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Anthology marks Beachcombers's 50th anniversary

Oct. 1, 2022, is the 50th anniversary of the airing of the first episode of 'The Beachcombers.' Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society is celebrating the anniversary with an anthology and an event at the Heritage Playhouse.

Writers and artists will gather to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic Beachcombers television series on Oct. 1, using the occasion to launch a new anthology of works inspired by the TV program’s legacy on the Sunshine Coast.

The event, which will be held at the Gibsons Heritage Playhouse, is the culmination of a literary and art contest launched by the Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society early this year.

Following the July 13 death of Pat John, who played Jesse Jim in the iconic Beachcombers series, the anniversary celebration was amended to include tributes to John’s life and legacy.

Beachcombers followed the adventures of log salvagers Jesse Jim and Nick Adonidas, who was portrayed by Bruno Gerussi. The program’s first episode aired on October 1, 1972. Upon the broadcast of the final show on December 12, 1990, its 19 seasons made Beachcombers one of the longest-running Canadian television drama series of all time.

Beachcombers certainly put Gibsons on the map,” said Cathalynn (Cindy) Labonte-Smith, president of the Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society. “So many people who worked on the show have memories, and many of their memories are captured in the anthology that we produced.”

Contributor Jan DeGrass, who netted Honourable Mention in the contest’s nonfiction category, reminisces in her story “Waltzing With Henrik” about working as an extra during a 1990 episode that was filmed on location in St. Aidan’s church in Roberts Creek. Beachcombers, she writes, was “Canada’s 19-year-old CBC TV series that everyone loves but no one admits to watching.”

Karen Webb, who was awarded the prize for “Best Bruno story,” recollected the generosity of actor Bruno Gerussi. During the late 1980s, Gerussi offered his time to a theatre fundraiser for the Gibsons Landing Heritage Society and Driftwood Players. Five years after Gerussi’s death in 1995, the refurbished Heritage Playhouse opened its doors.

The anthology’s youngest contributor (and winner of the youth poetry prize) is nine-year-old Mathilda Johnson, for her verse “In The Sand.” Her poem concludes, “we find the truth is / all of it is sparkling beach findings / because the beach is a gem.”

Grand prize winner and first-place finisher in the category of youth nonfiction is 17-year-old Anneka Tracey. “Gone Fishing” is Tracey’s account of “roughing it” for a fortnight on Savary Island. 

“Kids who are too young to remember ever watching Beachcombers are contributing and celebrating the spirit of the show, whether they know it or not,” said Labonte-Smith.

The anthology includes portraits of well-known Beachcombers personalities, including acrylic paintings of Pat John by Russel Thomas and Relic (Robert Clothier) by Deb Willis. Three dozen children contributed hand-coloured illustrations of Molly’s Reach and the erstwhile Persephone salvage vessel.

During the gathering on Oct. 1, contributors will read aloud from selections of the anthology. Pat John’s son, Mat John, plans to share remarks dedicated to his father. 

“Then we’re going to have 15 minutes of rock and roll music from the 1960s and 1970s,” added Labonte-Smith. “It was chosen because it was Pat John’s favourite era of music.” The Beachcombers Ukulele Group Sunshine Coast (BUGS) will also perform.

The literary contest and anthology were supported by the Town of Gibsons and the Sunshine Coast Credit Union.