For almost 20 years, Gibsons, BC – gateway to the Sunshine Coast – was the setting for English Canada’s longest running dramatic television series. Sunday evening TV staple “The Beachcombers” first aired on the CBC on October 1, 1972. It ran for 387 episodes until the series wrapped in December, 1990.
“The Beachcombers” followed the adventures of Nick Adonidas (Bruno Gerussi), a Greek-Canadian marine log salvager (aka “beachcomber”) who, along with his First Nations partner Jesse Jim (Pat John), earned a living searching the Sunshine Coast for stray logs that broke away from barges and logging booms. Robert Clothier was expertly cast as the curmudgeonly Relic Phillips, Nick’s arch-rival, who often went to great lengths to steal business (and logs) from Nick. Needless to say, hilarity ensued.
When they weren’t on the water, the characters were often seen at the eponymously named café, Molly’s Reach, run by Molly Carmody (Rae Brown), who lived there with her two grandchildren Hughie (Bob Park) and Margaret played by Nancy Chapple in the first season and later by Juliet Randall. As the years passed many other characters were introduced in the series, the most well known among them being local RCMP officer Constable John Constable played by Jackson Davies.
The sometimes campy show could best be described as uniquely Canadian and distinctly west coast. It appeared during the surge of nationalism and multiculturalism that swept the country in the years following the 1967 Centennial, back when Canada was suddenly cool. Over the span of its lifetime, four of “The Beachcombers” lead actors were First Nations and many episodes featured First Nations story lines. Tsleil-Waututh Nation elder and actor Chief Dan George often made guest appearances on the show, as did other well-known Canadians like David Suzuki, Terry David Mulligan, George Clutesi, René Simard, Umberto Menghi and a young Michael J. Fox.
Instead of standing in for a fictional place, the town of Gibsons played itself in the series. It could be said that the real star of the show was Gibsons and the coastline of the Sunshine Coast.
Originally built by C. P. Smith in 1926 as a grocery store, Molly’s Reach restaurant is the most recognized landmark in Gibsons. The building was a recently vacated liquor store in 1969 when it was leased by CBC-TV to become the “Molly’s Reach” set for the TV show. After the series ended it sat vacant for about 5 years before investors redeveloped it into a functioning restaurant.
The boat that was used by Bruno Gerussi’s character Nick during filming was donated to the town of Gibsons in 1991. The “Persephone” was restored by volunteers from the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives and in 2007 was installed as an historical landmark at the corner of Gower Point and School Roads next to Molly’s Reach. The Museum also has a Beachcombers display.
19 seasons is a long run for a television show. Surprisingly to some, the programme struck a chord in the hearts of many Canadians, as evidenced by its lasting cultural impact. (Remember, the show aired in the age immediately before the advent of the internet, back when most homes had just one TV and there weren’t 500 channels to choose from.)
The show’s theme song (and iconic log dropping opening sequence) was resonant with viewers and the series influenced indie bands like Bruno Gerussi’s Medallion fronted by Tom Harrison (BGM played at The Beachcombers series wrap party), Edmonton’s Molly’s Reach (their first album was called Persephone) and “The Beachcombers” television clips were featured heavily in The Flashing Lights’ 2001 Same Thing Twice music video.
It’s fitting that Gibson’s beer farm / craft brewery, Persephone Brewing Co., chose its name as an homage to Nick’s log salvage boat in show, “as a symbol of the values and lifestyle upheld on the Sunshine Coast”. The next time you’re thereabouts (or sipping Persephone anywhere) be sure to raise a glass to Nick, Relic and the motley cast and crew of the show that introduced a beloved corner of our part of the world to the rest of Canada.