BC Goes to the Movies
By: infilm on 09/28/10

British Columbia, it turns out, isn’t just gorgeous; it’s also talented. All that fabulous scenery has another life, playing locations – from vampire-infested small towns to alien planets – in hundreds of movies and TV shows over the years, from the iconic X-Files to the blockbuster Twilight series.

During the latter half of 2010 alone, seven feature films and 18 TV shows were shot, or set to shoot, in BC, including This Means War with Reese Witherspoon, the Amanda Seyfried feature Red Riding Hood and small screen sci-fi favourites Fringe, Psych and Supernatural. Add to this, in 2009 the province played host to 239 productions. What does it all mean? There’s enough cinematic action here to make BC the third largest film production centre in North America.

Why BC? As they say, it’s location, location, location.

Christine Kilpatrick, a Vancouver area photo-journalist and film fan, runs On Location Tours Vancouver, escorting visitors to movie and TV locations around town. She explains why producers keep coming back.

“Vancouver has always been a really great place to film because we have everything a production company could want. We have eight studio facilities, encompassing almost a million square feet of purpose-built stages, 30,000 experienced professional cast and crew members and numerous film school programmes. And we have the geography: everything from farmers’ fields to rivers, mountains, glaciers, craggy canyons, cityscapes, small villages-- Steveston and Ladner are especially popular for small town looks – as well as ultra modern structures and older areas like Gastown.”

Check out, for example, the Marine Building at the foot of Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver. A gorgeous example of art deco architecture, this 1930 skyscraper makes a perfect Daily Planet set for Smallville, a show about Superman’s early life now filming its 10th season in Vancouver. Spin through the revolving doors à la Clark Kent for a look at the zodiac mosaics and gleaming brass elevator doors, or dine like a superhero at the Imperial, a glamorous Cantonese restaurant in the lobby.

While you’re in town, stroll through Robson Square or Library Square, and try matching them to any of dozens of sci-fi flicks filmed here. Between them, these two subtly futuristic spaces have played museums, cityscapes and evil corporate headquarters in everything from Mr. Magoo to Stargate SG-1.

And it’s not just Vancouver. A short drive north along the famously scenic Sea to Sky Highway leads to the recently refurbished Britannia Mine Museum, where you can ride an underground mine train and visit the 20-storey Mill building (a National Historic Site) – both used in more than 50 films and dozens of TV shows, from Scooby Doo 2 to The Outer Limits and The X-Files. While there, you can even pan for real gold and explore the theatre, exhibits and mineral gallery in the new Beaty-Lundin Visitor Centre.

Just a few kilometres north is Squamish, where the ocean and mountain setting was just right for the fictional Elmo, Alaska, in the Anne Heche dramedy Men in Trees. The difference? The real Squamish is a lot more fun. The area’s legendary rock climbing, hiking, biking, windsurfing, golf and scuba options -- plus the microbrews at Howe Sound Brewing -- have made it one of Canada’s top outdoor destinations.

Finish this cinematic road trip with dinner at Whistler’s Araxi, a top-rated eatery featured on the reality-cooking-drama-contest Hell’s Kitchen. Also here? The slopes, scenery and celebration plaza caught on camera during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

Further inland, the grasslands, hoodoos and sandstone canyons around Ashcroft and Cache Creek, in BC’s Thompson Okanagan region, set the stage for everything from Yellowstone National Park to a Tibetan village in last year’s apocalyptic blockbuster 2012. Camp riverside at Juniper Beach Provincial Park or stay in a traditional First Nations kekuli shelter at the Historic Hat Creek Ranch, and odds are the earth will not disappear under your feet.

And when Hollywood needs Himalayas? In step BC’s mountains: so far they’ve played the roof of the world in Seven Years in Tibet, K2 and Kundun. The Coast Mountains’ endless tracts of alpine backcountry – some stretches bigger than the Swiss Alps -- are great for filming and even better for heli-skiing. Bella Coola Heli Sports can get you there.

Vancouver Island is also rich with film sets. Hatley Park National Historic Site near Victoria, for example, has played, among other things, Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in the X-Men movies and Lex Luthor’s mansion in Smallville. Not a dastardly villain? No problem. You can still tour the century-old ivy-draped Hatley Castle -- one of Canada’s best preserved Edwardian estates – and wander year round through the Italian, rose and Japanese gardens on the seaside grounds (tours are available April through September).

Twi-hards? Follow the New Moon crew to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve near Tofino on the Island’s west coast. The shore’s pounding surf, moody rainforest and miles of driftwood-strewn beach are seriously romantic, with or without vampires.

Back in Vancouver, Kilpatrick’s On Location Tours Vancouver covers most of the key Lower Mainland twi-sites. Stops on the six-hour tour include Capilano River Regional Park in North Vancouver, including the very log where vampire boyfriend Edward (played by heartthrob Robert Pattinson) breaks up with Kristen Stewart’s mortal Bella character.

Says Kilpatrick: “That’s what excites guests the most; knowing they are standing right where the stars stood in a favourite scene. A lot of fans have read the book six or seven times and have seen the films as many times.”

Capilano River Regional Park is, she reveals, “a well-used woods in the film industry. It’s accessible, but you can’t see any development from there. Sometimes while we’re there we’ll see other filming going on: independent movies, music videos and TV commercials – you name it.” The park appeals to hikers for the same reason: it offers a chance to explore pristine rainforest just minutes from downtown.

The tour also includes a stop at Jacob’s house in Coquitlam (a suburb east of Vancouver; he’s the cute werewolf played by Taylor Lautner). “While we’re there, we stop at Minnekhada Lodge (a 1934 hunting lodge) in Minnekhada Park; chances are we’ll see black bears in the blueberry fields. For so many fans, seeing a bear in the wild is a real highlight of their trip.”

Even non-Twihards find it’s a pretty cool way to see the city. Says Kilpatrick: “My tours are off the beaten track; they get people out of the downtown core to places visitors would never normally see.”

And, psst, don’t look now, but isn’t that..?

For star gazing, Kilpatrick recommends Yaletown, Vancouver’s chic revitalized warehouse district. “Celebrities love Yaletown. Say, Cioppino’s – Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire have been spotted there. The Twilight cast enjoys Rodney’s Oyster House, and Blue Water Café is always a celebrity hot spot. Raincity Grill in the West End is also popular; Lady Gaga was seen there recently. She was very dressed down, but still with the sky-high heels.”

You heard it here first.

by Sue Kernaghan

For more on British Columbia's destinations and travel information, call 1-800 HELLO BC® (North America) or visit