It feels like just yesterday that we were selected to attend the Hearties Family Reunion in Vancouver, and today, it’s hard to believe that it’s actually happening! We appreciate how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to attend this year’s event and it’s been a fantastic day.
The first item on our HFR4 itinerary was a trip to the Burnaby Village Museum. The HFR4 team was able to arrange with the Museum to open up the venue to Hearties only for a few hours, giving us the chance to step back in time and get a sense of what life was like in western Canada in the early 1900s. One of the features of the Museum was a fully operational carousel, beautifully restored. Riding the painted wooden horses took us back to our childhoods.
The Village Museum also provided us with a welcome opportunity to finally meet a Mountie in the flesh. We greatly appreciate the generosity of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for giving us the chance to get some great photos.
We registered at 1pm for HFR4 and were assigned our tables for the night and tomorrow. We also received a fantastic bag of goodies from event organisers – greatly appreciated, and it shows the extent of the trouble they have gone to to ensure we all have a very memorable time.
During dinner, we met several other Hearties from the US, Canada and other countries around the world. Our Aussie accents seemed to be a hit with the others, which is encouraging as we greatly appreciate the opportunity to experience something like this. We got to meet the HFR team (who have worked long and hard on the logistics and beautiful room decorations) and enjoyed a lovely meal and dessert.
The author of When Calls the Heart, Janette Oke, also attended this evening, as did representatives Edify Films (the DVD distributor), and representatives of the Hallmark Channel, Super Channel (the Canadian distributors of the show), Burnaby Tourism and the Hilton Hotel.
We were fortunate to hear from both co-executive producers Michael Landon Jr and Brian Bird. We were initially told that Michael was not able to attend the event, but that he had provided a video message to apologise for his absence. The message then took a humourous turn, and he joked with the camera operator once the recording had ‘stopped’ that the Hearties would ‘eat you alive’, a nod to the passionate social media response from Hearties following the death of Daniel Lissing’s character Jack Thornton last season. Michael then joined the event, to the cheers of the crowd.
Brian Bird also spoke about the difficult birth of When Calls the Heart, and how the show itself personified commitment, courage and perseverance. Brian said that back in 2008, they had shot 11 days of footage for the original telemovie (based on Janette Oke’s novels) before the Global Financial Crisis saw the project’s funding collapse. After managing to secure funding to complete the work, the project hit another snag when the original actors (Maggie Grace and Stephen Amell) were unavailable to continue filming. The storyline was adapted (with Janette’s okay) to reference a journal, found by the niece of the original actress’s character Elizabeth Thatcher, which chronicled her journey to the west as a teacher and falling for Mountie Wynn, and the original footage was used in flashback sequences. The final filming on the telemovie was completed four years after the collapse of funding for the original project. Following the success of the telemovie, a TV series was commissioned, and with increasing viewer numbers the Hearties movement was born.
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 scenes from Season Six, to the delight of those attending. Unfortunately, we aren’t able to share the details of these scenes with you, suffice to say 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 village, where people banded together to support each other in times of need or come together to raise funds for infrastructure like school halls, and how more of that was needed today.
There were also presentations from Edify Films about DVDs and other When Calls the Heart merchandise, and from Hallmark Channel about the new Hope Valley church Christmas ornament (it is not being distributed outside the US and Canada, however, all international Hearties attending were given the opportunity to purchase one tonight).
We finished off the night with 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. He said he’s not been to Australia in a while – Michael, you are welcome to come visit any time. 😊
Tomorrow is the big day – with most of the cast expected to attend. Stay tuned!