Television·Oral History

'A world of its own': An Oral History of Heartland as told by actors and creators

Cast and crew on how the series came about, the audition process, memorable moments, friendships and more.

“Heartland is one of those projects that captures lightning in a bottle.”

(Artwork created by Vladan Mutabdzija, IG:@iikawache)

It was the turn of the 21st century, and the coronation of the internet era but also the age of procedural dramas. On CBC, Da Vinci's Inquest and Edgemont were slowly wrapping up. And then, a little show 'that could' shows up at our doorsteps — called Heartland.

Different from anything that was part of Canadian pop culture at the time, Heartland focused on creating a nuanced portrait of a life on an Albertan horse ranch. It captured the charm of a multi-generational family, instantly amassing fans from around the world who claim the series has become their home and sanctuary.

Heartland's lasting influence has not only brought families together but also healed and transformed the lives of many — including the cast and crew themselves. 

And now, we present you the inside story of the evolution of Heartland — from the audition process, filming and memorable moments to the lasting friendships, what the future looks like and more — as told by actors: Amber Marshall, Shaun Johnston, Michelle Morgan, Alisha Newton and Graham Wardle; executive producer Michael Weinberg; and showrunner Heather Conkie. 

Note: All interviews were adjusted for context, clarity and flow.

The evolution of the saga

Heartland premiered in 2007 on CBC and since has become a big part of Canadian cultural fabric. It was originally based on a 26-novel series of very popular books by Lauren Brooke which debuted in 2000.

Heather Conkie (Showrunner and writer): Having those books as an introduction was a terrific bonus. Not only did we already have a loyal following of readers before we even went to air, but it gave us inspiration for our story ideas, especially in our first season. But, we made some changes. Most importantly, we transplanted the original setting from Virginia to Southern Alberta. 

That gave us a true Canadian feel and a much bigger equestrian world to draw upon — not only showjumping, but rodeo, trick riding, polo, cross country races — we've done it all and more.

Producing the number of episodes that we do, we inevitably ran out of the book stories pretty much near the beginning of season two. From that point on, Heartland, the television series, has become a world of its own.

Michael Weinberg (Creator and Executive Producer): Things have definitely evolved since but the heart and soul of the show has remained the same. It's still a character driven show about family values, personal struggles, adversity, triumphs all wrapped up with life lessons learned and a sense of humour. And of course the horses and their stories. 

There have been marriages, divorces, births and deaths. Amy, who began as a 16-year-old girl is now 29 and has married, had a daughter and gone into business with her husband, Ty, who's now a vet.

In addition, we have brought in younger actors to keep the show interesting for our younger viewers. This is something I didn't plan at the beginning — as no one really knows in advance how long a show will be on the air — but has resulted in our longevity.

Back to the very beginning

Michael Weinberg: I had been an investment banker for my entire career. The only thing I really knew about television was that there didn't seem to be any shows you could watch with your kids and not be embarrassed. A friend who was a horse person, which I was not, mentioned the Heartland book series to me and he thought it would make a good television show.

I read a few of the books and felt they were too juvenile and would be boring for adults. I did however, feel that there might be potential, if they were changed to become more family oriented. 

With that in mind I bought the rights, had a script written and presented it to CBC. After a number of twists and turns, some bigger than others, CBC asked me to make a pilot.

[A television pilot is a standalone test episode that is shot in order for television networks to gauge whether a series will be successful. If the show is greenlit, the pilot sometimes becomes episode one of the series.]

Casting calls and the auditions

Images from the auditions. (Shaun Johnston, Graham Wardle and Michelle Morgan.)

Shaun Johnston (Grandpa Jack Bartlett): Oh, I'm pretty sure we all heard about the auditions the same way. From our agents. I did, anyway. That's what agents do. They suggest to casting directors that you get seen for a certain role in a certain project. And where was I in my life at the time? Well, I certainly wanted the job. Probably because I needed the job.

