In mid-October, Jennifer Fleming, Angela McIntyre, Kristyn Press and Kylie Hart (or as we called ourselves, JAKK, based on the first letters of our names), together with Destiny Thomas (the administrator of the Australian When Calls the Heart Facebook fan page) had the honour of attending the annual Hearties Family Reunion (HFR4), the annual fan convention for When Calls the Heart. It’s our pleasure to give this account of our experiences. We know how fortunate we are to have been chosen when there are so many other Aussie fans of the show who were not selected, so we hope this gives you a bit of a sense of what it is like.
In Australia, When Calls the Heart is proudly aired on ACCTV (Australian Christian Channel) and we appreciate having the access to see it on our screens. In fact, when we learned in late March this year that ACCTV would show the Christmas special at the end of Season 5 due to delays from the show’s distributors, we started a mini Twitter campaign, encouraging the distributors (and anyone who was anyone in the Hearties world) to fast-track the Season 5 Christmas episode to ACCTV!
After months of planning, the day came all too soon when we boarded the plane to travel to Vancouver, Canada, where HFR4 was to be held. All of us were super excited to be a part of this experience.
Hycroft Manor (the Thatcher Mansion)
One of the things we had pre-organised was a private tour of the stunningly beautiful Hycroft Manor, which was used as the Thatcher’s stately mansion in Season Two of When Calls the Heart.
We know that the building looked magnificent on the small screen, but it really doesn’t do justice to just how amazing this home is. The level of detail in the architecture and finishes are outstanding, from the beautiful leadlight windows, the tiles, to the ceiling roses and other ornate plasterwork, and gives a real sense of the love and care that was poured into this building’s construction and (later) restoration.
The rooms have been lovingly restored to their former glory by the University Women’s Club of Vancouver, and the grounds are simply immaculate. We also came to the quick realisation that on television, the staircase does not face the entrance to the house, it is actually on the other side of the home. They had to film the scene where Jack and Elizabeth arrive at the Thatcher Mansion from both sides of the house and splice the film together!
We also had the opportunity to explore all of the rooms, including that beautiful staircase, the drawing room where Elizabeth and Charles play the piano after the dinner party and the ballroom downstairs where Julie and Tom sneak in to steal a tango. Hycroft Manor does host a few open days each year, so if you are ever in Vancouver during these times, it’s well worth the time to visit (or do as we did and email them to ask for a special tour). Our time here was definitely a highlight of our trip!
Burnaby Village Museum & the HFR4 Dinner
The first item on our HFR4 itinerary was a trip to the Burnaby Village Museum. This visit provided us with a welcome opportunity to finally meet a real Mountie in the flesh. We greatly appreciated Staff Sergeant Major John Buis from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for making himself available to us and all the Hearties for photos. Kristyn was particularly happy to meet him!
Back to the host hotel and as we registered for HFR4 we received a fantastic bag of goodies from event organisers, including branded blankets, water bottles, and power bank phone chargers, a very unexpected and appreciated gift!
The dinner itself was amazing! We met several other Hearties from the US, Canada and other countries around the world, and got to meet the HFR volunteers who had obviously worked long and hard on the logistics and beautiful room decorations.
The author of When Calls the Heart, Janette Oke, also attended this evening, as did representatives Edify Films (which markets and distributes When Calls the Heart and its products), and representatives of the Hallmark Channel, Super Channel (the Canadian distributors of the show), Burnaby Tourism and the Hilton Hotel.
One common theme that emerged during these discussions was how When Calls the Heart was at the centre of a push for more family-friendly TV – television programs that could be watched by the whole family, from young children through to older people. This passion, helped in part by the Hearties, has led to the creation of dedicated channels in the US just screening this sort of programming. It’s a movement that is gathering momentum and reflects the themes of the programming offered by ACCTV here in Australia.
We were fortunate to hear from both co-executive producers Michael Landon Jr and Brian Bird.
Michael Landon Jr spoke of the passion of the Hearties and how important it was to the success of the show whilst Brian Bird spoke about the difficult birth of When Calls the Heart. The movie had stalled thanks to the Global Financial Crisis and took four years and some script rewrites to finish. A TV series was eventually commissioned, new actors came on-board and the rest is history!
Brian also acknowledged that the reaction to the end of Season Five proved to be challenging for the network, the actors and the Hearties social media administrators as well as the fans, but felt that Season Six would provide new hope. He credited the show’s success (including merchandising and a new spin-off series) to the dedication and passion of fans of the show.
We were also fortunate to get the chance to see around five minutes of various scenes from Season Six, to the delight of all those attending. Whilst we are unable to reveal what those clips were, we can tell you that based on what we saw, Season Six is likely to be much anticipated by fans.
Hearties were also asked to share some of their personal stories of what the show meant to them and what messages they took out of the show. Ange spoke of how the show reminded her of the sense of community that used to exist in her grandparents’ day in their small northern NSW town, where people banded together to support each other in times of need or come together to raise funds for infrastructure like school halls.
We had a quick chat to Michael Landon Jr after the event wrapped up to thank him for his work on the show and pose for a quick photo. We also flagged that it was important for us to see the episodes soon after they aired in America and asked for whatever help he could provide in convincing the powers that be to speed up the international distribution of the show.
Kristyn also spoke with Elliott Wallach from Edify Films to push the case for the distribution of When Calls the Heart products to Australia.
Meet the Stars
Wow! Where to begin!? An amazing day beyond our expectations. Firstly, a huge thank you to ACCTV for the awesome Aussie Hearties shirts they made for us to wear at the event – they received plenty of reaction on the day and made us easily identifiable (‘those Aussie girls’). Happy to ‘fly the flag’ for you and promote the great work that you do in bringing the show to our screens in Australia! The little Aussie gifts of clip-on koalas, Australian pencils and Furry Friend chocolates that ACCTV gave us to help ‘make friends’ were also a hit with Hearties – even Michael Landon Jr took pride in wearing his clip-on koala!
