse family.” You have a single grandmother who is raising two grandchildren, a native child, and this Greek immigrant who all live in one place.
The topic, he added, “was really ahead of its time” with stories about native land claims, ecology, salmon conservation and logging.
The Beachcombers also featured special guests like Chef Dan George, George Clutesi and David Suzuki.
Chappel said she didn’t think anyone had any idea of the impact the show would have. They remembered lead actor Bruno Gerussi, who played Nick Adonidas, “staring at the moon” when he was quoted in a newspaper considering five seasons.
“Having a job for 19 years is still unheard of in film today, and certainly in Canada,” Davies said.
In its heyday, The Beachcombers was battling Hockey Night in viewership in Canada, at one point surpassing sports broadcasting with 3.4 million viewers.
It became the second longest scripted television series in Canadian television history, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, surpassed only by Degrassi. It is credited by some for opening the door to other Canadian shows focusing on small towns, such as Corner Gas and Schitt’s Creek.
As they retraced their steps to Molly’s Reach, the cast said they had been treated very well by the staff and sat in the booth closest to where the living room would have been on set – although they did not realize that the establishment was closed at the time. . They took photos outside with fans visiting the iconic former filming location, where many of the show’s shenanigans took place. They marveled at what has changed over the years and, of course, what has remained the same.
October 1, 2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of the airing of the first episode of The Beachcombers. While Vancouver-born actor Ryan Reynolds has publicly encouraged the CBC to rerun the show in recent years, episodes remain hard to find. Three episodes can be viewed at the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives exhibit in Gibsons.
“We’re kind of hoping the CBC will do something to help celebrate the 50th next year,” Davies said.
For now, fans will need to stay tuned.