Amber Marshall (Amy Fleming): I had taken a year off school to work at a veterinary clinic and the odd acting project. Like many teens, I was trying to figure out my next step in life. I had applied to Ryerson University's Film and Television program for a fall 2007 start. And, while on a train headed home from filming a show in Ottawa, I received a call about auditioning for Heartland. My agent informed me that there was this role that he had wanted to put me up for. "It's perfect for you!" he said. "It's a horsey girl — they have had many auditions already and need to cast right away!" 

Not being able to check my email on the train — this was way back in 2006 when the internet was still being carved in rocks — I patiently waited out the five-hour train ride, until I was back home. I immediately printed out the scenes I was supposed to learn and started going over them. 

Graham Wardle (Ty Borden): My agent gave me a call while I was at Capilano University, in North Vancouver. I was studying film production and remember her saying to me: "I know you're taking a bit of a break from acting while you're in school but I think you should give this one a shot." Very grateful she encouraged me to go! 

Michael Weinberg: There were two major casting surprises. First, there was Amy Fleming. We auditioned many, many girls for Amy but none of them really fit what I was trying to find so I kept stalling the decision — hoping something would pop up. Four days before starting to shoot, I knew I had reached the zero hour and had to make a decision by tomorrow. That same day, a self tape came in from Amber Marshall. 

Amber Marshall: It was the most rushed audition I have ever done. I requested help from my dad to read the other roles and run the camera. Back then, I only knew how to "self-tape" onto a VHS (for those of you who are too young to know what that is I recommend Google). But with the deadline for submissions being the next day, I would not have been able to mail a VHS in time. 

I rushed downtown with my tape and found a company that could transfer it onto their computer and convert it into an email-able file. This was no small feat. I sent it in with moments to spare, and still love hearing how when the producers received the video it would not load properly. 

They were all gathered around one computer with a very low-resolution version of the Amy Fleming to be. 

Michael Weinberg: I'll never forget the first words she said, in a little bit of a high pitched voice: "My agent told me to tell you I have my own horse." I loved her audition and hired her immediately. 

Amber Marshall: The audition process for me was very short. I'm talking only a couple of days from when I first heard of an audition, to when I was told to pack my bags and get on a plane. I only ever submitted the one self-tape and never met with anyone in person before arriving in Calgary to film the pilot. Production was so down to the wire there was no time for back and forth. It was quite a whirlwind of a start, but I was so happy to be a part of it. 

And after filming the pilot, I was still set to go to Ryerson that fall as other pilots I had done in the past had never become a series. I didn't want to get my hopes up with Heartland. When we were greenlit for season one, I then declined the university proposal and headed west to discover a new path. 

Michael Weinberg: The second major surprise was Jack Bartlett. To me, Jack was supposed to be a tall lanky cowboy and I couldn't find anyone in the 60 to 65 age group to fit my vision. Shaun Johnston came in to audition for Tim Fleming (Jack's ex son-in-law) who was supposed to be around 40.

Shaun Johnston: This is where my story gets good. The casting call was country wide. I happened to audition in Calgary. I believe it was their last stop. So, I go in, I figured I did a decent audition, I said my thank yous and left. Then, I get a call from my agent. Every actor wants that call from their agent right after an audition. That's almost always great news. 

Not this time. He tells me they "liked it, but…" they want me to come in and audition again. I'm thinking, 'That's cool, it happens all the time. Actually, the callbacks are expected when you're trying out for a regular role on a series'. But then, I was informed that it wouldn't be for the role of Tim. 

My heart sank. Rats. You always feel so close, you know? Oh, well. That's how things go. You win some, you lose some. I must've sounded pretty poopy on the phone because my agent said: "Why do you think this is bad?" I said: "C'mon, man. I've read the script. Tim's the only role I'm right for other than a day play [a non-continuing character]." He said: "That's not true. They want to see you for a lead character, Jack Bartlett." 

Michael Weinberg: I knew I could find "a Tim" as there were many good options but I was having a hard time with Jack.

Shaun Johnston: 'What?', I'm thinking, 'That can't be right. The character Jack is Amy and Lou's Grandfather. I'm a 46 year old actor. They can't be serious!' But guess what? They were. 

