7 films that showcase Canada’s natural beauty

the-canadian-rockies Photo by naka5630/Shutterstock

It’s common knowledge that Canadian cities often stand in for American ones on film sets: Toronto has become Chicago and New York, Vancouver appears as San Francisco and Pyongyang, North Korea, and Montreal has (somewhat bizarrely) morphed into Washington, D.C. and (less surprisingly) Paris.

But there’s a lot more to Canada than just cities and filmmakers know our natural scenery is a cinematographer’s dream. Here are seven movies that showcase Canada’s wild side.

The Revenant

Filming The Revenant was ridiculously challenging because, well, Alberta in winter. Shot largely in Kananaskis Country, west of Calgary, as well as other Alberta locations, temperatures on set sometimes reached minus 30 degrees, locking the camera gear and and freezing the cast and crew. (Director Alejandro G. Inarritu suspended shooting when things got really, really bad.) Discomfort aside, though, there’s no doubt that Alberta’s glorious scenery — standing in for Montana and South Dakota — was a huge reason The Revenant was so successful, winning three Oscars, including Best Cinematography. Look for shots of Bow Valley, Fortress Mountain and Drumheller, as well as BC locales like the Squamish Valley, where the iconic bear attack was filmed.

Brokeback Mountain  

Alberta’s Kananskis Range makes another appearance, this time pretending to be Wyoming in Ang Lee’s adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story. (Spoiler: there is no actual Brokeback Mountain in real life.) The movie, which was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography, includes shots of the famous Three Sisters peaks, as well as Fortress Mountain. Most of the scenes of Jack and Ennis camping with the sheep were shot around Canyon Creek in west Kananaskis — in fact, you can easily hike to several of the film’s locations.   

The Twilight series

Set mainly in Washington State, the Twilight movies were filmed throughout the Pacific Northwest, including Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Look for key BC locales including Pacific Rim National Park’s Long Beach (where Bella, stating the obvious to Jacob in New Moon, says “So you’re a werewolf”), the Sea-to-Sky highway between Vancouver and Squamish, and Stawamus Chief Provincial Park, which is the site of the rock climbing scene in Breaking Dawn, Part 2 as well as Bella and Edward’s wedding and reception. Widgeon Slough National Wildlife area near Pitt River, BC stands in for the LaPush reservation.

Titanic

Of course, much of Titanic was shot in a gigantic tank in a studio in Mexico, but the modern-day scenes that frame the beginning and end of the movie were shot in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Originally intended to be a 10-day production, the shoot ballooned to three months, and was capped off by a prankster putting hallucinogenic PCP into the cast and crew’s soup on the last day of shooting, sending more than 50 people to hospital. Aside from the shooting, though, director James Cameron visited Halifax’s Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, using the Titanic staircase displayed at the museum to create his own for the movie’s set.   

Outlander 

This sci-fi Viking/alien mishmash film (not to be confused with the Scottish time-travel series of the same name) was mostly filmed in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, with Bay of Islands, Newfoundland providing the dramatic opening shots of high cliffs and pounding ocean. Aerial shots over Gros Morne National Park also establish the movie’s rugged, desolate beauty. Rather than use L’Anse Aux Meadows, an actual Viking settlement on the north tip of Newfoundland, the filmmakers instead built a replica village in Nine Mile River, Nova Scotia.

The Shipping News

Set in Newfoundland, The Shipping News almost didn’t get filmed there, with potential leading man John Travolta preferring to shoot in Maine instead. After Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx objected, Kevin Spacey was cast as Quoyle, the film’s lead, and filming took place in Trinity Bight, Newfoundland, among other Newfoundland and Nova Scotia locations. According to director Lasse Hallström in an interview, the location was absolutely vital to the movie. “You can’t replace the look of Newfoundland and the inspiration of that place,” he said. “It’s such a big part of the inspiration to make this movie … it was the experience of a lifetime.”  

One Week

In One Week, Canada doesn’t stand in for anywhere else — it plays itself as its main character, Ben Tyler, rides from Toronto to Tofino following a cancer diagnosis. Look for scenes across the country, including (among others) Thunder Bay and Kenora, Ontario, Carman and Elm Creek, Manitoba, Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, Radium Hot Springs in BC and, finally, Tofino and Ucluelet. Along with the fantastic scenery, One Week’s soundtrack is a fantastic collection of Canadian music from coast to coast, including Joel Plaskett, Sam Roberts and the Tragically Hip.

Capote

Winnipeg doesn’t get the nickname “Hollywood North” like Toronto or Vancouver, but that doesn’t mean filming doesn’t happen there. One example: Winnipeg and its environs partly stand in for Kansas and other US locales in Capote, which was filmed in 2005 and starred Philip Seymour Hoffman. Funeral home scenes took place in Selkirk, north of Winnipeg, while the prison exterior shots were of the Stony Mountain Penitentiary in Rockwood. Several exterior shots make use of Manitoba’s wide open spaces to set the mood of the film.

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