A retrospective by Lynne Collinson
As some of you may know, I am writing this recap in place of Fliss who did it for three conventions in a row but who couldn’t be with us in person because of illness. Thank you kindly, Fliss, for handing this pleasant task on to me. I hope I did it justice. You were with us in spirit.
I am writing this recap warm at home, many miles away from the most wonderful, fun filled, interesting, and humorous people from all over the world. It has been a great privilege to meet up with everyone again and I’m pleased to be given the opportunity to revisit some memories of an outstanding weekend in Toronto at RCW 139: Thank You Kindly, a 20th anniversary celebration.
Day 0 - Thursday 14 August
This year the convention kicked off unofficially with a Canadian picnic on the islands, organised by Sonja and Mariellen. A brave bunch of international Duesers sailed across a lake and battled the wind and cold to eat delicious sandwiches and potato salad, chocolate loonies and maple candy, toss otters, and enjoy beautiful views of the CN Tower. The weather was too inclement for a swim in the lake (I noticed the clothing optional beach was close by…) so we made due with a visit to the haunted lighthouse where we made passable imitations of the Lou Scagnetti ghost story.*
In the evening a large group made it to the Distillery District for the traditional location tour, guided by the well armed Tom and his umbrellas. This stalwart group of Duesers remained enthusiastic through more wind and rain, even to the point of participating in recreations of scenes from The Blue Line, Manhunt, and others before a well-deserved meal al fresco.
Day 1 - Friday 15 August
Surprisingly, everyone was up in the morning bright eyed and bushy tailed, anxious to find out what was in the goodie bags at registration. We were well rewarded with delights: a signed Paul Gross photo, trading cards (a great way to make new friendships and renew old ones by trying to complete a set), a pen, a fridge magnet (individually crafted by Catherine), a RCW number (license) plate, an RCW 139 t-shirt, a ducky (thank you kindly Jenn and Doug Babin), a Ray Vecchio notepad (still using mine), maple candy, a UFO tour guide, a wrist band (many of us are still wearing them), and a lapel pin. The trading post offered a large selection of goodies to buy, including mugs and more t-shirts, and the walls were beautifully adorned with posters and the postcards from all over the world. I am wearing my “You take the big one, I’ll take the bigger one” t-shirt as I type this, and I am drinking coffee from my Due South mug too. It didn’t take long for the table to empty of merchandise and the same happened at the RCMP stall. Sadly, I missed out on the Mountie hoodies again.
Proceedings kicked off promptly in the main hall with introductions from our fabulous committee – Stephane, John, Megan, Katie, and Sarah – and an outline of what to expect over the weekend. To start, we had a host of fun DS-themed games: shooting gallery, blind tasting (gross!), pin the badge on the duck boy, and a mini scavenger hunt which yours truly won. There were also plenty of KitKats to taste including wasabi and chili flavours – well it wouldn’t be the same without a homage to Paul’s favourite chocolate, now would it? John had a selection of props on display and Sonja had managed to get hold of Paul’s Passchendaele uniform again, which some of us tried on if only to see how much taller than us he is (= a lot). We also then watched the Pilot episode – I love these group viewings as there is such a receptive atmosphere when everyone is watching something they love and are familiar with together. A well chosen episode to show – thank you kindly.
The first guest drew a huge crowd as usual – Mountie Terry with even more stories of life in the Force, answering questions with grace and humour and allowing us to play with his handcuffs (thankfully locked). He posed for photos during the Meet and Greet and spent a lot of time chatting – thank you kindly Terry.
I always love the Friday evening because not only do we get a Q&A with the marvellous Jay Semko, but we are also treated to an informal gig. I was pleased to see his beard has been tidied up to reveal more of his handsome face, and this did not detract from his skilled guitar playing. He enthralled us with songs old and new, and of course Cabin Music and the Due South theme, which always brings a tear or two to this fan’s eyes. He stayed very late signing albums and programmes and chatting in his easy charming way to all of us. He has such an amazing memory, not only of his time on Due South, but of all of us who he has met before. Such a genuinely lovely kind man. Thank you kindly, Jay.
Day 2 - Saturday 16 August
I must admit that after all that excitement, it took me forever to get to sleep and I just made it for the bus early the next morning, which was to take a huge group of us on a tour of filming locations around Toronto. Normally we go as a group to the Patrician Grill at this time, but Terry had closed shop for a holiday (Niagara Falls a birdy tells me) so no pancake breakfast or re-enactment of scenes from Victoria’s Secret until Monday when he re-opened. The bus tour was an exciting replacement activity, especially as Sarah had compiled a DVD from the episodes showing us what was filmed at each location, which was played on the onboard TV screens – thank you kindly for that. We set off from the Marriott and took a long twisty route through the city, passing locations such as the department store from Chicago Holiday, the alley from The Promise, the hospital exterior from Hawk and a Handsaw, the consulates, and of course the revolving doors where we all had photos taken! An unexpected surprise occurred as we passed Moss Park, when we were en route to the church used in The Deal. Playing in the snow was a husky puppy. Naturally several of us piled out, ran into the park, and took lots of photos – much to the amusement of the owners. Thank you kindly to Tom again for guiding us through this fascinating journey which, for those who were in Toronto for the first time, also served as a general guided tour of this remarkable city.