And thank goodness, too, because they already had Chris Potter in mind to play Tim. Anyway, I came in to audition for the role of Jack a few more times. And each time I looked more and more like the character — a little make-up here, some grey hair there, etc.

Michael Weinberg: I liked him so much, we cast him as Jack.

Shaun Johnston: Wouldn't it have been romantic, if I got the news of my winning the role while I was on some film set in some exotic land? Nope. I was sweatin' my bag off laying hardwood floor in a new residential build in Edmonton, Alberta. My phone rang, I answered it, and I almost fainted.

My beautiful wife, Sue, was the first to share the excitement. She told me that she loved me. And here I am, all these seasons later, loving every moment of being there. Wow. So, thank you to anyone and everyone who made me "the Jack" in Heartland.

Michael Weinberg: All the other characters were a lot less problematic to cast and we've been very fortunate that they all worked out so well. Immediate choices for our core cast were: Lou,Ty, Marion, Tim, Ashley, Mallory and Spartan.

Michelle Morgan (Lou Fleming): I auditioned for Heartland in the midst of shooting a movie so I wasn't available for the in-person audition. I had to self tape the audition in a studio in Toronto. I really wanted to get it right. I did around three takes for the first scene and when I finally felt I had really connected to the material I remember the camera guy saying: "That was really good." And they never say stuff like that.

Graham Wardle: I remember buying a pack of cigarettes before the audition. Ty Borden was originally scripted as being a smoker. Since I don't smoke, I gave away the pack to Beau Mirchoff who was in the waiting room at the audition. Beau was later cast as Ben Stillman. I remember after doing my second audition, Dean Bennet (director of the pilot episode) stood up and shook my hand after I was done. I remember thinking, "That has never happened before."

Michelle Morgan: I was walking down Queen Street, in Toronto, when my agent called me. It was very exciting to get the news that Heartland wanted me, but it was also nerve-wracking because the pilot was supposed to start shooting during the last week of the movie I was in the middle of filming. So I wasn't sure it would work out, and it almost didn't!

And Heartland didn't do "chemistry reads" for the pilot. There was no time so they cast me off of my tape, having never met me or even spoken to me on the phone. The first time I spoke to any of the producers or cast was when I took the red eye [evening or overnight flight] to Calgary to start shooting.

[A chemistry read is an opportunity to read with other actors who are being considered for a lead role, in order for the producers to be able to see if they have on-screen chemistry.]

Graham Wardle: I was filming a short film with some friends in the woods when my agent called and told me I booked the part. I remember asking what a TV pilot was, since I had never done one before. It was kind of a cool feeling but I had no idea what it meant for my life. 

Heather Conkie: I actually came on board after the pilot episode was first shot and just before the series was put into development. One of the shows I had been a writer on for many years was Road To Avonlea for CBC. The executives there knew my work and suggested I meet with the Heartland producers. I was thrilled when they offered me the role of showrunner. I jumped at the chance. It has been and continues to be a dream job. 

[Alisha Newton was six years old when this was all happening. She joined the team in 2012 for the filming of season six.]

Alisha Newton (Georgie Fleming Morris): When I first heard about the Heartland casting call, I was ten years old. I've been acting since I was four, so I got the audition request through my agent.

Typically in the casting world, after an audition, a narrowed selection of actors are brought back for another read in what is called a "call back". After both my sessions, I started to get a really good feeling about the role of Georgie. Once the producers had narrowed their favourites down to just a handful of girls, I was brought in a third time for a chemistry read. This time I performed the scenes with Graham Wardle [Ty] and Jessica Amlee [Mallory]. During my research for the role, I watched a lot of Heartland episodes, so it was cool to meet some of the cast in person, finally. 

Heartland was my first acting job outside of my city, so as I became a more prominent role in the show, public school became more complicated, and I ended up transferring to online school. 

A trip down sweet memories lane

(From left to right: Alisha Newton, Amber Marshall, Chris Potter, Michelle Morgan, Shaun Johnston.)

