Once Upon a Time draws super fans to Steveston
Katy Lewis is a Once Upon a Time super fan. She’s snapped photos with the stars, snagged autographs and knows main street Storybrooke—also known as Moncton Street—like her own block.
But Lewis, 33, lives in Whitehorse, Yukon—not Steveston, where the popular ABC TV series is filmed. So in recent years, she’s been travelling to the fishing village twice a year and staying at the Steveston Hotel to immerse herself in the fictional town millions watch on TV each week.
Lewis is one of a growing number of tourists drawn to Richmond for more than its salmon and strawberries. Staff at the Tourism Richmond Visitor Centre in the Steveston Museum are seeing film tourism firsthand: it recorded over 50 visitors to the centre in January who said Once Upon a Time was the central reason for visiting Steveston.
“Steveston is nice because it’s not in the city,” said Lewis, a medical transcriptionist. “I can be in Steveston and just enjoy the small town—the candy shop the ice cream shop—the little shops on what I call main street.”
Drawn to the show for its messages of hope and true love, Lewis began her TV travels on a suggestion from family.
“I’m a huge TV show fan, huge movie buff,” she said. “I just started researching and I found out that Steveston was the set for Storybrooke, and thought it was really cool.”
In town this week, Lewis didn’t spy any filming—the show was apparently shooting in Lynn Canyon, a private residence and in studio—but she has before. Stars she’s met include Josh Dallas (Prince Charming), Jared Gilmore (Henry Mills) and Alan Dale (King George). The wait to meet stars can be long, but can pay off.
She met Dallas on her first visit.
“I had actually bought a birthday card for myself to try and get autographed, figuring that would be more of a draw than some random piece of hotel paper,” she said. “We had this two-minute conversation and photograph and everything. It was really really neat.”
To meet Dale, Lewis relied on her Canadian charm, asking with a photo in the politest way possible.
“The cast and the crew are really appreciative of their Canadian fans because we know how to play polite and we know how to respect boundaries.”
Lewis knows all the Storybrooke hotspots—the Storybrooke Coffee Co. (Steveston Coffee Company), Granny’s Diner (The Cannery Cafe) and Storybrooke Country Bread (formerly known as Romania Country Bread). Now it’s the people, and the proximity to Vancouver, that keeps her coming back to Steveston.
One local merchant happy to see fans is Shirley Hartwell, owner of the Steveston Candy Dish. Her Moncton Street store isn’t featured in the show—her building is too new—but she’s riding the wave of interest nonetheless. She offers fans a brochure featuring a self-guided walking tour of Storybrooke for a $2 donation to the food bank. She’s raised $1,500 so far.
Hartwell also sells plenty of sweet souvenirs, from Snow White Fudge to the Prince Charming Chocolate Sword to the Evil Queen Apple. Fans—”Oncers” as they’re called—come from all over the world, she said.
“I had two girls in here yesterday who were completely dressed in Once Upon a Time stuff, and they’re from L.A.,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what time of year it is. They’re coming hoping to see them filming but they generally don’t. They’re just excited to be in town and see where things are.”
The Tourism Richmond Visitor Centre sells a range of their own souvenirs—T-shirts, buttons, ball caps, bags, magnets—having brokered an exclusive deal to use the “Welcome to Storybrooke” logo. Director of communications Michelle Dunn said centre staff regularly see tourists from around the world, including recent mother-daughter fans from Puerto Rico who said the fantasy show was the reason for their visit.