The day started with interviews with Hallmark and When Calls the Heart executives. The panel discussion also mentioned the new spin-off series, When Hope Calls. We also had the opportunity to meet the two lead actresses of this series, who will play sisters. We hope to be able to see this show on our screens here in Australia too!
Next was the main event for all Hearties fans – hearing from and meeting the stars of the show. Lori Loughlin (Abigail), Erin Krakow (Elizabeth), Carter Ryan Evancic (Cody), Pascale Hutton (Rosemary), Kavan Smith (Lee), Paul Greene (Dr Carson Shepherd), Jack Wagner (Bill) and Martin Cummins (Henry) drew enormous cheers from the 300-plus people in the room as they entered for the panel discussion. An additional cheer went up with the arrival of the two new characters in Season Six – played by Chris McNally and Kevin McGarry.
Hearties had previously been asked to submit questions for the actors, and both Jenn and Ange had their questions selected. Jenn had asked Carter during the job shadowing episode in Season 5 who he would have chosen if he hadn’t spent the time with Lee in the sawmill (Bill would have been his second choice). Ange had asked Martin what had changed for him or his character over the years the show has been running (Martin replied that the feeling of hope and family was a positive influence when he brought his kids to the set while working, which is often not the case with other sets he’s worked on previously).
Martin also let slip that he was texting former cast member (and Aussie) Daniel Lissing during the panel discussions and playfully gave Paul Greene a punch on Dan’s instruction.
Next was the highlight of the day – a kind of ‘speed dating’ with the stars which saw the cast and senior production staff visit each table for three minutes of talking and posing for photos with Hearties. This was our only chance for one-on-one interaction with the stars, and while three minutes wasn’t long, it was wonderful to meet these actors in person.
Everyone was so down to earth and genuine in their appreciation of Hearties and what they did for the show. The fact that we were Australian was also a winner, and everyone seemed genuinely impressed that we had travelled all the way to Canada for the event.
While it was a little sad that Daniel Lissing wasn’t there this year, we want to give a big shout out to another Australian cast member – the lovely Loretta Walsh (Florence in the show) who, upon learning we were fellow Australians, broke out into a loud chant of ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie’!
Following the lunch break, Paul Greene brought his guitar onstage for a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which was also a feature of last year’s HFR event. There are some beautiful voices among the 300+ Hearties and it was quite moving.
We then heard from some of the other actors. This panel discussion included some of the children including Ava Grace Cooper (Opal), Genea Charpentier (Laura), Gracyn Shinyei (Emily), Ben Rosenbaum (Hickam), Hrothgar Mathews (Ned Yost) Johannah Newmarch (Molly) and Andrea Brooks (Nurse Faith Carter).
Kristyn was also lucky enough to have her question to Ben selected, and asked Ben if he could have any other storyline in Hope Valley, what it would be. He responded that he would love to do a Freaky Friday/bodyswap scenario. Melanie MacInnes then gave us an insight into the development of the Jamestown movie set on their family farm (better known to Hearties as Hope Valley), which provided some broader context ahead of the set visit.
As another bonus, Hearties got a sneak preview of the much-anticipated Hallmark Christmas movie, the much-anticipated Marrying Father Christmas, starring Erin Krakow and Niall Matter. The movie has just gone to air in the US and wraps up the trilogy of movies.
Hope Valley set tour
A tour of the Hope Valley set was the last item on the HFR4 agenda and a beautiful way to wrap up the HFR4 experience!
Due to the number of people attending HFR4, the day was split into morning and afternoon tours (we were in the afternoon). The MacInnes Farm is located just outside of Vancouver, nestled in amongst blueberry farms and vineyards. Again, we were lucky to have the weather on our side, with the blue skies augmented by stunning autumn foliage.
All the buildings on the set have been constructed as actual buildings, rather than just simple facades, but some still need some computer magic to complete them. For example, on film, there are several row houses, but in reality, there are just two – one is set up for Elizabeth and one for Rosemary and Lee. The houses include stairs leading to the upper floor on TV, but in real life, there is no second floor in these buildings.
At the Saloon, the accommodation is on the second floor on the TV show, but in reality, it’s just a landing at the top of the stairs. If needed for the show, the rooms are created using computer graphics. The magic of television!
We were fortunate to have Director Neill Fearnley as our tour guide and appreciated his insights as he explained how scenes were filmed, how they re-dress rooms within the Hope Valley main street to save having to travel to other locations for filming, how they find their antique props, and how they deal with disruptions during filming (such as overhead planes).
The tour around the various locations within the set took around two hours, which gave us around 30 minutes to explore the locations ourselves and get our much-prized photos.
They also stumped up afternoon tea for us! Tea or coffee, fruit, and the President’s Choice vanilla cream biscuits that Lori Loughlin loves so much (for the record, they are pretty good)! So much so that we later bought two kilograms of them to take home with us.
This marked the end of HFR4 – an incredible experience. We want to express our heartfelt congratulations to the organising committee for all the work they did to make the event a success and in providing us with a beautiful experience that we’ll remember for many years. We’ve also made some great contacts with other Hearties from all over the world and we look forward to keeping in touch with them.
We hope that other Australians get the chance in future years to attend – it’s definitely worthwhile with a lot packed into the two-and-a-half days.
For more details about our adventures at HFR4 and in Canada, follow our blog https://whencallsjakk.home.blog/home/ or search for @whencallsJAKK on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.