Shaun Johnston: Heartland was first filmed as a one-off pilot project and as an actor, every time you go into a project, you think it's the best project you've ever done. If you don't think that way, you should. It keeps you committed and sharp and doing your best work. We all felt the story and we all felt how beautiful it could be. It was everything I expected. It was only up to the film "Gawds" after that.

Michelle Morgan: Filming the pilot was kind of a blur for me. I remember that in the last week of shooting the film I had one day off, a Wednesday, and that they needed me on Heartland that day. So, I took the red eye from Toronto to Calgary and shot for one day, then back to Toronto to finish the film and back to Calgary again to shoot the rest of the pilot.

It was a bit stressful because it was the middle of winter and flights were getting cancelled due to snow. Heartland actually opted to fly their second choice actress for Lou out to Calgary, just in case I couldn't make it. I did arrive, luckily. I met that actress years later at another audition, she was really sweet. 

Amber Marshall: I didn't have any expectations going into filming, which made everything better than I could have imagined. My co-workers always talk about how cold the weather was during the pilot, but I honestly don't remember. I was having so much fun I think I blocked out any negative aspects. It's still that way for me — 13 years later. 

Graham Wardle: I had very little expectations to be honest because I'd never been a regular on a TV show before. I've learned so much from working on the show for the past 13 years. I feel very grateful and appreciative for the opportunity and all the blessings that have come from it. 

Michelle Morgan: I remember that my very first scene was with Shaun Johnston, I guess it was his first scene too — when we were looking in on Amy through the window into her hospital room. I remember that something just clicked, I felt a connection to Grandpa and to Amy. And it all felt real.

Alisha Newton: I've grown up on the show so a lot of the crew and cast have become like family to me. The energy on the set of Heartland is so different from any other set I've been on. I love going to work because I get to work with some of my favourite people and animals every day. The set of Heartland will always have a special place in my heart.

Graham Wardle: It's a magical place and really feels like a dream.

Amber Marshall: I love everything about Heartland: the amazing people and animals I get to share my days with; the incredible vistas and landscapes that I get to call my office; and the heartwarming and inspirational stories that we get to share. They are what makes every day rewarding and memorable.

And when I think of memorable moments, I always lean towards the animals. Times when you read something in a script and think, 'How are we ever going to accomplish this?' Then, like magic, a horse will do exactly what has been written. Of course, we owe a lot to our very talented wranglers and animal trainers but I like to think the animals themselves get swept up in the stories as well. 

Michelle Morgan: I loved shooting the scene in season three where we drove a herd of cattle into the middle of Hudson. 

I also remember shooting the scene where Peter asks Lou to marry him at the end of the Heartland dock. I was so nervous! And of course, my wedding scene! It was –40 degrees Celsius! We almost had to cancel or re-write the scene due to the cold. Thank God we pushed though. It was a beautiful wedding.

Shaun Johnston: Hmm, how long can a moment be? Every season from start to finish feels like one long memorable moment. Then again lunch is always memorable. Our caterers rock.

Alisha Newton: Some of my most memorable moments have been dinner scenes in the Heartland house. It's not often that the entire main cast gets to be in a scene together so dinner scenes are always fun. 

I also love any scenes that I'm able to do my own stunts in. One of my favourite episodes to film was the mounted archery episode because I got to do all my own stunts. Pierre Tremblay, our director during that block, is also one of my favourite directors to work with.

Michael Weinberg: I would say that the single most important episode is the pilot because it sets the stage for everything that follows.

Heather Conkie: And you have to remember, we've done 232 one-hour episodes plus a two-hour Christmas movie so narrowing it down to favourites is a huge deal. I have so many personal favourites, it's ridiculous. I think it's essential to watch the last episode of season one and the first episode of season two. The whole Amy/Ty story arc goes through its first major shift there. 

I think that's a rule of thumb for our series. Last episodes usually lead directly into the first episode of the new season. So they're all kind of "must-sees".