We had to get off the coach pretty rapidly when it got back to Bloor because there was a Riv waiting to be photographed across the road. The committee had managed to track down an authentic brown Buick Riviera which the owner (Mr. Rob Fraser? Really?) was very proud to show off and allow crazy people to climb in the trunk and lie on the roof. Thank you kindly everyone concerned with that event.
Then it was back to the hotel to prepare for the afternoon guest panel. There were twp helpful additions to the organisation of the convention this year. Firstly, there were close captions arranged by Diane Gross, which proved fascinating to both the panellists and the audience, and live broadcasting through the internet for the benefit of those unable to attend in person, using the webcast site Bambuser (you can still find the videos online here: http://bambuser.com/channel/rcw139).
A lovely new panel member for Saturday was Lisa Jakub, who of course was in Chicago Holiday. Keeping her company was Catherine Bruhier – a veteran convention attendee. Both expressed surprise at how long it had been since the show began and they both admitted that they not only had fond memories, but great affection too for the time spent on the show. Surprisingly they both said they were introverts and were shy people, yet they managed to answer our questions humorously and often in great detail. Lisa said she really enjoyed being thrown over a balcony and that it was a wonderful experience to be able to do things that she wouldn’t be able to do in real life, and that she had found her character very appealing because she was strong and independent. Of course, she did also add that it had been some years since she gave up acting and that she is developing her career as a writer. She was brave enough to share some stories about her time on Mrs. Doubtfire with Robin Williams – thank you kindly for that. They discussed why they thought there were so many introverts like them in the acting profession and concluded that it was helpful to hide behind the role of a more confident person.
Ramona then joined them and the pace livened up considerably as she immediately started up a rapport with the audience asking where everyone had travelled from. All of them agreed that they enjoyed working with the crew of Due South and that it was a happy set full of fun. Ramona certainly enjoyed having fun with those of us who asked questions – especially Mary, who admitted to being speechless and having a fangirl moment which Ramona misheard as Van Gogh and then fango. So then we all had to use this new word ’fango’ at her behest! Ramona also treated us to a demonstration of her remarkable dancing abilities, 80s style, and had everyone laughing. They were joined by Tom Melissis who had just celebrated his birthday so that was the cue for a huge birthday cake to appear. Several attendees who also had birthdays around that time including Debbie, Alex, and Doug, came up to have photos taken and blow out the candles with Tom. A huge surprise after that, which was set up by Tom, was the appearance of the other duck boy – Tony Craig. Tony told us a little bit about his music background and how he got the role in Due South, which included a ridiculous number of auditions – six if I remember correctly. Tom reminded us that he was originally up for the role of Ray.
Of course, no Q&A with Tom would be complete without Kells Babin telling the fish joke which was received with much giggling as usual (What do you call a fish with no eyes… FSH). Thank you kindly for that, young Kells.
At the end of the session, Stephane thanked them kindly and gave each of them the posters we all signed and an inukshuk to symbolise friendship. It was obvious they were all very moved by these gifts, which to me showed just how much Due South still meant to them. For Tom also, since he was the only guest to attend every convention which featured guests (seven in all), there was a medal, created by a friend of Jenn and Doug and which Stephane pinned on his shirt. Tom looked very proud to receive it and in fact was spotted wearing it the following week in his guise of Al Capone at the Mystery Dinner theatre.
After eating the birthday cake, it was time for the autograph session with Catherine, Ramona, Tom and Tony, and a chat with Lisa. I showed Lisa the Chicago Holiday page in my Due South book and she was amused to see her photo in there. She was happy to chat! And we had more coming, as she was going to read to us from her upcoming book the following day.
We had a lot of fun chatting with them all and you could see they enjoyed it too, judging from the length of time they spent with us. What amazing guys and gals… thank you kindly.
In the evening, of course, we all got into our gladrags for the annual convention meal – the Gala Dinner. Francis and I shared a crowded, noisy table with Duesers from the UK, Canada, Germany, and Michigan (yes the Babins – Doug in his Mountie uniform). The buffet menu consisted of Canadian, Italian, and Eastern European food celebrating the origins of the three main characters in our favourite show – all of it delicious. The meal was followed by a wonderful film put together by the committee, which consisted of the clips we had all sent in over the past few months. Some of the clips were of fans saying what Due South meant to them and how they discovered it (was that really Doug jumping off his garage roof? Yup!) and another reel of clips consisted of fans simply saying “Thank You Kindly” – all very moving. There was a Dueser engagement to celebrate too as Doug and Catherine announced they were going to get married. After all that excitement and the giving out of a few prizes, we all bunched together for the largest RCW 139 group photo yet.
