It is an understatement to say horses play a large role in Western productions. A Kispiox rancher and farmer rode into town to take control of the horses and appear himself in CBC’s new drama Strange Empire, premiering Monday at 9 p.m.
Milt Swanson took the reigns after being called up by Virtue Studios. He brought down his horses and has been working in the Langley area since June to produce the first season.
“I supply teams of horses, riding horses, harnesses and saddles, and wagons,” explained Swanson.
It was a short production window to shoot the show that relies greatly on the B.C. rural landscape to recreate the 1869 Alberta-Montana border area. Call time was 7 a.m. for shooting, which meant very long days for Swanson and his team.
“For us to have the horses fed and then loaded, and then drive to the set, and then unload them and put harnesses, we’ve got to be like three hours earlier to get ready for that set. So we’re starting at like four o’clock in the morning, and it’s a 12 hour day so we’re done just off the set at eight,” said Swanson.
“Then you’ve got to do that over, so we’re talking like a midnight thing… Some days are even longer and you get maybe three hours of sleep,” said Swanson.
The former B.C. fiddle champion said he also gets some face time in front of the camera, playing in a pivotal early scene that sets the stage for the women heroes to star. Swanson was a stage coach driver, and is likely to appear riding down the dusty town road in future episodes.
The Kispiox man got into show business to make some extra money to support his farming life, but he has become enamoured with how Strange Empire was produced so efficiently. He added that he will definitely be watching the show.
“It’s so amazing when you’re actually standing right beside those scenes, literally ten feet away when they’re shooting,” said Swanson.
He hopes people tune in so the Canadian production is a success and gives more jobs to Canadian actors and production crews.
“It’s helping out the B.C. economy and guys like myself. There’s lot of people involved in it,” said Swanson.
Strange Empire focuses on the plights of a group of women in the Alberta-Montana border country of 1869. A gritty drama based in the town of Janestown, it hits on the era’s issues of race, gender, morality, and the basic struggle for survival.