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The fantasy lives on in Steveston, five years after conclusion of TV show

Mayor Malcolm Brodie declared March 29, 2018 as Once Upon A Time Day

It’s been five years since the American fantasy drama Once Upon A Time (OUAT) went off the air, but fans have not stopped searching for magic in Steveston.

For seven years, between 2011 and 2018, Steveston Village would transform into Storybrooke, a fictional seaside town in Maine. Much of the sets and original businesses have long disappeared, but the Cannery Café, also known as Granny’s Diner for fans of the show, still stands.

“During the summer, a lot of tourists come, and they are aware of the TV series. So they come (to the café) and they want to know more about the place, see the place and see how it affected us,” said manager Joseph Ong.

The Cannery Café was sold to a new owner in 2019, and most of the restaurant no longer looks like the set as seen on TV, but photos from the show and a chalk drawing of the diner remain, as well as some iconic menu items.

“A lot of people … want (to order) Granny’s hot chocolate and Granny’s chowder,” Ong and manager Cecil Uy told the Richmond News.

Ong added that being able to meet Oncers, a name for OUAT fans, from all over the world has been an “amazing experience.”

“They come here just for the show,” he said.

And although most seaside towns experience a lull during winter, business at the Cannery Café has remained consistent for the past few years, much thanks to the OUAT legacy.

Celebrating the fifth anniversary of OUAT Day

The show’s lasting impact on Steveston, and Richmond in general, was acknowledged by the city in 2018 when Mayor Malcolm Brodie declared March 29, 2018 as OUAT Day. The proclamation was a one-off event.

“While there were a number of productions that filmed in Steveston prior to Once Upon a Time, this is the show that put Steveston Village on the map as both a film-friendly location and a hot spot for film tourism,” said city spokesperson Kim Decker.

Despite being the set for many shows and movies over the years, such as Deadpool, Godzilla, Supernatural and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, OUAT was the one show that left a lasting mark in Steveston’s history.

The show had created 7,727 full-time equivalent jobs and generated $382.4 million in production expenditure revenue for B.C. In 2016, Tourism Richmond estimated that 64 per cent of visits to the Visitor’s Centre were related to the OUAT.

Outside of Steveston, the OUAT legacy was also included in Richmond Museum’s The Arts Live Here exhibition, where visitors can check out a replica of the Evil Queen’s costume from the series.

It was not a happy ending for all, however, as The Fab Pad and It’s Posh Accessories, two businesses that served as the location for Mr. Gold’s Pawn Shop, were ordered to pay their landlord more than $63,000 for breach of contract earlier this year.

While Oncers never stopped coming to Steveston, Decker said the city noticed a resurgence of Storybrooke seekers when the show became available for streaming.

Patrick Gill, Tourism Richmond spokesperson, added that social media posts about the show always get “above-average engagement” compared to Tourism Richmond’s other posts.

Back in the Cannery Café, Uy attributes the show’s deep-rooted popularity to its storytelling.

“(The) story was really nice, and the words that they use in the story… it gives hope,” she said, adding that there are always lessons to be learned from the show.

And the nostalgia and comfort from the show extend to what used to be Granny’s Diner.

“When they come (to the café)… they feel like most of our place is very cozy. It’s comfy.”

- With files from Kacy Wu and Alan Campbell