Although the Persephone has departed her perch in Lower Gibsons for now, the boat made iconic by CBC’s show the Beachcombers has now appeared in Ontario — in miniature scale, that is.
Pete Kurelek of Oakville, ON, had some extra time on his hands when COVID lockdowns came into effect. Kurelek is the creative mind behind Naturally RC, a YouTube channel that features videos of his miniature off-road radio-controlled (RC) vehicles, composed with stunning outdoor backgrounds. And he always knew he wanted to build a (tiny) boat.
“It's no coincidence that I built a model Persephone,” Kurelek told Coast Reporter. “[The Beachcombers], that was one of the shows that we watched as a family growing up in Brantford, Ontario. My mom and dad were huge CBC fans.”
He recalls being blown away by the towering mountains as they came into view on the family’s black-and-white television, the breath-taking real-life backdrop of the show.
“It just hit me like a bolt out of the blue that it had to be the Persephone.
“For the Beachcombers TV show, I can tell you all the characters and everything. But for me, the main characters were the boats,” Kurelek said. “I’m sure to a lot of other people as well, the Persephone was a main character of the show — she had her own personality. She was part and parcel with it.”
When Kurelek began his voyage to recreate the Persephone on a small scale, he was sure he would find others who had done it before him. But an online search yielded no results. So he found photographs and stills of the original boat used on the show, the John Henry. (Persephone is a stage name, afterall.) He realized that the boat and the on-board props changed slightly from season to season of the Beachcombers, so eventually created her as he remembered her. The Persephone also got an upgrade, and is outfitted with radar, as if she were operating today. Kurelek added basic safety equipment — a lifejacket here, a fire extinguisher there — even though they were rarely if ever seen on the show.
“I knew in setting out to build this that it wasn't going to be a museum model,” he said. “I was going to throw it in the water… It was going to travel in a backpack. And so it was going to have to be a little bit rough and tumble. The main thing was that it had to work. So I didn't spend a lot of time doing fussy little details on it.”
As he was trying to limit COVID exposure, Kurelek avoided making many trips to the store. Instead, he sourced materials from his junk closet. And so the Persephone took shape from scrap. A horn on the roof is a painted golf tee. The VHF radio mast is a coat hanger wire. The smoke from the stack is incense (creating a nice aroma in her wake).
“Nick would probably do the same thing. If he needed something and he could find it in scrap, he would,” Kurelek said.
Nick Adonidas (played by Bruno Gerussi on the show) was one of the human main characters, and Kurelek made a miniature of him, too, out of packing foam.
“What good is the Persephone without Nick standing there on a box looking out over the top of the roof?” Kurelek said, adding that he gets many requests to add a Jesse figurine to the crew.
Kurelek said he studied sculpture and painting in art school, and so Nick was born again. The hair was the crowning moment: When Kurelek placed the black foam on the figurine’s previously bald head, “I literally burst out laughing. Alone down in my workshop, I was busting a gut because it was just so perfect,” he said. “I can't take credit for it. That's the magic that sometimes happens by accident.”
Then, the Persephone was ready for her maiden voyage. One day, as she took to the water, Kurelek found a stick and shot part of the opening credits of the Beachcombers, with the model pulling a log set to the theme music. These days, when Kurelek takes her out on the ponds and lakes in Ontario, passersby recognize the boat and Nick, even though this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the show's premiere and it's been out of syndication for years.
“The response has just been phenomenal,” he said.
Yet the Persephone is not perfect. Kurelek said he struggled with making her water-tight, and the hull would fill up. Ironically, the real Persephone is undergoing repairs because she too has water damage. When that vessel was moved from her perch at Five Corners intersection in Gibsons last year, water streamed out.
Since his boat and videos have been making the rounds, Kurelek has heard from those close to the Beachcombers. Jackson Davies, who played Constable John Constable, commented. Kurelek said he was also contacted by a relative of the John Henry’s owner, asking if he would make another model.
“Sadly the answer was, I can't. It's a one-of-a-kind and it took me forever. I don't think I could ever replicate it,” he said.
As for whether he will recreate a small version of Relic’s jetboat, Kurelek said, “My answer is: Like, subscribe and stay tuned.”