Wilberforce ready for its close-up on CBC
By Sue Tiffin
April 25, 2017
One day soon, CBC viewers might be tuning in to see Highlands East Reeve Dave Burton on a side-by-side, taking the host of Still Standing to breakfast at the Wilberforce Legion.
The comedy/reality series, hosted by Jonny Harris, is coming to town from May 11 through 15 to interview locals and feature Wilberforce on an upcoming episode.
“We are extremely proud of this happening in our municipality,” said Burton. “And we’re extremely pleased they picked us.”
The process for Wilberforce to be chosen for the show required much effort from town residents and township staff.
The show producers wanted to know about the history of the town, new businesses in town, the old veneer plant, old businesses, attractions in the town and interesting people.
“We told them, we don’t have a lot of famous people, but we do have really interesting, and really valuable, and very neat people,” said Mary Barker of Agnew’s General Store. “We said, ‘we have a large population of people over 80 who still shovel their roofs, live alone, bake pies, and do community work. You should come and meet all of those interesting people we have.’”
Barker said the first year the show came calling, Wilberforce wasn’t picked. But then this year, the show producers reached out to the town again. The next thing Barker knew, she had received a message from the township office saying the producers had booked Lloyd Watson Centre on May 15 for the show’s Wilberforce episode finale.
Still Standing producers were recently in town to research the area and interview residents, some who will appear on the show. Anne Francis, a producer on the show, said a colleague found Wilberforce friendly and welcoming.
“She came home saying, ‘that town is full of optimistic people, despite their challenges, who fiercely love where they live.’”
The award-winning show features rural towns across Canada that have survived despite a setback – often fading industry, natural disaster or population decline. Usually towns have few residents, except in the case of fire-ravaged Fort McMurray, which will be featured in the upcoming season.
“Everybody’s excited,” said Barker, who will appear on the show to highlight the general store and geocaching in the area, recognized as the Geocaching Capital of Canada.
“Wilberforce came across our radar first because of its geocaching angle,” said Francis in an email. “Wilberforce has lost so much in terms of industry and infrastructure but no one can take away the beauty of its natural environment. Geocaching seems like a great way to draw outsiders and introduce them to the area.”
The show’s host, Harris, is known as a stand-up and sketch comedian, former writer for This Hour Has 22 Minutes and as Constable George Crabtree on The Murdoch Mysteries. The show will follow him as he interviews locals, learns about the history of the area, tries a local delicacy and experiences an adventure.
At the end of a few days of filming, Harris performs a stand-up routine based on the stories he has heard. The stand-up show draws a lot of laughs while also informing a live audience and viewers at home about the resiliency of small towns. Some of the audience members are shown on the program.
“We like to call it a toast to the town,” said Francis.
Barker noted the show’s producers were interested in the recent closure of the town’s bank. Earlier this year, Scotiabank closed branches in Wilberforce and nearby Maynooth in a move toward promoting online and mobile banking. Wilberforce residents – many who said they didn’t have access to computers or the Internet – responded passionately and vowed to remain vibrant despite the loss.
Erik Morrison, a 14-year-old entrepreneur, said in researching the show, producers had asked him about his opinion of the bank closure in a pre-show interview. Morrison created Erikord Survival, a paracord products company, in 2012, when he was 10.
“They asked about how I started, about the business, and just to explain about myself,” said Morrison. “I liked it, I thought it was fun.”
Morrison said for his segment on the show, he’ll be taking Harris fishing in Dark Lake using a Fishing Survival Kit, part of his product line. He suggested the idea to show producers when they asked how he could spend his time with the host in the area.
“During my school lunches in Grade 8, we’d go to the public dock and fish off the dock,” he said. “We caught 20 to 30 fish there in 20 minutes once on a record day.”
Despite being nervous, Morrison is looking forward to the experience to showcase his town as well as his company.
The show can provide a tourism boost after being featured to a big audience. A map on the CBC Still Standing website offers fans the chance to route and plan a road trip based on towns featured in each of the three seasons. More than 53,000 fans have liked the Still Standing Facebook page.
“Any kind of good publicity is welcome,” said Barker.
“It’s finally set in that something really exciting is going to happen here,” said Burton.
The wrap-up Still Standing comedy show is free and open to anyone aged 14 and older. It’s being held May 15 at the Lloyd Watson Centre in Wilberforce, which holds about 200 people. Doors open at 6 p.m., the show starts at 6:30.
The comedy show is expected to take approximately one and a half hours to film, with no intermission. Entry is first come, first served, and organizers are hoping to fill the hall.
Season 3 of Still Standing begins on June 27 at 8 p.m., and includes episodes about Ontario towns Mattawa, South River, and Norwood.
The Wilberforce episode is expected to air in 2018.