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50th anniversary reunion reprise logs decades of booming Beachcombers influence

Stars from the watershed Beachcombers TV series assembled in Gibsons on Sept. 15 and 16 to celebrate historic legacies of the long-running program. 

Stars from the watershed Beachcombers TV series assembled in Gibsons on Sept. 15 and 16 to celebrate historic legacies of the long-running program. 

The event was a scaled-up reprise of a gathering held last fall to mark the 50th anniversary of the first episode’s airing.

Following its 1972 premiere, the show continued for a record-breaking 19 years on CBC Television, ultimately producing 387 episodes of the comedy-drama filmed at Sunshine Coast locations while sparking B.C.’s nascent movie production industry.

The event also attracted more than 130 fans and former crew members who attended receptions at the Gibsons Public Market and the Molly’s Reach café. The waterfront eatery gained international renown as the homely hangout of log salvagers Nick Adonidas and Jesse Jim, played by Bruno Gerussi and Pat John respectively.

During a three-hour gathering at the Christian Life Assembly Church in Gibsons, reunion organizers screened original episodes and invited recollections from series contributors. Jackson Davies, who joined the cast as RCMP Constable (later Sergeant) John Constable in 1973, served as master of ceremonies. 

Davies highlighted the Indigenous heritage of more than a dozen Beachcombers actors, including Pat John of the shíshálh Nation and Charlene Alek, who is now an elected councillor of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. The inclusion of Indigenous characters and themes was groundbreaking at the time, explained Davies.

“We showed a Canada where Nick [a Greek-Canadian] and Jesse were partners, were equals,” said Davies. “We were showing the Canada that we hoped for, the Canada that we were unfortunately were not.”

Other cast members in attendance included Bob Park, who played Hugh Carmody, and Nancy Chapple, who portrayed his sister Margaret. Cory Douglas and Charlene Aleck depicted the stepson and sister to Pat John’s Jesse Jim. Terry Kelly appeared as police officer Connie Constable and Stefan Winfield spent three seasons as spirited tyke Gus Calhoun.

Erstwhile producer Hugh Beard recollected the challenge of filming in unpredictable marine environments. 

Longtime crew member (and Sunshine Coast resident) John Smith received applause for solving behind-the-scenes problems. “John was not only our boat wrangler and stunt performer,” recollected Davies, “he was there from before Day One.” Smith parlayed his experience into a film and TV production career as Vancouver’s movie industry burgeoned.

Many reunion attendees originally appeared as extras or occupied production roles. Jean Sorensen wrote the 1973 episode “No One’s Shepherd” before becoming editor at BC Business magazine. Sorensen travelled to Gibsons to meet Bob Park, who was featured in the episode she penned. 

Maggie Guzzi recollected working as Bruno Gerussi’s housekeeper at his Gibsons residence (with sometimes dire results) and later playing bit parts in the show. “I have great memories,” she said. “It was so much fun.”

“When tourists would come in the summer, reality and show would overlap,” recalled retired RCMP officer Ed Hill. Hill supervised the real-life Gibsons detachment from 1987 to 1993. He praised the show’s creators for their dedication to detail, which included replicating contemporary RCMP paperwork. Hill himself appeared onscreen wearing his red serge uniform as part of an honour guard during a 1990 episode filmed in St. Aiden’s church in Roberts Creek.

shíshálh Elder Jamie Dixon, whose ancestral name is Mus’swya, remembered transporting Beachcombers cast members as a commercial bus driver in the 1970s. Mus’swya, who is also an artist, leased his hand-carved talking stick for use by actor Chief Dan George in five separate episodes. Later he was commissioned to carve a replica artifact for onscreen use. “It’s beautiful,” the art director told him, “but it’s six inches too long.” 

The two negotiated a price for the modification. The art director asked how long it would take. “Not much time at all,” replied Mus’swya, snapping the piece over his knee and handing it back.

Robynn Bunch, a Vancouver-area transit driver, attended the reunion to solve a mystery. Two years ago Bunch bought an artwork at a thrift store only to find it had been painted by Robert Clothier. Clothier was the noted Canadian artist who portrayed Relic, the feisty foil of Beachcombers. Bunch realized the painting was a preparatory study for one of Clothier’s later sculptures which appeared in a documentary about his work. She is trying to identify the sculpture’s location in Vancouver in order to reunite the two pieces.

Davies described his attempts to convince CBC to release more episodes of the series. For the reunion, he obtained permission to screen a handful of clips, including the unaired Beachcombers pilot episode titled “Jessie’s Car.”

In it, Jesse Jim chats with Nick Adonidas about a motor trip he wants to take across Canada. “Why?” asks Gerussi, as Adondias.

Pat John, who died last year on his shíshálh swiya (homeland), lifts his face to the sun and flashes what would become Jesse Jim’s trademark grin. “To see the land we once had,” he replies.

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