Lights, camera, action! NCC conservation lands in the movies

Movie reel (Photo by Runner1616, Wikimedia Commons)

Movie reel (Photo by Runner1616, Wikimedia Commons)

December 4, 2014 | by Kailey Setter

One of the many perks of working with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) in Alberta is I get to work in some of the most incredible landscapes in the province. In the course of my field work I’ve been to the Canadian Badlands, waded through the prairie pothole wetlands, and hiked the scenic western slopes. I’ve also walked in the footsteps of an injured rodeo champion, and been to the site where Clark Kent (aka Superman) buried his father.

Beynon, AB (Photo by Damslattery, Wikimedia Commons)

Beynon, AB (Photo by Damslattery, Wikimedia Commons)

You may or may not know this, but before it was conserved in 2000, NCC’s Beynon property was used as the backdrop for the Smallville cemetery in the 1978 Superman movie. In this scene a young Clark (played by Christopher Reeve) mourns the loss of his adopted father after he suffers a fatal heart attack. In the background of the shot, you can see the historic town of Beynon, Alberta — the remnants of which can still be seen today — as well as the lands along Rosebud Creek, which are now under conservation protection by NCC.

It’s this moment in the movie that inspires Clark Kent to become Superman. Having seen the view myself, I can attest to its inspiring qualities. Having the opportunity to walk these amazing landscapes inspires me to try to save the world as well.

Superman was not the only movie to be filmed on lands that would later be conserved by NCC. Before it was conserved in 2012, another smaller movie called Goldenrod was filmed in 1976 on NCC’s Connop property south of Calgary. Though I have not been lucky enough to track down a copy of this particular film, a quick internet search reveals that it was about a champion rodeo rider who receives a crippling injury in the ring, putting an end to his career. If that wasn’t enough, the poor man’s wife deserts him and he is left with the responsibility of raising two young sons with no job and no prospects.

Sounds like the perfect country song in the making, if you ask me. Today the Connop property is a refuge for mountain bluebirds, deer and moose, yet still retains some of that wild west character in the form of an old wooden horse barn. These remnants of its ranching history imbue it with personality.

In my travels with NCC I also visited a property that could have been substituted for the planet of Dagoba (Yoda’s home in the original Star Wars movies). Though the iconic swampy Dagoba scenes from the Star Wars series were not filmed on NCC lands (they were actually all filmed inside a studio), they could easily have been shot at the eerily beautiful Spirit Rocks Nature Sanctuary in central Alberta.

The first time I stepped onto this surreal conservation property I felt like stepping on to the set of a movie. The wetlands and dense forest vegetation were reminiscent of Yoda’s home planet. With a light fog settled in over the property, I was sure Yoda himself would emerge from the mists to impart some of his baffling wisdom.

“Preserve biodiversity, you must.” At the very least he would recount that famous tagline, “May the force be with you.”

Fortunately, at properties like Spirit Rocks Nature Sanctuary you don’t need Yoda to remind you that the force is all around you. You feel it as soon as you set foot on the property. The overwhelming sense of awe I feel when I see some of these conserved lands is even better that the feeling you get from watching a movie. 

While these movies are iconic and entertaining, I think the landscapes that inspire them win hands-down every time.

Kailey Setter

About the Author

Kailey Setter is the national manager of conservation engagement at the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

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