That being said, episodes that stand out in my mind, that I think everyone should see, for the strength of the writing, the performances and the production value: episode 1017 called "Dreamer" where a very sick Ty returns from Mongolia. He goes into cardiac arrest and has visions of his father, making him realize he has to fight back and stay in the world. 

Graham Wardle: I really enjoyed the Mongolia storyline. It was an opportunity to make something truly special and different. 

The fact that we were also able to organize a trip for me to actually go to the country to film additional footage and establishing shots was incredible. Peter Harvey, the producer of the Mongolian trip, who went to film school with me was on this trip.

Left, Peter Harvey and right, Graham Wardle in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. (Picture provided by Graham Wardle.)

Amber Marshall: Season five still remains my most memorable. It was in that season that I was able to discover and learn the ways of working a horse at liberty. To me, that was the ultimate horse experience. I was able to go and spend time with the talented liberty horse trainer Niki Flundra, who has since become a good friend of mine. Niki trusted me with her liberty horses, and I was able to do much of the actions required in the scripts. When I couldn't, Niki would step in as my double. 

This has been such a great partnership allowing us to create some really special moments with the horses over the years. Niki and I recently created a behind-the-scenes look at how the horses are trained for what you see on the show. We hope to have it available soon. 

Shaun Johnston: I'll say an episode from season 9, called "Ties of the Earth," written by Heather Conkie. 

That was the story of Jack's horse, Paint, passing away. The impact of the story was immense, based merely on the theme of love and loss. The Bartlett/Fleming clan lost a beloved member of the family in that episode.

But the story isn't what had the greatest impact on me. What impacted me the most was how, to a person, every member of the cast and crew experienced the story the very same way. It was a testament to how we all invest ourselves in our stories and in each other. I recall a thousand tears during the making of that episode. And they didn't come from me. Not all of them, anyway.

Heather Conkie: This episode made me cry the most while I was writing it. I think everyone who has ever lost a pet responded to it, including me. I was a puddle. 

And episode 318 called "In The Cards" — Lou and Peter's wedding. Enough said. Fabulous, funny and a tearjerker.

Michelle Morgan: A funny anecdote: when I was preparing for Lou's wedding episode, I bought a Vogue wedding magazine for research. I earmarked a beautiful lace wedding dress that I loved and when I walked into my dress fitting, it was the exact dress they had chosen for Lou to wear! 

Later, I was given Lou's wedding dress as a gift and I was so proud to wear it to my own wedding — a year later. Of course, Shaun, Amber, Graham, Jessica Steen, Jessica Amlie and a lot of the Heartland crew were at my real wedding!

Special friendships and 'the thrill' of working together

Heather Conkie: The Heartland crew and cast are family. Working together for 13 seasons is pretty special and because so many of the crew and cast have remained on the show — which is also pretty rare — some very close friendships have developed.

Shaun Johnston: Heartland is one of those projects that captures lightning in a bottle. The right people together, at the right time, for the right reason. You wish it happens on every film you make but it's rare. It may sound clichéd, but on Heartland, we're a family. Right from the get-go, everyone — from the producers down through the cast and crew — saw each other as colleagues and friends and it's stayed that way since. 

Graham Wardle: I feel very blessed to be able to work with so many talented artists. I've become friends with many of the people I've worked with over the years.

Michelle Morgan: I regularly chat with Amber, Jessica Steen, Shaun, Graham and Alisha. We all love our script supervisor Wayne Pells and our production supervisor Joe D'Addetta. One of our focus pullers, Schane Godon, is a good friend and he came out of Vancouver to work on my first short film.

[Focus puller is a member of a production crew's camera department whose primary responsibility is to maintain the camera lens's optical focus on whatever subject or action is being filmed.]

Amber Marshall: Stormy, the horse who plays Spartan, has been consistently on set for as long as I have. Spending 13 years with anyone is expected to achieve a certain level of understanding, but 13 years of a horse's life is very significant. Stormy and I understand one another. He trusts me and I trust him. Because of that, we have been able to create true moments on the show. It's not all just acting, especially when you are working with animals. They are always living in the moment and you can't help but be present with them. 

