VANCOUVER–Who knew the high arctic was just five miles north of the U.S. border?
That’s where CBC held their west coast version of their Winter launch, in the makeshift sound stage where interiors for their upcoming drama Arctic Air are shot. The series, which stars Adam Beach and was inspired by the real life Buffalo Airmen of Ice Pilots: NWT, premieres January 10th.
The studio, which looks like it was once a horse barn, is tucked away in Aldergrove, B.C., about an hour’s drive south of Vancouver. A large shuttle bus loaded with press types made the trek over the Fraser River to get to the place. The view out the window was pure Beachcombers, with logs lashed together on the river and nothing but B.C. timber for miles.

A real Buffalo Air DC3 interior…

The fuselage of an actual DC3–carted up from the States as a set piece for the series–served as a backdrop for the press event. A bar was set up, and there were sandwiches, and, with plenty of CBC brass around (including Kirstine Stewart, sports and reality boss Julie Bristow, news head Jennifer McGuire and new drama boss Trevor Walton), even a speech or two.
Because I have been to Yellowknife twice to visit the actual Ice Pilots, I was able to compare and contrast the real deal and the set. The DC3 details they got right, no surprise considering the set piece is the fuselage of the actual planes Buffalo Joe and the others fly in the northern territories. (That’s Joe in the photo above left, with his nose in the newspaper. Hey, who’s flying the plane? Scotty Blue is to the left.) Only thing is the seats in the fake DC3 are much nicer than the seats in the planes used by Buffalo Air.

…and the one from the Arctic Air set

There were several interiors spread over the large,barn-like sound stage. One was a facsimile of Bullock’s Cafe, the famous Yellowknife watering hole. I’ve eaten at Bullock’s and the set designer did a nice job approximating the homey feel of the original while at the same time expanding it into something more workable for a TV production. Bullock’s has hand-scrawled autographs and photos over practically every square inch of the dining room and so does the look-a-like set. I was invited to add my John Henry and wrote “John Doyle” on the bar, near the taps, which seemed about right.

The real interior of Yellowknife’s Bullock’s Bistro…

Arctic Air star Adam Beach, who visited Buffalo Joe and Mikey and and Scotty and all the Ice Pilots in Yellowknife, walked the press through the set. He’s eaten at Bullock’s, too, and noted it was kinda expensive. Hey, the local Subway sandwich shop is pricey in Yellowknife.

Next up was a walk through of a lavish hotel lobby area. There were elevators and front desks and fireplaces and antlers. This set looked like money, as the star of one of the other CBC shows (a bunch were flown west for the launch) noted. CBC must be banking on this thing taking off, running for years and selling in the States. Hey, Ice Pilots is in over 100 countries!

…and the interior of the set pub, with Hutton and Beach

The Frontenac Hotel used in the TV series must be modeled on the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife. The real deal is a nice place but the fake hotel is four stars judging from the lobby.


I wondered if some of this set wasn’t re-constructed from the ashes of Endgame, a short-lived Vancouver-based Showcase production I visited last year. That set looked like it was built to stand for years and years, too.
Further on was the offices of Arctic Air. I’m sure Mikey and Buffalo Joe would happily trade up to the set version of their humble digs up in Yellowknife. Beach and cast members Pascale Hutton and Kevin McNulty held court on the set. None of them fly, but Beach says he’d like to get into the cockpit of a DC3 one day soon before the world’s supply of leaded gas dries up.

Doyle dames Pellerin and Boyd

It was great to see two of my favourte ladies from Republic of Doyle at the CBC B.C. launch. Lynda Boyd and Krystin Pellerin couldn’t spill any beans about January’s third season premiere (Season Two ended with some crazy cliffhangers) because star, creator and executive producer Allan Hawco would have a fit. Both said shooting scenes with special guest Russell Crowe was pretty awesome, plus they got to go out and hear him sing at a local concert or two. Another special guest this season was Shannon Tweed, a.k.a. Mrs. Gene Simmons. Did you know that Tweed is a native of Dildo, Nfld? I’m not making that up.
Gerry Dee, from the new CBC sitcom Mr. D, was also in on the B.C. press deal, as were the hosts from Marketplace, Tom Harrington and Erica Johnson. Johnson declared the old wreck of a DC3 used on the set as “unfit” for air travel. Always good to have a consumer watchdog on these things.

The lobby of the faux Frontenac Hotel as seen on Arctic Air. Swanky.


  1. Kept thinking you should have been at that CBC set visit Mikey. They should definitely offer you a walk on part on the series–maybe as a safety inspector!

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