As a year for the history books came to a close, Niagara-on-the-Lake made its way to centre stage for CBC's national New Year's Eve broadcast.
The show, viewed by about 2 million people and hosted by Canadian comedy icon Rick Mercer, was hosted at Wayne Gretzky Estates, with the broadcast jumping all around Canada and a final performance by Tyler Shaw on the Gretzky rink.
Tim Coons, manager for Gretzky Estates, said the NOTL distillery and winery was “thrilled” to be approached to host the show.
“We're so fortunate to be able to kind of help to represent Niagara-on-the-Lake. And so this was certainly an opportunity for all of Canada to be able to see what Niagara-on-the-Lake has to offer and just how special a place we are,” he said.
“A lot of people are really excited. I guess you could maybe say that people feel honoured, almost as though we're inviting Canada into our homes.”
Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky said having the estate chosen to host Canada’s New Year’s Eve celebration was “a really special honour.”
“I was so proud to be able to share our beautiful outdoor space and skating rink with all of Canada on such a special night,” Gretzky said in an emailed response to questions from The Lake Report.
“Showcasing the estate also gave Canadians a small glimpse of what Niagara-on-the-Lake has to offer. I want to wish my family, friends, my estate partner John Peller and all Canadians a great 2021,” The Great One added.
Coons said the producers of the show approached the NOTL operation with the opportunity.
“Some of the event organizers and Rick, they had been to the Gretzky property before. And so they approached us and just said, 'You know, there's the opportunity to host a New Year's Eve special CBC feature,' and essentially the concept was and is that they used the Gretzky rink as the anchor desk, and then bounced all throughout Canada, through all the provinces, to just check in on Canadians to see how they were celebrating their New Year's Eve.”
He said there's been a lot of “buzz” about the event on social media and people emailing or calling to share their excitement.
“And we have a ton of wine club members that live right in Niagara-on-the-Lake and so they've been emailing us sharing just how excited they are that we're part of it,” he said.
The timing of the show couldn't have been better because they had to close down the operation anyway, Coons said.
“So, because they were using the rink space for three days for the production, it was certainly good timing for us. Even more importantly, it was just a great opportunity to host Rick, such an honour to be able to host such an iconic Canadian at one of the greatest Canadian's properties. It was a ton of fun and a huge honour.”
The filming took place on Dec. 29, 30 and 31, Coons said, with a lot of the show, including Tyler Shaw's performance, being filmed live on New Year's Eve.
He said the CBC crew took extra precautions for COVID safety.
“They're a world-class outfit. And so if you can imagine they have COVID protocols,” he said.
Every team member on the broadcast was required to take a rapid COVID test each day of shooting, as well as undergo screening for symptoms. The crew also wore badges that would let them know if they got too close to another member.
“If you came within six feet of someone else, it would flash and beep,” Coons said.
A video from Wayne Gretzky was filmed elsewhere and sent in due to travel restrictions, he said.
“He sent in a video message to welcome Rick, who he knows. And, again, he was just so excited to be able to host Rick at his property and on his rink.”
He said CBC brought in a lot of extra props like Christmas trees, pyrotechnics and all the gear for Shaw's performance.
“There was a ton of setup that was required.”
Coons said though he didn't get to meet Mercer personally as he wasn't there during the filming, but the employees who did had a great time.
“The team got to hang out with them and they had a great time entertaining him and Tyler Shaw.”
Coons said it's exciting, too, that so many people viewed the broadcast.
“In terms of the total scope and size of the impact, that's pretty impressive. We were so fortunate to be able to host them and hopefully we can host them again.”
Anyone wishing to view the New Year's Eve broadcast can do so here: https://youtu.be/ExRHKu6_vdQ?t=41