As far as humans go, there are some pretty great ones on set as well. I usually find myself hanging out with the wranglers and animal trainers, since we have the most in common. I keep in touch with many of the cast and crew during our off-season and always look forward to being on set with them again. 

Alisha Newton: I'm close to a lot of people on set. The hair and makeup ladies are some of my best friends as well as our script supervisor, Wayne. I know I could come to them with anything and they would support me. I'm also very close with Sarah who used to be my on-set tutor. She's been by my side almost the entire time I've been on this show.

Shaun Johnston: Viewers are watching the product of friends working with friends. There's no doubt in my mind that it's the main reason the show has been loved. And over the seasons, especially close friendships have developed, sure, but they're too numerous to count.

Heather Conkie: The collaborative nature of doing a television series makes us very close. I love writing, but the real thrill for me is to see all the writers' scripts take life through the incredibly collaborative process from start to finish. 

Kudos to the writers on my team who constantly endeavor to make sure the growth and development of our characters is as true to life as possible. We always keep in mind their individual personalities, ages and experiences as they deal with the day to day ups and downs that every family goes through. The talented directors, our fantastic cast, the crew, the editors, our composer, our amazing office staff and all the people involved in the production and post production contribute so much to what that finished product is. 

Amber Marshall: I believe we all learn from one another on a daily basis. We are constantly growing as humans, and also as actors. Since many of us have been working together for many years, there is a general understanding of the unique styles and personalities that together create realism on screen. Just like any family, we complement one another. Strengths of some are weaknesses of others and vice versa. When we lean on one another for support, all that balances out. 

Graham Wardle: Amber Marshall has taught me quite a bit about horses and animals. As a very strong and independent woman, I believe she is a great role model for young girls. I have great respect for what she has achieved and how she continues to expand and grow as a person. Also Dean Bennet who's a very wise man with a depth of wisdom I admire. His approach to directing and producing is inspiring to me. We have had many powerful conversations about the nature of life and this human experience.

Michelle Morgan: I have been impacted and learned from every director we have had on set, and many of our guest stars as well. But, I would say, I have learned the most from directors Grant Harvey, Eleanore Lindo, Dean Bennet and Bruce McDonald. Grant cast me in a web series that we shot in Calgary and I helped him shoot a couple fun side projects. We became good friends. He inspired me to go into directing. He approaches his work with a sense of fun and childlike curiosity. 

Shaun Johnston: That would be Potter [for me]. Why? Because… well… he's Potter! He's both a co-star and a director — and on both counts he simply makes you better. 

Alisha Newton: I'm so grateful to be able to work with so many great directors but I also especially love working with Chris Potter, either acting alongside him or being directed by him. He always keeps me accountable and brings out my best performance. 

Amber Marshall: I really enjoy directors that are direct. I know that sounds simple but with so many people sitting in the director's chair over the years, you start to learn what works best for you. When you play the same role for so many years, the challenging part can be keeping it fresh. 

There are times when I will take my character down a path that has been well traveled. It's the great directors who snap me out of that and offer a fresh new trail that will be much more interesting to viewers. That is why having a strong team is so important. A table would never stand on one leg. The more legs underfoot, the stronger it becomes. 

Heather Conkie: And we were so thankful to have had many great guest stars on the show: Ian Tracey (Ty's step father, Wade), Megan Follows (Ty's mother, Lily), Nicholas Campbell (Jack's old friend, Will Vernon), etc. 

Nicholas made his first appearance as Will in the Heartland Christmas movie and we were so excited by his performance — even more excited that he decided to come back for multiple episodes. 

Nicholas Campbell (Jack’s old friend, Will Vernon)

When it all comes together and it's beyond our expectations — that's the thrill! And we all share that thrill. Nothing builds friendships more than playing a part in creating something from its very beginnings to the end product. 

Amber Marshall: And when we have breaks in between filming, you can usually hear the sound of a guitar being strummed. Faint on colder days when the doors remain closed and clear as day when the warm sun shines. Shaun is always jamming in his trailer. When the summer days roll in Shaun's trailer becomes a gathering spot. Many will hover just to enjoy the tunes, and some will join in with their own musical abilities. We are so fortunate to be surrounded on set by so many talented musicians.

