March 31, 2021
Can You Solve the Mystery? The Adventures of Shirley Holmes
The Adventures of Shirley Holmes was a Canadian mystery television series that ran for four seasons, from May 7, 1996 to May 7, 2001. It initially aired on YTV and now has been broadcast in over 80 additional countries. The show was filmed almost exclusively in Winnipeg, making use of our city’s diverse and rich built heritage. The show won three Gemini Awards and a Writers Guild of Canada Award!
The series focuses on the young Shirley Holmes, a fictional great-great-niece of Sherlock Holmes. Like her great-great uncle, Shirley has a knack for solving mysteries. Francis Boris “Bo” Sawchuk is Shirley’s best friend and her mystery solving partner. He serves as the present day counterpart of Dr. Watson. Together, along with help from various people, the pair solves mysteries that always conclude with a lesson learned.
The show takes place in the fictional City of Redington, Manitoba and it is rarely referenced, leading to most sources just listing the show as set somewhere in Canada? However to anyone that has ever spent time in Winnipeg, it is obvious that the show was filmed here. The show covers up just about anything that actually states “Winnipeg” on it, but it is impossible to cover up the iconic buildings that are just part of Winnipeg! After watching countless episodes, the film crew used all parts of Winnipeg and the surrounding areas for the show. In a sense it is comical as the characters casually walk from Tuxedo to Kildonan Park by simply turning the corner. Something that any Winnipegger knows would take a while to walk such a distance.
Most of the locations used in filming are widely left a mystery, there is unfortunately no surviving list of all the filming locations used. It is only after watching countless episodes does one discover the most frequently visited filming areas and every other one in between. This blog will showcase the buildings as known in the television show. Try and have a guess as to which building it is before reading on.
Shirley and most of the young characters attends Sussex Academy, a private and prestigious school.
The school was housed in what is now part of the Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) at 500 Shaftsbury Boulevard. It was built in 1921 in the Collegiate Gothic style and designed by John D. Atchison and Company. It was original built as a residence for the Manitoba School for the Deaf. The school was also used by the Royal Canadian Air Force and a teachers training facility, before returning as the home for the Manitoba School for the Deaf. When the show was filmed the building was vacant, as the Manitoba School for the Deaf just moved out in 1996 and CMU did not move in until 2000. This allowed the film crew to use both the historic exterior and interior, sadly which are not protected under heritage designation. The crown molding, coved ceilings, and limestone staircases only added to the prestige of this fictional school.
Shirley, her father Robert Holmes, and her mother Dr. Joanna Holmes, live in this opulent house.
The Carey House at 121 Park Boulevard North in Old Tuxedo was Shirley’s fictional home. Designed in the Georgian style by Raymond Carey, the house was built in 1915. The house much like the CMU building, was empty, waiting for new life to be breathed into it. The film crew even made use of the interior of the house for most of the indoor scenes. Everything matches up, down to the octagon shaped windows and the dormers in the attic of Shirley’s lab. This likely was a much cheaper option than creating an additional set to be used as the interior. Judging by a real estate video from 2017, the house has not changed substantially since the filming. The grand opulence of the Carey House is perfect for someone who descended from the famous Sherlock Holmes.
The core of many of the adventures that Shirley and Bo go on, happen in downtown Redington. Like the previous two locations, there is also a lot of historic architecture in downtown Redington.
The Exchange District was the most frequently used location for downtown Redington. The Exchange District is a National Historic Site of Canada and it’s name comes from the Winnipeg Grain Exchange which was once the leader in the Canadian grain industry. The area is mostly used for exterior shots but some of the warehouse type of buildings were used as locations where shady behavior occurred. Shirley and Bo are frequently in alley ways that can only be part of the Exchange District, as many of Winnipeg’s ghosted signs on the buildings can be seen in the distance.
In the episode “The Case of the Celestial Signal”, the characters are seen running around the interior of this modern building.
The University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry Campus was also used several times. The Wallace Building interior was featured in this episode. This is one building that differs from lots of the historic ones typically used as filming locations for the show. Officially opened on October 25, 1986 for the Department of Geological Sciences and designed by IKOY in a ‘high tech’ style. The building is named after Robert C. Wallace, the first head for the Department of Geology and Mineralogy (now named the Department of Geological Sciences). The building is now part of the larger Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources.
Twice, Shirley visited these ruins once during a renaissance fair and the other time simply as a ruined building.
The Trappist Monastery Ruins at 100 Ruines du Monastere is the location visited here. Built in 1903-1905 as a Romanesque Revival church for the Cistercian monks. The area was perfect for their contemplative way of life, quiet and surrounded by land. With Winnipeg growing, the monks moved to Holland, Manitoba in 1978. A fire destroyed the church in 1983, reducing the building to its foundations. The ruins are now part of Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park and thankfully have been stabilized to prevent further damage.
In the “Case of the Ten Dollar Thief” this location is visited as part of a destructive plot to ruin the local wheat crops, that was thankfully thwarted.
The Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health (CSCHAH), part of the National Microbiology Laboratory at 1015 Arlington Street. This building was brand new when the show was filmed, as it was only built between 1992-1997. The original section of the building was designed by Smith Carter Architects and Engineers Inc. There have been two additions since, one in 2009 and the other in 2017. This building is Canada’s only Biosafety Level 4 lab which is a lab with full hazmat suits, and for working with bacteria and viruses that are incredibly infectious and that there is no cure or treatment for. Today filming in such a location would be impossible due to safety concerns. The film crew lucked out as the building was still in its final phases of construction which enabled this state-of-the-art facility to be used.
In an anaphylactic-shock-induced dream, Shirley revisits some locations previously featured on the show. The location today still exists but it looks completely different from when the show aired in the late 1990s.
The Assiniboine Park Zoo was used in a few episodes. Any older Winnipegger will recognize the old bear enclosures and the old east gate main entrance. The zoo was founded in 1904 and took its name from the park where it was located, Assiniboine Park named for the Assiniboin(e) people. The park was created in 1904, but did not officially open until July 7, 1908, under the name “City Park”. Today the park is a total of 1,100 acres with the zoo using 80 acres. There have been numerous upgrades to both the park and the zoo over the years, but it still remains a place to get outdoors and enjoy nature!
The Adventures of Shirley Holmes is just one of the many things filmed in Winnipeg. The city’s built heritage has been featured in countless other film and television productions, providing plenty of interesting backgrounds that can easily stand in for all kinds of locations. From crime dramas to Christmas movies, Winnipeg’s built heritage attracts all kinds of productions that in turn make important contributions to the city’s and provinces economy! However, the show takes the cake for making use of Winnipeg diverse and expansive built heritage and landscape! It is sad that the show had to end, however the lead actors were heading into their later teenager years, which would have shifted the tone of the show. Some of the adventures that characters got up to would not have worked now, as they would be seen as almost silly in nature. Many of the episodes of The Adventures of Shirley Holmes have been uploaded online. It is a great way to explore a slightly older Winnipeg, while soaking in every moment of 90’s nostalgia.
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Written by Rheanna Costen on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg.
"Lights, Camera, Action! | Winnipeg Free Press - August 20, 1996, Page 26.
"Monastery Blaze Heartbreaking" | Winnipeg Free Press - November 8, 1983, Page 8.
Personal Correspondence | Monika Kowatsch