Reel Toronto: Wonderfalls
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Reel Toronto: Wonderfalls

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.

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For every show that earns the privilege of a series run on TV, many more are cut down in their youth. Most of these deserve it but a very few—think Serenity or Freaks & Geeks, for starters—are quality fare that never got a chance. Wonderfalls is one such show. Only four episodes made it to air but it got great reviews and attracted a sufficient cult audience that its entire 13-episode season was released to DVD (and, apparently, aired here on Vision TV!). While well-reviewed, it didn’t garner a big enough audience to satisfy the folks at Fox, who gave it the axe.

It takes place in Niagara Falls, so it’s hugely unsurprising that they shot at the falls and established their home base here in fair Toronto.

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The opening shot of the series is, of course, the Horseshoe Falls. One of the show’s slightly weird conceits is that even though it has all of our landmarks, it’s supposed to be taking place on the American side of the falls.

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We get a little montage that includes recognizable shots of the Clifton Hill tourist area and other local sites. (Note the rather un-American maple leaf, even here.)

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At the heart of Wonderfalls is the lead actress, Montreal-born Caroline Dhavernas, who plays an Ivy League grad reduced to working in a Niagara Falls gift shop. The show makes it seem as if the Wonderfalls store is roughly where the existing Table Rock complex is.

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Despite the addition of the Maid of the Mist statue…

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…this might seem more recognizable as the courtyard of the Liberty Grand.

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A few more bits from the pilot were shot by the falls, including this scene, shot just below the Rainbow Bridge

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…by the adjacent Oakes Garden.

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Also at the falls is this motel, just off Clifton Hill…

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…which now it seems to have been replaced by, um, an upside-down house. Pardon us, The Upside-Down House.

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Speaking of motels, there is a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it shot of the departed Hillcrest Motel in one episode.

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The pilot also includes a dash to the hospital that’s still supposed to be in Niagara Falls…

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…but we’re clearly going past HMV and Sam’s, on Yonge Street.

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The hospital itself isn’t near Yonge or Niagara Falls. It’s Mississauga’s Port Credit S.S.

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One of the key locations in which they spend a great deal of time is a restaurant called The Barrel. They built a set for series duration but the pilot scenes were shot at the now defunct Academy of Speherical Arts in Liberty Village.

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The exterior probably seems familiar too.

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You can see a bit better in the daytime that it’s actually the Canary Diner, but seen from the south.

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In this reverse shot, looking down Cherry Street, you can see the edge of the Distillery.

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The building next door, which now frames the entrance to the Canary District/Pan Am Village is the old CN Police building. Its interiors were used as, of course, a police station.

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It’s incumbent upon us to mention this fine Wonderfalls tour, which got to much of this research before us. They found out that this scene, ostensibly taking place at the US border crossing…
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…was at a bus washing facility. We figured out it’s actually Mississauga Transit’s facility.

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We’ve mentioned before that residential locations are always the trickiest to figure out. Jaye’s parents live in this house which, well, we’re just not sure where it is.

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There’s slightly more to go on for this home.

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It’s #17 and on a one-way street and it looks sort of like mid-town…

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…and there’s a fleeting glimpse of a streetcar en route.

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We’re not sure but we are sure that’s local actor Colin Fox who’s got one of those voices you’ve heard in a million commercials and TV shows.

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Hey, it’s local comic Boyd Banks, who also pops up just about everywhere.

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Here he’s a custodian at the train station…

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…which seems rather grand for Niagara Falls, since it’s actually our Union Station. We’ll leave it to the Yanks to ponder why there are provincial flags hanging there alongside the Stars and Stripes.

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Crucially, the now-extinct Harvey’s outlet is preserved on celluloid for eternity. You may recognize Canadian actor Tyron Leitso, also of the late Being Erica.

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Oh, speaking of actors, this is Lee Pace who has gone to a rather decent amount of success, with prominent roles as the elf-king Thranduil in The Hobbit and the bad guy, Ronan, in Guardians of the Galaxy last year alone.

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Anyway, while we’re talking about transportation, this “bus station” is actually the south entrance of the Metro Convention Centre.

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You can see the Rogers Centre in the back there and it’s amazing how much the area has changed in a decade. The aquarium would obstruct this view now.

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Jaye lives in a trailer. Though they shot later scenes at a trailer park (probably north of the city)…

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…the pilot has her living down near Cherry Beach.

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Outside of town is this late-season visit to a reservation.

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We’re actually up in Whitchurch-Stouffville, where Ninth Line meets Musselman’s Lake.

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This “trading post” is really the Cedar Beach Variety Store.

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Another one that we couldn’t ID for sure is this zoo…
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Despite the imported elephant…

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…and aviary, it’s not the Toronto Zoo.

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More familiar is the Royal York, seen in a thunderstorm…

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…though the lobby was definitely shot elsewhere.

So, you’ve already seen more of Wonderfalls than most people ever did. It’s fair to say it was a quirky and visually inventive show and that it did leave a rather important legacy. The show was created by Todd Holland—a veteran of a billion things, including The Larry Sanders Show—and Bryan Fuller, who has produced a string of short-lived, cult faves like Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me. Eventually he hit paydirt with Hannibal. That show brought him back to Toronto (Season three starts next week!) and he made sure to find a role for Dhavernas who we hope (spoiler alert) wasn’t killed last year when Hannibal tossed her out a window.