“Audiences can become enamoured with someone like Gord, who is always able to provide for his family, even in these times of an economic downturn,” Mr. Johnson said. “The emergence of figures like Sarah Palin, the pistol-packing politician, also puts the limelight on fishing and hinting enthusiasts worldwide.“
Dave Brady is extremely aware of the potential of this type of programming with his international success with the hit series Survivorman (with Les Stroud), whose ground-breaking steps we hope to follow in.Mr. Johnson and Mr. Brady have partnered with Scott Stirling at Wild TV who has given them a broadcast commitment for the series.
“Wild TV is a relatively new network with a big success story,” Mr. Johnson explained. “Wild TV has recently been added to the Rogers digital package and has over a million viewers, impressive numbers for a digital station.”
All of the series on Wild TV are produced with paid programming, which means that the commercial time around the series funds the production budget for the series. The producers will be seeking financial support from the Ottawa Valley community, as well as national companies, for the advertising, sponsorship and product placement to fund TrapperMan.
“Not only will the series highlight Gord and his family, but will also feature the upper Ottawa Valley as a backdrop,” Mr. Johnson explained. “With this exposure there will be a real opportunity to promote tourism, economic development and business in the region. Ideally, there are going to be economic benefits for the region.” Mr. Johnson said Mr. Mcmillan will become the world’s best-known trapper though the series.
“In a perfect world, Gord will become the next Les Stroud Survivorman,” he said. “We are going to try to build a brand in the way that Survivorman is being built and I think it will be beneficial, not only from the television standpoint – obviously there will be that element – but I think there is a great opportunity for Gord to build his eco-tourism business.”
Mr. Johnson said many people are aware of Mr. McMillan’s tremendous knowledge of trapping, the region, and the animal and plant life that exists here. He sees Mr. McMillan following in the footsteps of Mr. Stroud in becoming a promoter of the outdoor lifestyle.“A lot of times scientists make their opinions from their desks in Ottawa,” he said. “I think Gord offers a lot of input as to what is really going on in the environment.
“We’d like that the series becomes a big, smashing success on Wild TV,” Mr. Johnson added. “They’re positioning it as their prime-time series, airing on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, at 8:30 or 9:00. They see the series being the potential outbreak of their network as well.”Mr. Johnson said TrapperMan will, hopefully, pay out along the same lines as Survivorman and will continue after the 13 part series.
“From there hopefully we’ll be able to take it to Outdoor U.S. and make it more of a mainstream series.”
Survirorman started out in the Toronto market on the Outdoor Life Network and after having its run there and finding its audience, it was able to connect with the Discovery Channel and City TV. Mr. Johnson said TrapperMan will be more than just a series about trapping. “Trapping is Gord’s vocation, but a big part of it is going to be about Gord and nature, and sharing his love and knowledge of nature with, not only his kids, but other people as well.” Mr. Johnson said he can hardly wait to start production in the winter of 2009.
“Gord is going to be dynamite,” he said. “He really will be. Just in the little bit of stuff that we’ve already shot of him, he’s been so great.”Mr Johnson said the series will also promote the Ottawa Valley, a region of the world he feels has not had enough exposure.
“We really want to put the Upper Ottawa Valley and Algonquin Park on the map and make this a hot tourist destination for the people who are interested in nature, not only people from Canada, but internationally.
“We plan to take TrapperMan to the world market. We want to have the broadcast in places like Australia, Germany and South America. If things all work out well in season two or three, maybe we’re able to take Gord to other places in the world and hook up with other trappers and share his knowledge.”
Mr. Johnson said one of his episodes of TrapperMan will see the star of the series, Mr. McMillan, connecting with the star of Survivorman, Les Stroud. TrapperMan will be shot in the winter/spring and fall of 2009, and will air in 2010.
I’ve known Gord McMillan and mostly all of his family and in-laws all of my adult life; some even longer. And as we drive into Goose Lake, off the Tramore Road in the Envoy, over bush roads and some OFSC snowmobile trails to check his beaver traps, I wonder to myself if the Gord McMillan sitting beside me is going to someday become a household name in the outdoor world, a TV icon much like Les Stroud of Survivorman fame. It would be great, I think to myself, for someone like Gord to make it big. Great because he’s a down-to-earth, easy-going individual who has this immense love, knowledge of, and respect for nature and the outdoors. Great because the instant fame that would come with his alter ego TrapperMan character wouldn’t change Gord McMillan. He’d still be Gord, no matter where TrapperMan took him.
“It’s all a bit overwhelming to tell you the truth,” he says of his being chosen for the lead role in a 13-episode series that producers hope will be as successful as the Survivorman series which is now shown in several countries.
As we drive along the narrow roads, Gord points out things that only someone with his knowledge and experience could – mink tracks across the thin ice of a beaver pond, an area where wolves have marked their territory indicated by an area where the leaves beneath the inch or two of snow have scratched, inactivity around a beaver lodge because the thin ice hasn’t been broken around it, and the sighting of a golden eagle in a tree off in the distance.
