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'Beachcombers' actors reunite for 50th anniversary of filming

Shooting of iconic Gibsons series began in September 1971

As yet another Christmas movie shoot transforms Gibsons, four actors visited Gibsons Landing to mark the anniversary of a very different shoot – the beginning of the iconic series The Beachcombers.

It’s been 50 years since CBC’s hit show began filming in September 1971 but it has gone on to put Gibsons on the map, as people in more than 50 countries tuned in during its 18-year run. The show also launched local film production and gave several young stars their first experience in the world of acting.

On Thursday, Sept. 16, Pat John, Bob Park and Nancy Chapple reunited for the first time since wrapping the first season. Jackson Davies, who joined the show as Constable John Constable in later years, also marked the occasion with the trio.

Park, who played Hughie Carmody, said the experience was like being “a deer in headlights… As the weeks and months progressed, it would become like a second home – a second family.”

For Chapple, the visit was the first time she has returned to Gibsons since she filmed the show as a young girl.

Chapple was 10 years old when she made her acting debut as the original Margaret Carmody, granddaughter to Molly (played by Rae Brown) and sister to Hughie, in the first season of The Beachcombers.

She appeared in the first season – 27 of the series’ 387 episodes – until she aged out of the role and her family relocated to Montreal for her father’s broadcasting job with CBC. (The role was then played by Juliet Randall.)

“My bragging rights are that I can still say I was the first, the original, and that I still have such amazing memories,” Chapple, who now lives in Ontario, said. “The three of us were part of the very first season and that’s so special for me. It really is 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 around eight or 10 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 on-screen sibling.

Pat John, who played Jesse Jim for the show’s run, still lives on the Sunshine Coast. He was only 18 years old when he was cast.

“What did I get myself into?” John recalled thinking at the time. He was told he might have the job for two and a half months. “And then 19 years went by.”

While the show focused on the antics of the titular beachcombing log-pirating characters Nick and Relic, Molly’s Reach was home base for a family the likes of which was new to television audiences.

Davies describes the premise of the show as “this kind of goofy, wonderful … diverse family. You have a single grandmother raising two grandchildren, an Indigenous kid, and this Greek immigrant all living in the same place.”

The subject matter, he added, “was really ahead of the times” with storylines about Indigenous land claims, ecology, saving the salmon and logging.

The Beachcombers also featured special guests like Chief Dan George, George Clutesi and David Suzuki.

Chappel said she doesn’t think anybody had an idea what kind of impact the show would go on to make. They recalled thinking lead actor Bruno Gerussi, who played Nick Adonidas, “was looking at the moon” when he was quoted in a newspaper envisioning five seasons.

“To have a job for 19 years is still today unheard of in film, and certainly in Canada,” Davies said.

At its height, The Beachcombers was battling Hockey Night in Canada’s viewing numbers, at one time surpassing the sports broadcast with 3.4 million viewers.

It went on to become the second-longest scripted television series in the history of Canadian television, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia, surpassed only by Degrassi. Some credit it with opening the door to other small town-focussed Canadian shows, like Corner Gas and Schitt’s Creek.

As they retraced their steps at Molly’s Reach, the actors said they were treated very well by staff and sat in the booth closest to where the living room would have been on set – even though they hadn’t realized the establishment was closed at the time. They took photos outside with fans who were visiting the iconic former shooting location, where many of the series’ shenanigans took place. They marvelled at what’s changed over the years and, of course, what has stayed the same.

Oct. 1, 2022 will be the 50th anniversary of when the first episode of The Beachcombers aired. Although in recent years Vancouver-born actor Ryan Reynolds has publicly encouraged CBC to re-air the show, the episodes remain hard to find. Three episodes are available to watch at the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives’ display 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 have to stay tuned.