Day 3 - Sunday 17 August
After another short night of sleep (well, what’s a convention without sleep deprivation? I’m sure the organizing committee agrees!), we all gathered again to hear Lisa Jakub read from her autobiography, “You Look Like That Girl”, which is the story of her life as a child actress and how it affected her. This was Lisa’s very first time doing a public reading and so she started a little nervously with a passage about something that happened when she was twelve. Of course she couldn’t have hoped for a more receptive and accommodating audience, so she soon warmed up to her subject, which was about a royal premiere in London and meeting Princess Diana and which she read beautifully.
I think everyone felt her earnestness when she quoted her character from Due South, Christina’s words, “When do I get my own life?” At twenty two she realised that she no longer wanted to act, she wanted to live and do normal things and feel happy being herself. It was a very memorable, inspiring, and moving session and I know we all wish her success in her writing career and are looking forward to buying her book when it is published next year.
After all that emotion came even more emotion in the form of Due South Jeopardy, with question master John. It was definitely ten times harder than last time. My team (Duck Girls) was raring to go and happy coasting along near the bottom for most of the time – we don’t have Jeopardy in the UK. However we were not the last, and the losing team who answered “Reggie” to every question actually ended up winning because they didn’t gamble everything on the last question. Well done Strange Bedfellows… strange doesn’t do you justice.
I must not forget at this juncture to mention the amazing Paul Haggis who spared quite a considerable amount of his Sunday to answer questions via Skype. What a treat that was, even if he couldn’t see our eager faces.
But there was still more to come. After a short break, the next panel was something really different and very interesting… members of the crew consisting of Michael Bowman, assistant director, Alex Kavanagh, costume designer, Woody Sidarous, assistant director, and Craig Williams, prop master. They talked quite a lot about the Mountie uniforms and how they evolved and were sourced, and the difficulties with them. The hats in particular to begin with were flimsy and didn’t have proper brims, so proved quite a nuisance to keep in shape. Things improved in the second season when they were able to get the uniforms from the RCMP store. They also talked about the rubber duckies (thousands of them) and the stuffed husky that was a stand in for Dief and which they called Stuffy, and there was also an animatronic wolf called Stiffy which they often used in car scenes. They also mentioned their favourite episodes from a crew point of view – Gift of the Wheelman, Free Willy, Mountie on the Bounty, All the Queen’s Horses, Call of the Wild, and Chicago Holiday. They discussed how All the Queen’s Horses had been judged to be unproduceable when Paul presented them with the script. Woody said they just had to find a way to make it work and they did – it was a challenge, as well as physically demanding! It was a very informative session followed by a chance to ask questions of them individually during the autograph signing. Alex even had a selection of photos from the set for us all to look at. Thank you kindly for that!
Of course, no Due South convention is ever complete without some fundraising for charity and so to the amazing auction. There were some really cool things to bid on, including lots of signed scripts such as Asylum and Good for the Soul. There were Mountie boots, a pea coat, Lisa’s boots from Chicago Holiday, and a red serge! So much wonderful stuff to bid on. Thank you kindly to all who donated and all who bid.
And so the latest convention ended with the selling off of the banners and room posters and a box full of CDs and DVDs signed by Paul Gross. It was with heavy hearts we wished our friends goodbye till next time.
For some of us though, we managed to extend the fun with breakfast at Patrician Grill the next morning... and lunch… and dinner. Whatever we could do to prolong the experience.
Thank you kindly to everyone I met and spent time with and who made this a truly memorable weekend. There is something incredibly special about Due South fans – they truly embody the spirit of friendship in spite of differences that is at the core of the show. Thank you kindly too to the hardworking committee who remained cheerful in spite of the inevitable difficulties and kept everything running smoothly. Their hard work paid off. And thank you kindly to everyone who was involved in the best show ever on television: Due South.
* High atop Sulfur Mountain in his lonely stone cabin, Looou Scagnetti heard a knock at the door. Boom boom boom. So he opened it. Creeeak. And there on his stoop stood the beautiful princess from the valley below. And the wind whipped about her hair and the snow swirled about her. And Lou Scagnetti froze. For the first time in his life, he didn't know what to do. He didn't know whether to kill her and eat her, or whether to bake her some of those tarts he was so fond of, the ones that feature choke cherries and brown lichen and little bits of dust... (Spoken scarily in a Benton Fraser voice as in A Likely Story).
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RCW 139 is not affiliated with Due South or Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc.