Welland native Mark Lysakowski, an executive producer of CTV’s The Amazing Race Canada, couldn’t wait for the reality program to finally return to the Niagara Region.
“In season one, Niagara Falls was the very first place we opened up on,” Lysakowski says. “We filmed that from a helicopter, showcasing one of the seven wonders of the world to begin the whole series.”
The Welland Centennial Secondary School graduate has been with The Amazing Race Canada from the beginning. The program has taken him from coast to coast to coast, covering just about every nook and cranny of this vast country. But for season nine, he felt it was time to get back to his roots.
“I set the route for this,” he explains, “and I wanted to avoid Niagara Falls this time. I wanted this to be the Niagara region show. I love Niagara Falls, but I wanted to see more of the Niagara region.”
Like most reality television shows, much is kept secret before each episode is aired. But Lysakowski does reveal some particulars.
“We cover St. Catharines, Pelham, Niagara-on-the-Lake and my hometown, Welland,” he says. “I wouldn’t be welcomed back in my hometown if I didn’t include Welland.”
Production photos provided by CTV show the racers near the historic British Methodist Episcopal Church on Geneva Street in the Garden City.
As well, at the end of last Tuesday’s episode, during which Pelham native Gracie Lowes and her teammate Lily Bateman were unfortunately eliminated, a teaser for the August 15 show revealed footage of competitors rowing and driving grape harvesters.
Lysakowski admits that the rowing took place at Welland’s International Flatwater Centre.
“I felt the need to showcase the Welland Canal,” Lysakowski adds. “When I was a kid I swam in the canal. And I promise you that our teams will be stopped by the bridges along the canal. Everyone in the Niagara region knows if you hit a bridge, you get a 45-minute wait.”
The production made a stop at the South Niagara Rowing Club (SNRC) on Colborne Street in Welland.
Rhonda Chopin, a rower and board of directors member at SNRC, said that, “We have been instructed by the show’s producer not to share any details before the program airs on August 15, other to say that it was an exciting experience for SNRC to have the rowing club be part of Canada’s ‘most-watched’ TV show.”
Lysakowski goes on to recount his own experience with the bridges in his younger days.
“My orthodontist was in Niagara Falls,” he says. “I had a deal with my mom that if we hit the bridge then I didn’t have to go to the appointment. My mom (a retired math teacher and guidance counsellor from Welland Centennial) would let me out of it.”
Those grape harvesters that the teaser suggests the competitors have to learn to drive were indeed provided by NOTL’s own Joe Pillitteri of Lakeview Vineyard Equipment. And Alana Hurov of 124 on Queen Hotel and Spa confirms that the new hotel’s patio is part of next week’s broadcast, though she is unable to reveal anything more due to a strict non-disclosure agreement.
Lysakowski graduated from Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson) in 1998. He began his work in television as a freelancer, and has done just about every job you could imagine that goes into producing a program.
He cut his teeth on the likes of Canadian Idol, Top Chef Canada, Battle of the Blades and Canada’s Got Talent. In 2012, he became a full-time employee of Insight Productions, the company that produces those programs for CTV/BellMedia. Today he is the senior vice-president of Insight.
Lysakowski says he has learned a lot about the country and its people through his work on all of those programs.
“I’m so lucky to be able to travel the country, to see it up close and personal,” he says. “I get to tell Canadian stories about Canadian people to Canadians. That, first and foremost, is my job, whether they’re singing, dancing, cooking or adventuring.”
The Niagara episode was shot back in May. NOTL resident Tracey Frena spied the cast and crew one day convening around Fort Mississauga and stuck around long enough to convince host Jon Montgomery to pose for a selfie with her and her daughter Rachel.
“Jon is our ambassador for our program,” says Lysakowski. “He’s fantastic, that’s what he does. He is the most recognized person and he does so much for us. He loves to pose for photos and talk to people.”
The “travelling circus,” as Lysakowski calls it, consists of about 86 people in total, including cast and crew. When they roll into an area such as Niagara, their shooting schedule is usually spread out over a two-day period.
And they do a great job of connecting with local residents and dignitaries.
“In St. Catharines,” hints Lysakowski, “we worked with a very important member of that community. We were thrilled to be welcomed in, and I think when people see it I’m sure they’ll get it. It takes me way, way back to my youth.”
To see exactly how Niagara is showcased, tune into The Amazing Race Canada next Tuesday, Aug. 15 at 9 p.m. on CTV, or watch on the CTV mobile app or website.
With files from Don Rickers.