They All Float Up There: IT Filming Sites in Port Hope, Ontario

September 12, 2017 — I know where IT lives. Where IT pulls small, yellow-slickered boys into sewers. Where IT surfaces like an alligator from flooded basements. Where IT brings out our deepest white-faced, red-lipped fears. It’s Canada.

It was July 2016, the night before the last leg of our 3,260-mile road trip among the Great Lakes. The next day, we were going to jet straight from Toronto to New Hampshire—550 miles—in one go, minus food and bio breaks. Then I happened to read an article on my phone.

It was from something (possibly oxymoronically) called the Northumberland News, and the article said that the new adaptation of Stephen King’s IT was filming that week in a town called Port Hope, Ontario.

Port Hope, Port Hope—the name sounded familiar. I checked my Google Maps. The town was on the shores of Lake Ontario directly on our path the next day.

Looks like we were going to have a stop.

I wasn't kidding about the flags. Wait. You haven't gotten to that joke yet.

Unfortunately, according to the article, the filming had wrapped two weeks previously. And while that sucked, I still wanted to see the town. Not because I was that jazzed for the movie (this was long before the first trailers came out that whipped us all into enough of a frenzy to give that movie record-breaking numbers over the weekend). I just love filming sites. Especially horror movie filming sites. Even if the movie doesn’t exist yet. I don’t know what I was hoping to find. Some IT graffiti left on a wall? A stray missing child poster? A waxed paper ship stuck in a sewer grate?

The Port Hope Town Hall that was converted into the Derry Library for the movie.

Port Hope turned out to be an idyllic place. Like wretchedly nice. We almost wrote off our New England life and bought a house there on the spot. It had little shops and a little cinema and a little bandstand in a little park. The Canadian flag was flown every six feet as if that were mandated by the town charter. I could see why the film makers chose it to represent King’s fictional town of Derry, Maine.

From the article, I knew some of the buildings that had been altered to become their New England counterparts. And most of them were right downtown. The Port Hope Town Hall had been turned into the Derry Library. The local theater’s marquee had been downdated to play Batman and Lethal Weapon 2. The local tattoo parlor had become an ice cream parlor.

We strolled around, checking out these buildings, ostensibly just stretching our legs and enjoying the stop, but my eyes were darting around like my brain had short-circuited, looking for something, anything left over from filming. But everything seemed to have been successfully rolled back from late 1980s Derry to 2016 Point Hope. The theater had ditched Michael Keaton and Mel Gibson for a live performance of Mamma Mia!. All the stars and stripes had been re-replaced with red maple leaves. And the tattoo place was once more inking skin instead of scooping frozen cream.

And then I saw it.

In the local park (Memorial Park) was a dim rectangle of trampled grass. It shouldn’t have caught my attention. There was nothing at all remarkable about it. Except that I knew that it was in this park that the movie makers had erected a large statue of an axe-wielding Paul Bunyan. Because you can’t have a Stephen King Maine location without a Paul Bunyan statue. Whipping out my phone and checking the angles on the photos I could find online of the temporary statue, my suspicion was verified. This was the trace I was looking for. Well, that’s not true. This was the trace I was going to have to be satisfied with. Here stood Paul Bunyan. The Paul Bunyan from IT.

The remains of IT.

Finally, we pulled ourselves away from this beautiful little town and that strange rectangle of grass, still with pretty much all of our trek home ahead of us. And I forgot about IT.

Until the trailers came out. Those goddamned spooky trailers.

When I finally saw IT over the weekend, I was definitely full of anticipation for the movie, but even more so, I was full of anticipation for revisiting Port Hope. And it was definitely a revisit. The whole movie was set there. Granted, a lot of the movie took place in residential neighborhoods, but the downtown was extremely prominent in the movie.

The Derry logo was added in post-production.
In reality, there are windows on that part of the exterior.

Paul Bunyan played only a single scene, and only as a backdrop for Mike to tell the story of the fiery death of his parents. It was an important nod to the book, though, since the statue comes to life in that version. The most interesting part of the movie as far as downtown geography goes are the pair of scenes that took place in an alley across from the theater (a theater which, it turns out, besides Batman and Lethal Weapon 2, also played A Nightmare on Elm Street 5). There is no alley directly across from the theater, just a little indentation in the buildings beside the tattoo parlor that could fit maybe two cars. The filmmakers used it to fake the existence of an alley that they later, I assume, build on a set somewhere. I didn't take a photo of the indentation itself because I had no clue at the time that it was important in the not-yet-made movie.

The graffiti-marked indentation used for the mock alleyway.

Overall, as far as the movie went, I thought IT was a way cool funhouse. Lots of interesting set pieces like individual rooms, with regular points that make you wonder how dangerous it was going to get, until you exit completely safe and exhilarated and ready to watch again.

So 46 it’s in this article. Wait. That’s 47.