New TVO Original series ‘Crossroads: Beyond Boom & Bust’ profiles the big ideas sustaining small-town Ontario

Vankleek Hill is featured as the final one-hour episode of the new TVO original series Crossroads: Beyond Boom & Bust – which profiles changes coming to small towns in Ontario.

Episode 6 of the six-part series will feature Vankleek Hill and is scheduled to air on July 18. The episode description reads as follows:

“Home to almost 2,000 people, the population of Vankleek Hill has barely changed since the mid-1800s. The residents of this self-declared Gingerbread Capital of Ontario are now sensing the fragility of their situation and are balancing the need to protect its history with the need to manage pressures to grow.”

“I think it’s one of my favourites in the series,” said Jennifer Horvath, Executive Producer at Alibi Entertainment, which had a production crew in Vankleek Hill from August 19 to 24, 2021, to film scenes for the episode.

The series explores whether Ontario’s small towns can survive big industrial, social and cultural changes, exploring the stories of six small communities across Ontario confronting this question. The weekly series premieres with its opening episode on Smiths Falls airing on Monday, June 13, at 7 p.m. Eastern Time on TVO, TVO Today, YouTube and smart TV services.

In addition to Vankleek Hill and Smiths Falls, other towns featured include, Stratford, Napanee, Cobalt, and North Buxton. A preview of the series can be found on YouTube.

“Many Ontario towns are struggling to adapt to a storm of global pressures, all without losing a sense of their identity. We hear about this issue every day and there really is hope and an opportunity to thrive,” says John Ferri, Vice-President of Programming and Content at TVO. “Crossroads: Beyond Boom & Bust spotlights the people, ideas and ingenuity that are making it possible for some communities to reinvent themselves on their own terms.”

Episodes take an in-depth look at the history, setbacks and promising successes for the six communities. All have been experiencing seismic shifts for decades, with some teetering towards closure at times. Through interviews with local historians, municipal and industry leaders, and residents old and new, viewers will get an intimate look into the ins and outs of small-town life.

“In each community, we connected with people who are searching for ways to help their communities survive and grow, and in many cases that’s meant taking a completely different approach to the way they do things, whether opening the doors to cannabis or transforming a factory into a 21st century live/work space,” says Heidi Schorn, Executive Producer and VP Development for Alibi Entertainment. “Every episode gives us a snapshot of the unique challenges each town is facing, and the optimism of the people who are finding a way through.”

The August shooting dates in Vankleek Hill were timed to coincide with the events being held by the Vankleek Hill Agricultural Society at the fairgrounds in lieu of the full annual agricultural fair in 2021. Camera crews could be seen throughout town and at the fairgrounds, as interviews were conducted with a number of local entrepreneurs, including The Review’s owner and Publisher Louise Sproule.

In an interview with The Review last summer prior to the shooting, Horvath said one of the things about Vankleek Hill which caught the eye of producers was that the village had seen little change in more than a century.

Jennifer Horvath, Executive Producer with Alibi Entertainment.

“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 said. “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.”

Episode 6 featuring Vankleek Hill will be preceded by five other episodes. Below is a brief synopsis of each.

Episode 1: Smiths Falls (June 13) – After three big employers shut down, including the iconic chocolate maker Hershey’s, almost 2,000 people were left without work. In 2013, Smiths Falls became the headquarters of a brand-new medical marijuana company. After cannabis was legalized in Canada, the town’s prospects brightened considerably.

Episode 2: Stratford (June 20) – Known for its Shakespeare theatre festival and as the hometown of pop star Justin Bieber, Stratford searched for a new source of revenue after the railway closed in the 1950s. The Stratford Festival became an economic and cultural juggernaut, only to be dealt a harsh blow with the COVID-19 pandemic. Now Stratford hopes to bolster its high-tech appeal.

Episode 3: Napanee (June 27) – Home to Canada’s oldest furniture factory, Napanee’s downtown was once a regional destination for shopping, banking and restaurants. But after Highway 401 was built, traffic and visitors were diverted away and the downtown suffered. As the centre of the newly amalgamated Town of Greater Napanee, the city is poised for transformation.

Episode 4: Cobalt (July 4) – The Silver Rush at the turn of the 20th century drove a population boom in Cobalt, but it came at a high cost with public health disasters and ecological devastation. A disaster in the 1970s shrunk the population to less than 2,000. Prospects are brighter today as resource extraction appears poised to once again be a major employer.

Episode 5: North Buxton (July 11) – Originally settled in 1849 by a white Presbyterian minister and a small group of formerly enslaved people, North Buxton thrived until the American Civil War began and many residents returned to join the war effort. While just 150 people call North Buxton home today, its story is more important than ever as Black descendants return to preserve its history and land.