The cold and wind swept down Harrison’s streets Saturday night, but that didn’t stop a line up of people from stretching down Esplanade Avenue.
The line began at Memorial Hall, and by 5:20 p.m. had reached the Soft Touch ice cream shack and kept expanding. The most eager people — the ones who had started waiting in front of the hall at 4 p.m. that day — were singing Canadian folk song This land is your land. Others further down the line met with friends, and talked about the show they were gathering to see.
At 6 p.m., the doors would open to Memorial Hall and hundreds of patrons would flock in to see Canadian comedian Jonny Harris live on stage. He had been staying in Harrison Hot Springs for the past five days, and on Saturday, Jan. 12, was set to share his humour with the community.
Sometimes better known for his role as Const. George Crabtree in Murdoch Mysteries, Harris is the host of CBC’s Still Standing, a comedy series that showcases the humour in small towns across the country.
Now entering its fifth season, which will begin showing on CBC this fall, the show has seen Harris visit communities as far apart as Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, Avondale in Newfoundland and now, Harrison Hot Springs in the west of B.C.
“When we started this show, I thought the problem would be that, eight or nine episodes in, we’d be repeating the same … small town jokes about having one stop light,” Harris said. “And that’s never been a problem.”
“Every town really is different.”
Harrison Hot Springs was the 62nd town Harris has visited during his CBC adventures, and perhaps one of the few where tourism was the key industry.
“This town has obviously taken on a bit of a life of its own” outside the Harrison Hot Springs Resort, Harris said, noting the variety of outdoor adventures and excursions visitors can take on.
“The fact that there’s lots of great food to eat in a town of this size is pretty neat,” he added.
Before Harris even came to Harrison Hot Springs, he and his team began working on jokes about the community, using research to begin building a foundation for his comedy sketch. But coming in to the town brought up new ideas for the show as well.
“I didn’t know much about the origins of the Sasquatch,” Harris said. “I didn’t know about the hot springs themselves. I keep finding all these little gems across the country.”
It was those little gems that locals were eager to laugh at during Harris’ Saturday night show.
Residents from Chilliwack, Agassiz and of course Harrison piled into Memorial Hall, with many standing along the edges of the room after the seats had been filled.
Mayor Leo Facio was in the front row, as were many of the people Harris had filmed during his time in Harrison: Chehalis sculptor Claude “Rocky” LaRock, Tourism Harrison’s Stephanie Gallimore, BC Sportfishing Group owner Tony Nootebos, Sasquatch researcher Thomas Steenburg and Black Forest Restaurant owner Sunny Manahani.
Over the better part of an hour, jokes were made about the history of Harrison — particularly around the local Sasquatch lore, but also sturgeon fishing, tourism and local weather.
“There’s a lot of wind surfing, kite boarding,” Harris said, standing on stage with an illuminated map of Canada behind him. “Even people just chasing their patio furniture down Esplanade.”
The audience laughed, and cameras panned around to catch their reaction.
Putting together the comedy sketch during the five days he was in Harrison was “a bit of a slog,” Harris said. He and the show’s other writers spent nights holed up in their hotel rooms in Harrison Beach Hotel, composing their acts on computer screens rather than exploring.
“I really get to see a lot of the flair of the town, but then in the evenings I’m in front of my computer all night. So it kind of sucks,” he said, somewhat wistfully after the show. “I would have liked to go out and see more restaurants and stuff like that.”
But that’s show business. On Sunday, Jan. 13, Harris and his team would be flying to Lumby, B.C. to begin another week of shooting for the show. And on Saturday, standing on stage in front of laughing locals, he was closing off his time in Harrison.
“What you guys have here is both balance and variety. You have hot and cold. You have a hectic excitement, then tranquil isolation. Big hearts, and even bigger feet,” Harris said, to the general amusement of the hall. “If variety is the spice of life, you guys get to take that spice, put it on your schnitzel and eat it in the pool.”
“Even if the winter months remain a struggle for residents and businesses, Harrison Hot Springs will survive,” he continued. “For the first time, I can say in a small town with a smile on my face, you’re always going to be in hot water.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Harris was travelling to London, Ont. on Sunday, Jan. 13. He was actually travelling to Lumby, B.C. The article has been changed to reflect this correction, and we regret the error.