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culture

Reel Toronto: Orphan Black

Orphan Black, BBC America's cult sci-fi series, is shot (and maybe even set) in Toronto.

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.

2013 07 31orphanblack

Toronto used to be home to myriad low-rent TV productions and the odd quality Canadian series, like the Degrassi franchise. But, as we’ve discovered, we’re increasingly hosting bona fide, top-notch productions, the latest and greatest of which may be Orphan Black.

With just one season under its belt, the co-production between our own Temple Street Productions and BBC America has become a full-on cult hit. Though the slightly-in-the-future setting creates a bit of ambiguity about just where it’s taking place, other times the obviousness of Toronto comes through clearly.

Just two caveats before we get into our extensive-but-perhaps-not-comprehensive look at the plethora of local sites Orphan Black has already used. 1) Unlike most of the movies we look at, Orphan Black is at 10 hours and counting and its plot involves clones, so hopefully die-hards will be gentle and understand that we can’t tackle the whole series in one go. 2) We also have to give credit to this site, which we came across in our research. It confirmed some things we thought we were oh-so-clever to have figured out on our own and helped us discover some others. Huzzah! On to Orphan Black.

Wow, so where to begin. We live in an era where a solid niche program can be just as successful and important (if not moreso) than a show that happens to attract big ratings. Hearts broke all across the Twitterverse when Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany failed to get an Emmy nomination the other week for her performance as—is it seven different clones? Describing the plot after such a cursory viewing will probably confuse all of us, so let’s just steal the easy-to-understand summary from Wikipedia, shall we?

After witnessing a woman’s suicide, Sarah assumes the stranger’s identity—who happens to look just like her. Expecting to solve all her problems by cleaning out the dead woman’s savings, Sarah is instead thrust headlong into a kaleidoscopic mystery as she realizes the dizzying truth: she and the dead woman are clones.

2013 07 31 1 openingshot

Riiiiight. So, the very opening shot is this, showing the skyline and a train entering Union Station, and the CN Tower is not exactly hidden.

2013 07 31 1 moretrainstation

Indeed, the first scene shows Maslany, rather obviously down by the tracks there…

2013 07 31 1 trainplatform

…alongside a repainted (digitally or otherwise) GO train.

2013 07 31 1 id

Other suggestions this may just be Toronto include this birth certificate (it remains unclear if alternate-universe Scarberia has subways)…

2013 07 31 1 skyline

…and this skyline shot.

2013 07 31 cntower

Oh, and the CN Tower again. And yet, the train station is called Huxley Station (especially odd since Union is a great generic name). On the other hand, a local TV station is branded CNTO and the cars have Ontario plates, so are we in Toronto or not?

2013 07 31 3 gardiner

They’re really not too shy about the skyline, actually. Here it is from the Gardiner, for example.

2013 07 31 1 futurestreet21

We also start getting introduced to several key locations. Sarah, or rather Elizabeth, lives in this modern house…

2013 07 31 1 futurestreet

…on this street, in Concord Cityplace, which is actually Mariner Terrace.

2013 07 31 1 futurestreet3 rogers

You can even see the Rogers Centre in the back of this shot.

2013 07 31 5 loftint

Sarah spends a lot of time hanging out with Felix, who lives in this loft, the interior of which is just a set.

2013 07 31 1 steambaths

The exterior entrance, however, is McDougall Lane, near Spadina Avenue and Queen Street….

2013 07 31 2 queenwestloft

…and the street view is also right there, on Queen Street West, at 483.

2013 07 31 1 lookslikehearn

Sarah also watches her own funeral (long story) from out by the Hearn generating station

2013 07 31 3 hearnagain

…which you can see a bit wider here. That would make the funeral site just at the bottom of Tommy Thompson Park.

2013 07 31 2 notmajormack

In the second episode, we meet a clone who lives out in suburbia, but it’s not actually Scarborough.

2013 07 31 2 majormack

A tip-off that we’re in Markham comes from this Major Mackenzie Drive sign.

2013 07 31 3 majormack alleyway

We then cruise around this handsome subdivision, which is actually the new-urbanist-ish Angus Glen neighbourhood. Unlike old-school suburbia, they try to hide the garages in laneways like this one.

