The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) is at the corner of Duckworth and Cathedral streets directing traffic and, down the street, a sky-blue GTO sits outside a distinctive orange and white building.
For St. John’s natives, it’s just another day of filming for their popular homegrown drama, Republic of Doyle. But for a fan like me, it’s nirvana.
While the street in front of the Duke of Duckworth is closed to traffic, anyone can wander down to watch the action and we do—the affable actor Allan Hawco (a.k.a. private investigator Jake Doyle) is shooting a scene from season three, stopping between takes to pose for photos with a small knot of fans.
This is television production Newfoundland-style: busy and professional, but friendly and fun. The director yells, “Cut!” and the ever-physical Hawco spins back across the street, leaping like a leprechaun and playfully clicking his heels. As the star, co-creator and co-writer for this popular CBC show—and co-founder of The Company Theatre in Toronto—he’s a very busy guy. But you’d never know it by his relaxed, warm demeanor.
Like the downtown drivers who patiently detour past another blocked street, Hawco just seems incredibly happy to be showing off his hometown via the small screen. And locals have embraced Jake Doyle’s exploits as just another part of the city’s rich and sometimes crazy cultural fabric.
It’s no surprise that viewers have been charmed by Hawco on screen. As PI Jake Doyle, the energetic young actor juggles a tangled love life with his weekly private investigations, and there’s a good lashing of comedy along with the fist fights and car chases in this old-fashioned cop caper, reminiscent of The Rockford Files or Magnum, P.I.
The Newfoundland capital, with its colourful “jelly bean” row houses and steep harbourside streets, is the other star of the show. The city looks cool and sexy—Canada’s own little San Francisco—with many scenes shot outside, on location.
The best way to find out where they’ll be filming ROD is by checking the Downtown St. John’s website, which includes a regularly updated Republic of Doyle Filming Schedule page, listing which parking meters will be off limits on any given day during the busy summer and fall shooting schedule.
The actors work long days, Sunday through Thursday. They typically celebrate the end of their week with drinks at The Duke—Hawco’s favourite watering hole on the show and in real life—or you might just bump into one of the actors on the street.
Seán McGinley, the Irish actor who plays Malachy Doyle, Jake’s crusty father and co-investigator, and his on-screen wife Rose (Lynda Boyd) are not Newfoundlanders like Marthe Bernard (Tinny) and Mark O’Brien (Des), but have adopted the city as their second home. On my Saturday morning in St. John’s, I saw Boyd out walking her little dog, and earlier that week she rowed with the Republic of Doyle women’s crew in the Royal St. John’s Regatta—the oldest annual sporting event in North America (they came second).
But even if you arrive in the off-season, there are some classic locations around the city that you’ll see when you tune in to the popular TV show. You’ll never think of “Sane Jawnz” the same again.
You’ll see the distinctive Cabot Tower atop Signal Hill in several shots throughout the show, from the opening credits to the quick transitions between scenes. Take a trek up the hiking trails that snake around this landmark—it’s one of Jake Doyle’s (star Hawco’s) favourite jaunts.
The twisting residential streets of the old fishing village of Quidi Vidi (“kiddy viddy”) just east of downtown St. John’s are often seen in the ROD location shots. Quidi Vidi harbour is known locally as “The Gut.” Check out the Inn of Olde or Quidi Vidi Brewing Company—both have starred in the show.
This historic neighbourhood just below Signal Hill, with its steep harbourside streets, makes an ongoing ROD backdrop. A cannon still points out to sea and from here you get the classic view across the Narrows Channel to downtown St. John’s, with ships at dock and The Rooms museum and the towers of the massive Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on the horizon.
The Duke Of Duckworth
This popular downtown pub, just a few steps down McMurdo’s Lane, which connects Duckworth and Water streets, is a star in the show (the Doyle brothers actually “own” it, and the distinctive orange office building above the bar is the exterior of the Doyle PI office). You’ll see lots of action outside the pub, especially when “the GTO”—Jake Doyle’s sky blue 1968 muscle car—is parked outside. But all of the interior shots are done on the ROD sound stage.
This historic downtown residential street pops up in every episode. Malachy Doyle’s avocado green house, with its distinctive bay window and double garage, is on Gower near Cochrane Street (a private residence used only for exterior shots), and you’ll often see views of the other colourful row houses along the block.
Bishop Feild Elementary school stands in for the local police station where you’ll often see Sgt. Bennett and Jake Doyle in conversation. And HMP—Her Majesty’s Penitentiary—the notorious local jail at the base of Signal Hill, is used for exterior shots. Those cells, by the way, are constructs inside the ROD studio, but patterned from the real HMP jail, constructed in 1859.
Steps and Alleys and Art
Downtown St. John’s is loaded with stone steps, narrow alleys and retaining walls covered in colourful murals—all backdrops for Jake Doyle’s adventures. Walk the steep steps that straddle the slope between Water and Duckworth streets alongside St. John’s historic stone courthouse building, and look for familiar public art, from the George Street bronze sculpture to the spray-bombed alley walls along city streets.
Hawco doesn’t disguise local businesses in the show, so you might see the action outside Halliday’s Meat Market on Kings Road or Hava Java coffee shop downtown on Water Street. Many locales, from the Majestic Theatre to Cochrane Street United Church, the Murray Premises Hotel, Coffee Matters or Raymond’s Restaurant make the cut.
Hawco says he always includes “half a dozen one-percenters” in every show—that is, a joke or little colloquialism that only a real Newfoundlander will get.
“Nothing says ’80s like a Mount Pearl Curl” is a line that refers to the teased, vertical bang popular in the St. John’s suburb, Hawco says when we speak on set. You might see the stars sharing a cup of French fries from one of the Ziggy Peelgood chip trucks found on the streets of St. John’s (wasn’t that Jake and Leslie’s first date?).
If you’re from away, you’ll never get lines like “Bunch of skeets from da Gut tryin’ ta be gangsta” without a copy of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English (a weighty tome that you’ll need to communicate with the locals) or the new book about the series (Republic of Doyle: The Definitive Guide to Doyle by Kerri MacDonald, one of the series’ writers).
Hawco also likes to make editorial comments—lines that thinly disguise his real concern about condos and other developments that are starting to pollute the city’s distinctive historic skyline. As Jake says to “the mayor” after saving his life: “You can blow up Atlantic Place and we’ll call it even.”
Five Places to Visit On Newfoundland’s Irish Loop
Newfoundland’s Irish Loop, located on the southeastern part of the Avalon Peninsula, is named for its Irish history, which spans 400 years. Take this scenic road trip from St. John's and make stops along the way at charming spots such as Lighthouse Picnics in Ferryland and the Colony of Avalon.
What to Do On a Fall Trip to St. John’s, Newfoundland
St. John's charms with its friendly locals, surprises with its innovative food scene and stuns with its rugged, jaw-dropping landscapes. Visit a national historic site like Cape Spear Lighthouse, explore downtown or the Quidi Vidi neighbourhood and drive to nearby towns such as Ferryland or Middle Cove Beach.