Period props and picture cars set the mood

You don’t need to be a “reel” detective to deduce that Murdoch Mysteries takes place in the early 1900s in the Age of Invention. The enduring CBC series wraps up its eighth season on Monday, March 30 and has been renewed for a ninth season which begins production in May.

Watching the detective

Murdoch Mysteries was adapted for television from Maureen Jennings’ popular novels and is now seen around the world in 110 countries. William Murdoch is a very Canadian sleuth (as we like to see ourselves): methodical, polite, modest, bilingual and mostly non-violent.

Beautiful costumes, authentic sets, ingenious gadgets and vintage vehicles are a big part of the appeal for period dramas. Viewers are magically transported back into a bygone era. We share the characters’ sense of wonder at the new world of horseless carriages, flying machines and women’s rights. Egads!reel beach-MakingMurdoch805MurdochTakesManhattan03

The television and film industry pumps more than $1 billion into Toronto’s economy each year. For every star like Yannick Bisson (Murdoch) there are hundreds of unsung workers who recreate the atmosphere of dawn-of-the-century Toronto. The series has triggered 8,000 production jobs in the province for actors, writers, directors, extras and crew.

Period props a treat for fans

Where does he get those wonderful toys? Most of the props and sets are created at the Murdoch studios near Eglinton and Warden in Scarborough. Last July admirers from as far away as Australia and France visited the studio lot during a Fan Day.

Big crowds also turned out to see the brilliant exhibit “Art and the Automobile” at the 2015 Auto Show. Four of the cars on display appeared on Murdoch Mysteries, including the 1908 Reo (photo at right) owned by Ross McTavish of Waterloo.

The replica 1903 Ford featured in Who Killed the Electric Car? was built by prop master Craig Grant. Each auto was set against a huge backdrop of historic Toronto streetscapes, including storefronts on Queen Street circa 1903.

(Note: The 2013 episode “Nightmare on Queen Street” is not about road construction.)

Some of the vehicles come from private collectors. Producers also rely on picture car companies. Looking for a 1955 Chevy for James Dean in the new film Life (2015)? Need two NYPD squad cars for a Beauty and the Beast scene at Kew Gardens? No problem!

Peek behind the scenes

Shaftesbury has now partnered with the Ontario Government on Making Murdoch, a 20-part online companion series ( which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the production of season eight on location at many of the beautiful sites in our province. It features unique places and untold stories, including the history of Old Town Toronto and the rise of the automobile. The series is set at Toronto Constabulary’s Station #4, which was on Dundas Street east of Parliament Street.

The detective is certainly a man ahead of his time. In one video, Making Murdoch: The Filmed Adventures of William Murdoch, historian Mike Filey talks about the reality of movie going in Toronto at the turn of the century.

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