The theme music to The Beachcombers is like an instant nostalgia shot for a few generations of Canadians. It sparks memories of Sunday nights, of television with the family, and of the stories of Relic, Jessie, Constable John, Molly, and of course, Nick. The show became an iconic part of Canadiana, but its impact goes beyond the 387 episodes that aired on CBC from 1972 to 1990.
It literally went on to change Vancouver and the Canadian film industry.
The show debuted on October 1, 1972, and for the next 18 years, was must-watch viewing for Canadians on Sunday nights. The show followed Nick Adonidas, played by Bruno Gerussi, as he tried to earn a living as a log salvager on the coast of British Columbia. Joining him was his logging partner Jesse Jim, played by Pat John, on their boat, The Persephone.
Added to the mix was business competitor Relic, played by Robert Clothier, diner owner Molly, played by Rae Brown, and the hapless Constable John Constable, played by Jackson Davies.
At its height in the late-1980s, it often outperformed Hockey Night in Canada for the most-watched show during the week. At a time when Canada had a population of about 21 million, 3.5 million were watching The Beachcombers.
Each week, viewers tuned in to see what Nick, Relic, and Jesse were up to on the ocean or what might be happening at Molly’s Reach.
It was also ahead of its time for its portrayal of Indigenous people, including how Jesse was a partner in the business with Nick. Long before North of 60, The Beachcombers was bringing the Indigenous people of Canada to viewers.
Its format also inspired Corner Gas in many ways, and at one point, the cast of that show debated who they would be on The Beachcombers.
By the time the show ended, it was broadcast in 50 countries and was the longest-running drama series in Canadian history until Degrassi surpassed it in 2012.
But how did it change the film industry and make Vancouver a hot spot for filming?
For one thing, it was arguably the first Canadian series that did not follow an American model, giving a regional slice of life and depiction of blue-collar work that was rare on television at the time. It also set itself in British Columbia, rather than filming in British Columbia and pretending to be in a different location. The beautiful landscapes on the show were seen by viewers across Canada and the world as a result. Gibsons became known worldwide.
It also helped CBC expand its programming and production to regions outside of Toronto, where most shows were filmed at the time.
In the process, it raised the profile of Vancouver as a shooting location. Vancouver was nearly empty of film and television productions in the early 1970s. By the time The Beachcombers ended, Vancouver and British Columbia would be known as Hollywood North, with shows such as The X-Files being filmed there. Soon after The Beachcombers ended, The Odyssey was filmed in Vancouver. That show helped launch the career of a person named Ryan Reynolds.
Those who worked on the show in its early days were often new to the entire industry. Those same people took what they learned and built up the filming scene in Vancouver for decades afterward. Many of the department heads in Vancouver got their start, or were employed, on The Beachcombers, with some estimates being 1,000 people worked on the set at one point or another and then went on to other careers in the industry.
Then there are those who passed through on their way to acting fame.
These included future X-Files villain William B. Davis in 1986, Don S. Davis, who would go on to appear on Twin Peaks and as General Hammond on Stargate SG-1, appeared in an episode in 1989 and would actually move to Gibsons.
Bruce Harwood, a future Lone Gunman on The X-Files, was in an episode also in 1989, while noted Canadian actor Ian Tracey appeared in 1988. Ryan Stiles appeared in 1985 on an episode before reaching fame in the 1990s on Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Janet Wright, who played Emma on Corner Gas, appeared in an episode in 1987. Bruce Greenwood, another well-known actor who played Capt. Pike in the new Star Trek movies, appeared in two episodes in 1977 and 1978.
Interestingly, there is a rumour that a very young Michael J. Fox appeared in the 1973 episode of The Beachcombers called “Truck Logger,” but in 2012, he wrote the forward for the Beachcombers book Bruno and the Beach, noting, “I must have been the only actor in Vancouver that never appeared in a Beachcombers episode.”
Gibsons would benefit from The Beachcombers as well, even beyond the money that comes in from fans of the show visiting the community. Needful Things was filmed in the community in 1993, The Irresistible Blueberry Farm in 2016, and The Seamstress in 2009.
Its international reputation increased in 2009 when it was declared the “Most Livable Community in the World” by the United Nations.
Who knows where Hollywood North would be now, if not for a show about some guys salvaging rocks and unwinding at the local diner?
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