2013 07 31 2 angusglenstreet

Then we drive down this street

2013 07 31 2 majormack35

…to get to her house, which is actually this one, one Harper Hill Road.

2013 07 31 2 angusglen commcentre

A fair amount of time is spent up in this area, and we also visit the nearby Angus Glen Community Centre

2013 07 31 3 angusglencc

…which we see, both outside…

2013 07 31 6 angusglencc again

…and in.

2013 07 31 5 spyguys

Also up in Markham is this “Spy Guys” store…

2013 07 31 5 maindrug spyguys

…and adjacent Main Drug Mart, on Highway 7, at Woodbine.

2013 07 31 2 outisdepolicestation

Another location to which we often return, back in the Big Smoke, is this police station. You can tell, what with the Richmond Street Don Valley overpass lurking in the back, that it’s actually this rather innocent-looking building out on King Street East.

2013 07 31 4 policestn

You can see it a bit better here.

2013 07 31 2 coolcafe

At one point, Maslany walks past…

2013 07 31 2 coolcafe actuallythompsonlobby

…and into the lobby of this chic joint, actually the Thompson Hotel.

2013 07 31 2 roofacc

She has a clandestine nighttime meeting on the rooftop of what looks like it’s probably this parking lot, baesd on the view of the ACC in the background.

2013 07 31 3 howardstreet probably

This is only the second time we’ve come across something shot on Howard Street, where Elliot Gould has his apartment in The Silent Partner. But it’s here, and it’s the setting for a big chase scene…

2013 07 31 3 howardstreetalley

…that goes past these buildings…

2013 07 31 3 howardlaundry

…and the local laundromat.

2013 07 31 3 straightupskyline

Oh, lookie! Another pretty skyline shot.

2013 07 31 4 23bright

In Episode 4, the cops hang out here…

2013 07 31 4 brightstreet

…on Bright Street.

2013 07 31 4 waverly

This familiar streetscape is on Spadina, outside the Waverly Hotel.

2013 07 31 4 canadacomputersalley

There’s a bit of a chase here too, and we see the alleyway that runs behind the hotel and The Silver Dollar…

2013 07 31 4 dundasst

…not to mention what appears, maybe, to be Dundas Street (at Spadina Avenue).

2013 07 31 5 downtownschool

Here we are, over on the east side of town, outside the Morse Street Public School.

2013 07 31 5 downtownstroll

You can actually see these Queen Street East storefronts in the background of this shot from the same scene.

2013 07 31 8 mercuryespressoaccident

We return to this area later in the series for this car accident, which takes place right outside the Mercury Espresso Bar, on Queen Street.

2013 07 31 6 queeneast

Alas, we don’t have the Canary around anymore, but this homey diner is Jim’s Restaurant, also out on Queen Street.

2013 07 31 6 jimsrestaurant

Here’s the interior.

2013 07 31 6 rosewater

Rather more upscale, this is the Rosewater Supper Club.

1 bar cameron

And back downscale a bit, a bar scene at the Cameron House.

2013 07 31 4 knox

A little bit of set dressing makes this look like some old, run-down building, but it’s the perfectly lovely Knox College, at U of T.

2013 07 31 9 elmsleyhouse

Also on campus is this lovely house, which is apparently supposed to be way over in Minneapolis.

2013 07 31 6 stmikes

Just a few steps away is St. Michael’s College.

2013 07 31 6 library

And here’s Cossima at the nearby Kelly Library.

2013 07 31 5 streetscape

This downtown shot is framed to make things look foreboding, but it’s just Yonge Street, looking south from about Colborne Street.

2013 07 31 6 hospitalext

This hospital exterior is actually the Michener Institute, just a bit north of OCADU and the AGO, on McCaul Street.

2013 07 31 9 yongestoffice

This office looks all futuristic, but if that building with the LED lights out the window looks familiar, it’s because it’s on Yonge Street. This shot seems to be looking east from up in Bay-Adelaide Centre…

2013 07 31 10 bayadelaide

…the lobby of which we also visit.

2013 07 31 10 busterminal1

We started by showing Union Station, so it’s a teeny bit of symmetry to end with the bus terminal. Oh, good! The Megabus still runs in the future! Even alternate universe Torontonians deserve a chance to party for cheap in Montreal, right?

