How Canada Has Become a Pilgrimage Site for ‘Schitt’s Creek’ Fans

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GOODWOOD, Ontario — Joe Toby was recently giving a young couple a tour of his workshop, when the man sprinkled rose petals on the concrete floor and got down on one knee.

The woman was a big “Schitt’s Creek” fan, it turned out, and was ecstatic to get engaged in the building, which doubled as a mechanic’s garage in the series, he said.

“And here I was thinking it’s just my workshop,” said Mr. Toby, a retired machine maker who uses the space to build specialty beds for disabled children. “I guess it is special.”

A satire about a fabulously wealthy family that loses all its money and is forced to settle in a town the patriarch bought as a joke because of its name, “Schitt’s Creek” has become a cult hit for its quirky humor, haute couture costume design and the fictional town’s unlikely embrace of gay love. It won a record nine awards at the Emmys, including one for best comedy.

Nowhere has its sudden popularity been felt more intensely than Goodwood, a sleepy commuter hamlet 28 miles north of Toronto that was the main location for filming over six seasons.

The hamlet feels like a postcard from antiquity, with heritage homes on less than a dozen streets and farmland on either side. The last census put its population at 663 — mostly retirees and young professionals with families who commute to the city for work.

Before “Schitt’s Creek,” Goodwood’s claims to fame were decidedly more pedestrian — potatoes grown on nearby farms, and the surrounding gravel pits, which produce the raw material to build highways and downtown buildings.

Now, it has become a pilgrimage site of fans, who call themselves “Schittheads” and arrive in droves to the hamlet’s main intersection to take selfies in front of the buildings that served as the series’ set. Some arrive in character, dressed as Moira, the dramatic matriarch who has named her precious wigs like children, or Alexis, the socialite daughter. They spend money at the local bakery and general store, but also peer into windows, clog parking spots, and in a few cases, walk into homes, locals say.

“They are rude,” said Sheila Owen, whose house doubled for the home of the supporting character “Ronnie.” “They come and expect us to be the same people portrayed in the show — that we are hicks who are stupid.”

That feeling is not universally held. Eleanor Todd, 87, got dressed up with her granddaughter to stroll up to the now-famous corner and take photos like all the tourists. It’s the busiest that intersection has been since Goodwood’s glory days, when it boasted two hotels, four general stores, a skating arena and both a cobbler and tailor. That was in 1885.

“I’m getting a kick out of it,” said Ms. Todd, a former teacher who wrote and self-published the hamlet’s authoritative history, “Burrs and Blackberries from Goodwood.”

Development in the hamlet has been greatly limited because it sits on ecologically sensitive land, the Oak Ridges Moraine. As a result, it has retained its quaint smallness and avoided the sprawl afflicting so many towns in southern Ontario. That’s what attracted the creators of “Schitt’s Creek,” Eugene and Dan Levy, according to their location manager Geoffrey Smither.

“They liked that feeling — here’s the town, there’s the country,” said Mr. Smither, who toured 28 small towns scouting for the perfect backdrop to the show. “None of them arise and depart like Goodwood.”

When he appeared before the local township councilors to ask for a filming permit, they burst out laughing and agreed.

“It was going to put us on the map,” said Bev Northeast, a former longtime councilor who lives in Goodwood.

Locals says fans started to appear in 2016, a year after the show premiered on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the national broadcaster, but really ramped up after “Schitt’s Creek” was taken up by Netflix in 2017. By the summer of 2019, two chartered buses arrived to the intersection, spilling out people in matching T-shirts and lanyards that said “SchittCon.” (That’s short for “Schitt’s Creek” Convention.)

Across the street, Mr. Toby was inspired, by the crush of Schittheads asking for tours of his workshop, to build a donation box by the front door. In one weekend, he raised $270 for the local hospital and historical center, he said.

“For years, I was the best kept secret in Goodwood,” said Mr. Toby, 75, who is a natural storyteller and enjoys holding court. “Nobody knew what I did in here.”

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