Shaun Johnston: Ahh, yes. Trailer Sessions! You know, I don't think I've gone to work, even one day, without my guitar. As you can imagine, we're usually pretty busy on any given day of filming but once in a while you get a little down time.

Amber Marshall: It is a creative way for us to relax and even get to know one another better. We'd gather around Shaun's guitar back in the first season, so this idea has been going on well over a decade on the Heartland set. 

Shaun Johnston: Back when we started making the show, music was kind of a best-kept secret. We were all getting to know each other and, one by one, cast and crew members started letting each other know they liked to play a little or sing a little. That's all it takes — a couple people with a few extra minutes to squeeze in a song before they have to run off and get back to work.

When that happens enough over the seasons, before you know it, you've got a whack of players and a decent song list. Today, all it takes is for someone to say, "Got time for a sesh?" and it's on, baby! 

Longevity and resonance with the audience 

Shaun Johnston: I feel that Heartland has struck a beautiful chord with people all over the world. We take pride in how viewers have claimed that the show has brought their families together and, in some cases, healed their wounds and given them hope. It's probably the best thing that will ever happen in my career.

Heather Conkie: It makes us very proud to get so many emails, texts and letters from viewers who tell us how our show changed their life or got them through hard times. And I especially love the emails and texts that say the show has brought back the family dinner to their households.

The show represents a kinder, gentler place. A place that people aspire to visit or even to live. And the Bartlett/Fleming family that welcomes them with open arms. It's definitely a series that families can and do watch together. And it appeals to all ages. 

I think that appeal is largely due to our amazing multi-generational cast — from baby Lyndy (Ruby and Emmanuella Spencer) to Grandpa Jack (Shaun Johnston), the patriarch of the family, who remains ageless. 

While the actors have won fans everywhere, the show's horses are also stars in their own right, and there's a lot of viewers who write to us and chat on various Internet forums about their love for Spartan, Phoenix, Buddy and Champ — and all the other Heartland horses and animals. 

Michael Weinberg: Horses are an integral part. We always treat the horse stories with the same level of realism as the people stories and our audience seems to really like that.

Heather Conkie: The show deals with love and loss with humour and empathy, and puts our characters through experiences all of us can relate to — whether we live in the city or the country. I think keeping it real has allowed us to connect with our audience, a demographic that is as multi-generational as our cast with viewers from two to 92. 

And the Heartland landscape is also a huge draw with its sweeping vistas of the idyllic Alberta foothills as its backdrop. I think one of the other reasons it resonates with the audience is not only is it cinematically beautiful, but you get to watch the vivid changes of scenery as the seasons unfold and time passes. The audience really gets the feeling that they have lived through a year in the life of the extended Bartlett family and shared in all their experiences. 

The Future

Heather Conkie: Heartland has already had an incredible lifespan and I think has great potential to keep going. It's a family, growing, changing just like any family and where there's change and there's growth, there's an unending well of stories. 

It's imperative that we stay fresh and I can't say enough about my very talented teams of writers, over the years. When we first gather to discuss ideas for a new season, it's really difficult to look at that blank white board. But, we brainstorm story points and character arcs and nothing is thrown out without exploring it — even some of the craziest ideas can lead to the best end-result.

Michael Weinberg: I see the future of Heartland continuing to evolve along with our family. I'm always amazed how our writers have managed to come up with so many great stories over a span, so far, of 216 hours. I have complete confidence that they'll be able to continue to do so.

Heather Conkie: It's been a wonderful road to travel along and I hope the journey continues.

You can stream Heartland on CBC Gem!

About the Author

Vanja Mutabdzija Jaksic is a producer, journalist and a perpetual optimist who loves a good show/film, breathes music, writes poetry, and dabbles in tech and innovative ways of storytelling (including through XR/VR/AR/MR). You can find her stories at cbc.ca/television and cbc.ca/comedy or Instagram @neptunes_blues.

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