As we walk a short distance to the trap, he points out tracks of what he says is a rather larger wolf.
His knowledge of local wildlife, the habits of the animals that populate our forests, and nature in general is quite remarkable. One could learn more in an afternoon on a tour with Gord than a month in a classroom.
That’s obviously one of the main reasons why Toronto film producer Paul Johnson was so impressed with Gord and so eager to go back to the city and sell the idea of a TrapperMan series to his partner, Dave Brady. Which he did.
Early in the afternoon, sitting around their kitchen table, Gord and wife, Beth talk openly about the TrapperMan series and how it all came about. Things began happening last November when Mr. McMillan met Mr. Johnson was given a tour of Gord’s bush room in the basement. The room presents a nice display of beaver, marten, mink, weasel, fisher, fox, wolf, raccoon and otter pelts. There is also a bear hide and deer mounts, a stuffed Red-tailed Hawk, scores of deer antlers (sheds) filling two shelves along two walls as well as a burrell in the corner of the room that is a real conversation piece.
“He said he’d be back between Christmas and New Year’s and wondered if it would be possible for him to come to the bush with me,” Gord recalled.During the Christmas season, two bear hunters who were up from Ohio and they wanted to accompany Gord on the traplines, so the four headed out for a day in the bush. Gord removed six beavers from his traps that day; his three guests were fascinated with their experience.
“Paul had two or three meetings with Cream Productions when he got back to Toronto and the discussions would always come back to the TrapperMan series,” Gord said. “So Dave Brady got really excited about it and he asked Paul if he could come back up in February to do some taping. He was so excited that if Paul couldn’t come, he was going to send another camera guy.
“Paul came up for four days last February and took six hours of videotaping. That initial filming was only supposed to see what we were like on camera and he was going to possibly send a three-man filming crew to get some more extensive footage. But I guess he was so impressed that they didn’t need to.”Gord’s wife, Beth, and their sons, Chris, 17 and Blair, 13 – the boys love getting out with their dad – were also filmed as they will be part of some of the episodes.Gord isn’t the kind of guy who gets excited easily – probably because of the tranquility he experiences in the woods of the Deacon hills – but he admitted he had a few sleepless nights and paced the floor after it looked like the series was a go.“Even before, after he did the filming and every time we talked to Paul everything was positive, all the conversations we had with him.”
Beth said from the first time they met Mr. Johnson, they felt comfortable with him and felt they could trust him.
Gord is excited about the series, and also a bit nervous, thinking of where it could go. He said he felt a bit bothered having a camera on him, but after the first half hour, he overcame any nervousness and became himself again.
This series is not intended to make Gord someone he is not. In fact, one of the attractions for the producer is Gord being Gord.
“They don’t want to make me out to be someone I am not,” he said, as Beth, a teacher, laughingly adds she’s been trying to correct his grammar for years “and apparently they don’t want that.”Gord began trapping 31 years ago at the age of 19. It all started when he picked up a dead muskrat and took it to John Libby Sr., a well-known trapper in the Deacon area. “I knew he was a trapper and he could make use of it,” he said.From that day on, once could say Gord became a student of Mr. Libby’s. The next spring, he was asked if he would like to go to Goose Lake with him to trap.
“We trapped over 60 muskrats that spring and we talked a couple times in the summer,” Gord recalled. “He said, ‘well, if you’re not doing anything in the fall, if you want do do a little beaver trapping let me know’.”
Gord remembers when there were as many as 600 trappers in Renfrew County. That was when prices for furs were good. He doesn’t know how many trappers exist now, but the numbers are a lot lower.
Gord divides his time between running the family resort, McMillan’s Cabins, which basically occupies his time from April to September. In the fall, from September 1st to November 20th, he is a guide for bear hunters, mostly from the United States. He had 21 hunters this fall, most of them Americans. His busiest time is for three or four weeks. This year, the hunters harvested 12 bear.
He also earns a few hundred dollars a year checking the wood duck boxes he installed for Ducks Unlimited and just recently he launched Ch-i-ko Trails, offering bush tours for nature lovers, photographers, animal trackers, birdwatchers and other interest groups like poets, painters and artists, “and redemption for anyone worn by the city.”
Both Chris and Blair are very interested in following in their Dad’s path. “They love fishing, they love the hunting, they love the trapping,” Beth said.
Gord’s trapping zone is the same 15 square miles of Crown land in the Deacon hills once held by his mentor and teacher, John Libby Sr. and then his son, John.Gord’s expectation of TrapperMan is that it showcases the incredible scenery of the Ottawa Valley to the world, and shares his outdoor experiences, whether it be trapping, hunting or fishing.The hope of the McMillans is that TrapperMan portrays Gord, not as a hunter, but as a person who has an absolute love and respect for nature.Coincidentally, Gord is a direct descendant of Charles Thomas, a pioneer settler of the Golden Lake area who was a factor (fur buyer) for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1800s. In fact, the McMillan resort is situated on part of the original Thomas homestead.