2013 07 31 10 busterminal

Hey, it’s Canadian Matt “Max Headroom” Frewer. Cool! And he’s at Dundas and Elizabeth Streets!

Okay, well, phew. We know we missed some other locations, but season two is coming soon, so we may be back one day. If you like spotting Toronto locations and don’t shy away from something with a little sci-fi, you might wanna tune in. It’s not too late.

CORRECTION: August 7, 2013, 12:55 PM This post originally misidentified a piece of elevated roadway as the Gardiner Expressway. In fact, the pictured structure is the Don Valley overpass at Richmond Street.


UPDATE: OCTOBER 5, 2013: Thanks to commenters for pointing out we’d negelected to include scenes shot at the Kelly Library and Cameron House. Both have now been added to the main article.

Comments

  • David

    Just a quick note for anyone looking to start watching Orphan Black and not wanting to stream it from somewhere; the main CTV network will be airing the first season Friday’s at 9 beginning August 16.

  • blah

    I’ve heard two things about this show: either it’s really great, or its just by the numbers sci fi schlock. Is this show worth investing time into?

    • EDMUNDOCONNOR

      It is absolutely worth watching. Much of it is hokum, but Maslany’s performance makes the show absolutely compelling. She’s a very strong candidate to be the next Doctor, in my books (after, you know, this November *cough*).

  • DavidF_Torontoist

    Good spotting viewers. Here’s the Cameron…

  • DavidF_Torontoist

    …and the Kelly Library.

  • wklis

    They colourize the GO train from green to blue.

  • http://www.closetgeekshow.com/ TCG Sterling

    I believe that the show is set in Toronto, they certainly mention that they are in Canada a few times. They refer to Toronto neighbourhoods frequently, similar to how they did in Flashpoint, but I can’t remember if they’ve actually stated it’s in Toronto yet.

  • uglyredhonda

    It’s strange how coy they are about identifying it as Toronto – pretend it isn’t, but then drop a less-than-subtle suggestion that it is. When Sarah and Felix find Paul’s business card, the phone number is a 416. They could have put any number on there, but picked the obvious.

  • SJ

    “season two is coming soon”
    If by soon, you mean next April, then yeah, I guess 8 months is soon. It’s a shame that the season was so short and the hiatus is so long, because it’s a smart show that needs to find a bigger audience.

    • OgtheDim

      Limited to 10 shows may be a reason why its good.

      • SJ

        Very true. But without the HBO/AMC or similar publicity machine behind it, it will be hard to build an audience if there’s 9 months between seasons, and only 10 weeks to catch it. I’m discounting streaming and download viewers, but it’s still the TV watchers who count when it comes to keeping a show on the air.

  • EDMUNDOCONNOR

    The production installed the wood panelling and seating in Jim’s for the shoot. They ripped out the seating after, but the owners liked the panelling, and so it was spared the axe. So we were told by wait staff when we went there in homage one Sunday morning.

  • Rico_Featherbutt

    That’s not the Gardner. It’s the Richmond/Adelaide Don Valley overpass.

  • El Rob

    This show is awesome, and I think the setting is as Canadian as the producers could dare it to be while trying to sell the show’s first season to the big finicky audience south o’ the border. Perhaps the critical success and green light for a second season will permit them to provide more clarity, but at the same time I think they like the vague “big northeastern city” element so they can slyly introduce elements. I mean, “Huxley station”? It’s a brave new Toronto!

  • Jeyface

    Does anybody know when season 2 starts filming?

  • Clayton

    Also please note that the Bar where Cosima meets Sarah is The Velvet, which us north side if Queen St E. between Mercury Espresso & Jim’s Diner (famous for their Western Sandwich). I know this as I was going to The Velvet that day but it was closed due to interior filming of as-of-yet then released Orphan Black.

  • XorKaya

    Odd that a Toronto site would write an article about a Toronto show, but highlight is as a BBC America production instead of highlighting it as a Space Channel production. The Space Channel by the way is Canadian, AND located in Toronto.

    Also, Space Channel has more money invested into this show than BBC America. Just sayin’.

    • David Fleischer

      Thanks for your comment. We didn’t mean it to insult the Canadians, just to play up the show’s international reach. We’ll try to remedy that more explicitly when we come back for Season 2 :)