A film crew from TVOntario (TVO) will be in Vankleek Hill in late August, as the village will be featured in a one-hour episode of a six-part series on small-town Ontario communities.
A production team from Toronto’s Alibi Entertainment Inc. will visit Vankleek Hill from August 19-24. The shooting dates have been timed to coincide with the events being held by the Vankleek Hill Agricultural Society, in lieu of the annual fair.
The village is one of six communities that will be showcased in one-hour episodes, featuring towns in Ontario which have been through an economic boom and bust cycle. The series will air on TVO in early 2022.
“We were looking at a number of locations and trying to find places that are unique from each other and Vankleek Hill was chosen as one of the locations,” says Jennifer Horvath, Executive Producer with Alibi Entertainment.
The production crew has completed filming in Smiths Falls, Stratford, and Napanee. After visiting Vankleek Hill, filming will move on to North Buxton in southwestern Ontario, before production wraps up in the Northern Ontario community of Cobalt.
While the focus is on the economic aspect of the towns, the executive director of the series says the people who live in each community are at the heart of the stories being told.
“We talk to a variety of people – we really want to balance our interviews between people who own businesses and people who are residents of the town, either long-term, recent or everyone in between,” Horvath explains. “While the focus of the show is that kind of economic boom and bust, we want to tell the story through personal experiences, not through facts and figures.”
People who grow up in a smaller community are faced with decisions on lifestyle, employment, access to education, and other services not available in their towns, Horvath observes. Many have placed family, lifestyle and other aspects of small-town life ahead of financial and employment considerations.
“When you live in a small town, sometimes you have to make decisions about how you are going to support yourself, or what lifestyle you are going to have,” Horvath says. “People who live in these communities often have made a decision that one thing is more important than another, or that their family ties are keeping them somewhere. We’re really looking for stories along that spectrum.”
Vankleek Hill’s history is similar to many other small communities in the province, Horvath says, with agricultural roots and a railway that kept the town going in its early years. What made the village stand out to producers was its steady population through the years and the fact that Vankleek Hill is now on the verge of a potential population boom.
“One thing that’s really interesting to me is that (Vankleek Hill) seems to have had a very consistent population over almost its entire existence,” Horvath says. “And now – looking at the possibility of having an increase in population through a big subdivision being built – that could have a really dramatic impact on the town.”
“It seems like Vankleek Hill is really on the cusp of some kind of change, so we are visiting at a really opportune moment.”
The number of community events and festivals held in the village also caught the eye of staff from TVO and Alibi Entertainment.
“I was really struck when we started doing the research at just how many weekend events there are (in Vankleek Hill),” Horvath says. “For such a small community, it was really striking.”
Through their research and visits to the communities they have filmed so far, the producers of the series have learned a lot about each town, says Horvath, who herself grew up in the small community of Caledon, about an hour north of Toronto.
“I’m really familiar with the cycle that I think a lot of young people find themselves in, where they may be finished college or university and are thinking about what they are going to do and where they are going to live.”
The series was conceived and green-lit by TVOntario prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and filming was delayed as a result. However with production back underway, the documentaries have taken on even more meaning, with small-town home prices rising rapidly, as people look to escape from big cities to a more isolated lifestyle.
“(The pandemic) turned out to be so timely (for the series), because people are reconsidering what kind of communities they want to live in,” Horvath explains. “Remote working has made it possible for people to think about living outside of a larger centre in a way that they haven’t before.”
“I think we are really fortunate to be able to feature these places and maybe start the conversation for people who are thinking about where they might want to live.”