Hamilton has become a hot place to film, hosting TV series such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Designated Survivor, but more productions are also becoming aware of the eclectic geography offered just outside the city on 11,000 acres of land owned by the Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA).
“Most of our areas are no more than 15 or 20 minutes from the Hamilton core. It doesn’t take long to get there but it looks like you’re much farther away,” says Sarah Gauden, the HCA’s Manager, Marketing and Events. “We have several conservation areas with many different looks for various kinds of shooting.”
One of the most popular attractions is Westfield Heritage Village, a 130-hectare “living history” destination featuring 35 restored buildings used by costumed interpreters to demonstrate the early Canadian lifestyle. While the village lends itself to period shoots, the grounds are surrounded by woodlands, meadows and trails that could be used for any time frame.
The 1980s CBC Anne of Green Gables miniseries used the setting and present day, Northwood Entertainment has returned to shoot parts of its Anne reboot there for CBC and Netflix.
CBC/Shaftesbury Films’ Murdoch Mysteries, which follows a turn-of-the-20th-century Toronto detective, and Frankie Drake, about a 1920s female detective agency, also have shot at Westfield, which is located in the community of Rockton, a half-hour drive from Hamilton.
Meanwhile, Hulu’s Emmy Award-winning The Handmaid’s Tale established its menacing tone in an opening scene in which main character Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and her daughter flee pursuers in the HCA’s sprawling Dundas Valley.
Featuring tree species also native to the Southern U.S., mossy rocks and abundant wildlife, Dundas Valley has also attracted season three of the Space/Prodigy Pictures sci fi series Dark Matter. The Syfy horror TV movie The Night Before Halloween and Reign (CBS Television/The CW), following 16th century royals, shot at the valley’s Hermitage Ruins – remnants of a 19th century stone house and its outbuildings.
Gauden adds that the Dundas Valley woods are popular for true-crime programs looking to shoot suspenseful re-enactments and the meadows have been used for staging American Civil War battles for documentaries.
Valens Lake, meanwhile, was the recent setting of a Nissan commercial that required a northern look. The Devil’s Punch Bowl, a 37-metre ribbon waterfall, is one of the HCA’s most striking sights and has been featured in the Mark Wahlberg action film The Big Hit (1998) and videogame adaptation Silent Hill (2006). Eramosa Karst is noted for its underground caves and ancient rock formations that would suit Westerns as well as sci fi.
The HCA strives to strike the proper balance between preserving its land and welcoming production. “We’re open to filming in pretty much any of our areas as long as it fits in with the area’s ecological health,” Gauden says, also noting that Ontario productions that shoot at least 85% of their location days outside of the Greater Toronto Area qualify for a 10% tax-credit bonus.