As the 20th anniversary of the first CBC airing of Happy Christmas Miss King approaches, we take a look back at the early production of what would become Road to Avonlea's only reunion film.

When Road to Avonlea wrapped in 1996, Sullivan was hesitant to bring back his hit series.  However, there was one possibility that attracted him.  

"We never did a Christmas movie," Sullivan told the Toronto Star.

During the series, Disney and CBC played Scrooge and discouraged a Road to Avonlea Christmas special, claiming that it would somehow disrupt their scheduling.

Nevertheless, Road to Avonlea and Christmas seemed like a perfect match ('Christmas in June' not withstanding) and this tantilizing opportunity was not the only thing drawing Sullivan back to Montgomery's world.

At the time, Sullivan's website was receiving up to 50,000 hits a week from fans clamoring for a reunion film and even asking if the Avonlea cast would appear in Sullivan's 'Wind At My Back.'  "I get a lot of pressure from people to do more with Anne and Avonlea," he said.

Cast members were also intrigued by the possibility of a reunion film. When Jackie Burroughs was asked if there would be a reunion, the actress said "Why not!" But they'd have to rebuild the village first."  

The costly Uxbridge set was destroyed after the seventh and final season of Road to Avonlea and the interior scenes from the Scarborough warehouse had been moved or modified.  Despite this, Sullivan told the Toronto Star that the set could be duplicated.

Sullivan decided that Raymond Storey would write the film.  One of the reasons Storey was selected by Sullivan was because the writer has an affinity for period drama and an eye for detail.  "That's why we have an understanding of period (drama): we've studied it. And we're also used to working in a very hands-on way."

Sullivan's next task was to approach the actors.  It was questionable whether Jackie Burroughs would return considering that she used to argue with the producer over how he treated the actors. 

Despite these disagreements, the actress was willing to resume her pivitol role as Hetty King.  "I didn't have any unsolved agony, didn't have any axes to grind, because I fought all the way along," Burroughs said. "And I have this lovely house in Mexico thanks to Kevin."

Burroughs built a home in the hills of Ozxaca out of proceeds from Avonlea and her performance in Happy Christmas Miss King paid for the June wedding of her dauther Zoe in Kingston.

Mag Ruffman was filming the second season of her do-it-yourself show, Fix It With Mag Ruffman' on the Women's Television Network. After wearing a corset as Olivia in the mornings, Mag would don her toolbelt in the afternoon to film her repair show.

"It's amazingly hard because I've had emotional scenes. I arrive on the set of my show all puffy-eyed and emotionally exhausted and I've got to plumb a toilet. Plumbing, at the best of times, is really horrible. When you're in a kind of miffed mood, it's pathetic."

"When you create a character, it doesn't go away," Mag reflected. "You sometimes wonder how she's doing."

Cedric Smith returned as Alec King and shot an amusing criticism toward the series' successor.  "Lots of people miss the show because it never has really been replaced," he said. "That's what Wind At My Back is supposed to be doing, but I don't think it has done that at all."

Gema Zamprogna graduated from Queen's University that Spring with a BA in arts, drama and film and was looking to resume her acting career.  "I've lived a completely different life for the last three years and did no acting," she said.

When Gema met Lally Cadeau on the first day of filming they "started laughing and we had tears coming down our faces because we couldn't believe how strange it was we were doing this again."

Happy Christmas Miss King began shooting near Pickering in the sweltering August heat of 1998. In the midst of this heatwave, the film crew were wearing shorts and T-Shirts while the regular cast and extras were wearing overcoats, furs and boots.  Fake snow was draped over the roofs and sidewalks.

The cast was back and the script was set.  Behind the scenes, producer Ray Sager was imagining more Avonlea reunions. And why not?  Road to Avonlea was the greatest series in Canadian television history and had a legion of fans.

The success of the Christmas movie was destined to launch multiple films and possibly a spin off series or two.  

What could possibly go wrong?


Leave a comment

Post comment as a guest

0 / 5000 Character restriction
Your text should be less than 5000 characters

People in this conversation

  • Alanna

    I purchased the DVD of Avonlea Christmas movie several years ago. I had not seen RTA in years, as I used to watch it on TV, so I was glad to see the familiar RTA faces. However, I haven't watched the DVD in a very long time because I hadn't initially seen the last season or two, so the foundling home and Ada Hubble were new subjects for me. So those plot lines were hard to follow. Also, the feud over the allegedly incapable Jasper had gotten too old. I know that probably happens in real life where people might hark their tunes and not compromise. However, it was boring in a TV show. The script seemed so hurried in every aspect.

  • Ryan B

    Although Avonlea never had a Christmas special air during its run, the three main young actors from the series, Sarah Polley, Zachary Bennett, and Gema Zamprogna, did all appear in Holiday specials that aired on Canadian television during Avonlea's second season (1991). Sarah appeared in the claymation/live action short Johann's Gift to Christmas which aired on CBC. Zach appeared in the live action/animation short Nilus the Sandman: The Boy who Dreamed Christmas and which aired on CTV. And Gema appeared in the animated short The Soulmates: The Gift of Light. Their starring appearance's in those specials was obviously due to the extreme popularity of RTA at that time. I've only seen the first two and I guess there about all you can expect from a short Christmas special. At least they weren't like the Star Wars Holiday Special though!

  • Ryan B

    That's interesting that fans wanted the Avonlea cast members to appear in Wind At My Back. It doesn't really fit together at all as the series have nothing to do with each other. Would have made more sense for the cast to appear in Anne 3 as those series are much more related.

  • That's harsh Alanna, blasting Happy Christmas Miss King like this, lol. You bring up some good points though. What becomes apparent is that the writer, Raymond Storey, just went back and copied most of the plot lines from the series. Did they have to harken back to the ol' Jasper is so incompetent, bumbling and clumsy that he can't make it to the boat? Maybe he couldn't find the boat. Maybe he didn't even get out of the house! If he was so helpless, why didn't Olivia hold his hand and guide him to the boat? Don't worry about it being hard to follow. It was hard hard to follow for many of us who watched the full series.

  • Ryan, that's great information about Sarah, Zachary and Gema in Canadian holiday films. I may have to look for those shows this Christmas. Good point about the Star Wars Holiday Special. I suppose it's one saving grace is that it had Boba Fett.

    It's funny you should mention the cast possibly appearing in Anne 3. I have speculated that the plot for Anne 3 would have worked better with Road to Avonlea. Sullivan received a backlash for the film because it strayed so far from the books. Since Montgomery wrote very little about the future of the King family, it would have provided an opportunity to advance their story. Also, the literary critics likely wouldn't have called it a "desecration."

  • Ryan B

    That's true we did get Boba. Voiced by Don Francks (Abe Pike) too. Kind of neat to see him in that animated segment along with all the original Star Wars cast. Shame he didn't voice the character in the features.
    That's a good point about Anne 3 and Avonlea. You would think having any story based during WW1 would be an interesting plot for television but it just didn't seem to work in the Avonlea/Anne universe.

  • Thanks Ryan for the mention about Don Francks. I don't know how I missed that he was the voice for Boba Fett from the Star Wars Holiday special. He does have the voice for the role.