‘The Beachcombers’ at 50: Star Jackson Davies Reflects on the Classic Canadian Series

The Beachcombers

Bruno Gerussi, Rae Brown, Bob Park, Nancy Chapple, Pat John and Robert Clothier in 'The Beachcombers'. Photo: Courtesy of Jackson Davies

What was Canada like half a century ago? Was it really a land of log salvagers as depicted on The Beachcombers?

It was perfect timing that, less than a week after the nation’s pride and identity were (just barely) restored by Team Canada in the famous summit hockey series, a little TV show teaming immigrant and Indigenous log wranglers in British Columbia began an epic run on CBC.

The Beachcombers, which premiered in October of 1972, became must-see on Sunday nights. It ran 18 seasons until 1990, logging (if you will pardon the expression)  387 episodes. 

That makes it the second longest-running Canadian drama series ever, behind only — if you add up all the incarnations — the Degrassi franchise.

More of a comedy-drama than Degrassi, The Beachcombers put Bruno Gerussi, who played Greek Canadian log-fetcher Nick Adonidas, into that rare category of performers — a Canadian TV star. It also made Pat John, the actor who played Adonidas’ young river partner Jesse, into an even rarer being — an Indigenous TV star.


The Beachcombers
Left to right, Robert Clothier (“Relic”), Bruno Gerussi (Nick Adonidas) and Pat John (Jesse). Photo: Courtesy of Jackson Davies


The series, meanwhile, was exported to countries all over the world. Viewers in more than 30 countries, including England, Australia, Germany, Greece, South Africa and even Hong Kong, knew about Molly’s Reach — the local diner by the bay where Nick and Jesse and their rival “Relic” (Robert Clothier) used to clash. 

The restaurant was run by Molly (Rae Brown), who was a mother figure to them all as well as to two grandchildren. They all lived in Gibsons, B.C., a real place next to a marina on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. It is where Molly’s Reach remains as an operating restaurant/tourist attraction to this day. Nearby, fans can still find Nick and Jesse’s boat, the “Persephone.” 

Jackson Davies, who played local law enforcer Constable Constable through most of the series, retains a close connection to the area where the series was shot.

“I did 250 episodes,” says the 72-year-old. “I have a memory every four feet.”


The Beachcombers
Jackson Davies as Constable Constable, in the ‘Beachcombers’, 1987. Photo: Courtesy of Jackson Davies


Ten years ago, Jackson co-wrote a book (with the late Marc Strange, co-creator of the series) titled, Bruno and The Beach: The Beachcombers at 40.  Every now and then he will re-watch the series (later episodes ran for years on APTN) and marvel at how the synopses sound like perfect fables for today’s audiences.

“They deal with things such as first growth freshness, land claims, return of Indigenous artefacts, conservation and the environment,” the Alberta native says. “My God, these things are still relevant today.”

Sadly, few of the original stars are still with us. Gerussi, for one, died at 67 in 1995. 

“He looked like a star,” says Davies. “Good looking guy, had that great head of hair, that fabulous voice trained at Stratford.”

Gerussi, whose heritage was Italian, was born in Medicine Hat and worked in sawmills before earning raves for stage performances in Romeo and Juliet and A Streetcar Named Desire. Prior to his TV success, he hosted a long-running CBC radio show and, for several years concurrent with The Beachcombers, he hosted his own celebrity cooking series; David Letterman once joined him as a guest.

“I always got along wonderfully with Bruno,” Davies says. He adds, however, that the actor’s combative nature sometimes rubbed his employers the wrong way. “He always defended the workers,” said Davies. “Bruno would stand up for them.”


The Beachcombers
Robert Clothier, Janet Laine-Green, Bruno Gerussi, Jackson Davies, unidentified skipper. Photo: Courtesy of Jackson Davies


Gerussi and the character he played represented more than just a log salvager working the B.C. coast. He was a hard-working immigrant, teamed with a young, Indigenous partner. Five years after Expo 67, theirs was a Canada full of blue skies and endless possibilities.

In real life, things got even more iconically Canadian for Gerussi. His son Rico married Canadian novelist/historian Pierre Berton’s daughter Patsy.

Pat John, meanwhile, was a member of the Shíshálh Nation in Sechelt, B.C. and one of the first Indigenous actors to appear in Canadian TV. He died this past July in B.C. at 69.

A residential school survivor, John was still a teenager when he, without any acting experience, answered an ad to audition for the series. He had a unique speaking style and cadence, so much so that he captivated two future giants of American television.

Before he became a late-night TV host, Conan O’Brien and his Harvard writing pal Greg Daniels (who went on to co-create the American version of The Office, among other shows) decided to take a road trip to Vancouver. Turning on the TV in the hotel, they became mesmerized by The Beachcombers.


“It was about guys picking up logs in the water!” said O’Brien, who I first interviewed in the late ’90s when he was still hosting his late-night series in New York.

In particular, they were fascinated by the performance of Pat John. The two young Americans decided to look up the actor. Using the phone book, they found his address and dropped in on him at home, posing as TV producers. 

Both O’Brien and Daniels have told me this story, with Daniels going so far to add that his agent kept urging him to turn it into a movie.

Davies once asked John if he remembered meeting O’Brien and Daniels. They sounded familiar, said John, although he added that a lot of guys were doing that back in the day.

John, like Davies, reprised his role on The New Beachcombers, a proposed spinoff series that ran as two TV-movies in 2002 and 2004. Cameron Bancroft, Deanna Milligan, Dave Thomas and Graham Green were in the short-lived revival.

After that, John retired from acting, concentrating on fishing and clam harvesting.

Davies kept right on acting, appearing in movies such as Tom Green’s bizarre comedy, Freddy Got Fingered. His heart, however, remains within Molly’s Reach.

With so many classic TV shows available now for streaming, he hopes CBC, or somebody else, will crack open the vault and share more episodes of The Beachcombers. There is a generation that only knows it from references on Corner Gas or The Simpsons.

“Here this unapologetically Canadian show comes on, and maybe we were there at the right time,” Davies says. “People were saying, ‘It’s okay to be Canadian, we don’t have to apologize, we are okay, we can hold our own with the world.’”


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