It | 2017
Famously filmed as a TV miniseries in 1990, with Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, Stephen King’s story is brought to the big screen in two movies by Andy Muschietti. Advances in CGI enable King’s wildly surreal imagery to be fully realised, though some found that distracting.
The film's 'Derry' is mostly the downtown area of Port Hope, a small town some 67 miles east of Toronto, centering around the T-junction of Walton Street and Queen Street.
There’s such a sense of the place, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the whole film was made around Port Hope. In fact, there are other locations, but we’ll come to those later.
Much of onscreen ‘Derry’ is within a comfortable walking distance and perhaps the best starting place is the town’s most instantly recognisable feature, the Capitol Theatre, 20 Queen Street (the street that forms the stem of the ‘T’).
The cinema closed in the Eighties, but a determined local campaign saw it restored and reopened in 2005 as the Cameco Capitol Arts Centre, now showing films and hosting live events.
The Capitol would have already been closed by the time of the film’s setting of 1989 , but ‘Derry’s’ cinema is thriving with a showing of Tim Burton’s Batman, and Richie (Finn Wolfhard) playing Street Fighter in its art deco lobby.
Seemingly opposite the Capitol is the little alleyway featured prominently throughout the film. In reality, it’s diagonally across from the theatre on Walton Street.
This is the alleyway in which young Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) has a terrifying vision and Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is patched up after a nasty encounter with the obnoxious Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his thuggish crew.
The really good news is that when I visited in September 2019, the set dressing has been preserved – including that black-and white mural of one of the town’s suspiciously frequent tragedies and the sinister little door marked ‘Quality Meats’ which provides one of the films visual shocks.
‘Quality Meats’ is the name of the butcher shop to which Mike is cycling when he ducks into the alleyway to avoid Bowers’ gang. Despite the name on that side door, the premises alongside the alley is not a butchers at all but Gould’s Footwear, 26 Walton Street.
When Ben gets attention after the attack by Bowers’ gang, the pharmacy store where Beverly (Sophia Lillis) distracts the owner while the boys steal basic medical supplies for Ben’s wound, is a few hundred yards to the west of the alley at 68 Walton Street on the corner of Ontario Street. It really was a pharmacist but is now home to The Nooks, a craft gift store.
Back to Queens Street, and past the Capitol you’ll come across the open green space of Memorial Park with its bandshell, but without the huge statue of Paul Bunyan which was erected just for the films (there is a real, giant Paul Bunyan statue in Bangor, Maine, Maine – Stephen King's hometown).
It’s in the park that the kids gather to discuss the town’s apparent curse, that Mike reveals his vision to them and Richie admits his fear of clowns.
Immediately to the south of the park is what appears to be ‘Derry Public Library’, in which Ben researches the town’s sinister history. This building is Port Hope Town Hall – the town’s real library is that more modern red brick building opposite the park.
In front of the Town Hall, you’ll notice the War Memorial behind which Bowers hides in wait for the unfortunate Ben.
Alongside the town hall runs Augusta Street, down which Bill and the other guys ride their bikes into town.
A way further south on Queen Street, past Robertson Street Bridge (which features in the nasty opening scene of It: Chapter Two), Hayward Street runs west alongside the elevated railroad track to John Street, which is where you’ll find the overgrown field through which the newly-named Losers Club trek on their way to The Barrens.
Returning back up Queen Street to Walton Street, the eastern end of which leads to a little bridge across the Ganraska River, a popular stretch of river for local fishers.
It’s next to this bridge that you’ll see the apartment Beverly shares with her abusive father. The entrance and that distinctive fire escape are the rear of Queenies Bake Shop, 16 Walton Street. Across the road, Smith’s Creek Antiques is the large building emblazoned with the ‘Welcome to Derry’ sign in those aerial shots.
If you’re driving, Port Hope is about one hour 50 minutes away from Toronto. If you’re not, you’re in for a bit of a hassle.
Surprisingly, the rail link from Toronto along the Lake Ontario shore ends at Oshawa and, even more surprisingly, there's no regular bus service to the town. The solution is the Megabus shuttle which runs, once a day, from Toronto Pearson International Airport to Port Hope.
Well, almost. The shuttle stops at Port Hope’s Comfort Inn, a good two miles from the downtown district you want to see and, you guessed it, there’s no bus service. It’s a cab ride or a half-hour walk (which is what I opted for) along an unlovely main road.
And then there’s the return journey, again once a day, from outside Harvey’s Restaurant near the Comfort Inn.
Although Port Hope supplies the geography of central ‘Derry’, particular locations needing specific features had to be found elsewhere. They're scattered widely around the Toronto area.
One of these is the neighbourhood of Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Martell), which is Weston, a suburb west of Toronto and one stop away from Pearson Airport. Conveniently, it’s one of the only two stops on the UP (Union-Pearson) Express service.
The house where Bill makes the paper boat for kid brother Georgie is 124 Queens Drive, between Elm and Pine Streets, just a few minutes' walk north of Weston Station. It really isn’t too far from the infamous storm drain where Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) makes his first appearance.
This is not a real storm drain (an opening large enough to swallow a seven-year-old child might possibly contravene a safety regulation or two), but it’s easy find the spot where the set piece was installed for the film. It’s on the south side of Springmount Avenue just at the junction with William Street.
Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer) shares a house with his obese mother on William Street, too.
‘Derry High School’, where the fractious world of bullies and losers is established early on is a long way to the southwest. It’s Mount Mary Retreat Centre, 437 Wilson Street, Ancaster, nearly ten miles west of Hamilton at the western tip of Lake Ontario.
Closer to the centre of Toronto is the synagogue where young Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) studies for his barmitzvah, which is Congregation Knesseth Israel (also known as Junction Shul), 56 Maria Street at Shipman Street, in an area called The Junction, west of Downtown.
‘The Barrens’, where Bill wants to investigate the sewer outlet, is Rouge National Urban Park in the suburban district of Scarborough, about 12 miles northeast of Toronto. Rouge Park previously stood in for snowy ‘Alberta’ in the first X-Men movie.
The quarry where the Losers enjoy a splash about in their tighty-whities is the ‘old swimming hole, at the Elora Quarry Conservation Area, 7400 Wellington County Road 21, Elora, a two-acre former limestone quarry surrounded by those sheer cliffs which reach up to 30 feet high. It’s 15 miles north of the city of Guelph, and about 60 miles west of Toronto.
Further west from Guelph, is a very specific location to find in Ontario – the covered bridge where Ben gets ‘H’ carved into his flesh. This is the West Montrose Covered Bridge crossing the Grand River. Also called the Kissing Bridge, for the toll once demanded from women in less enlightened times, it’s one of the last of its kind in Ontario. You might also have seen the bridge in John Carpenter’s Lovecraftian In The Mouth Of Madness, in 1994.
Between Toronto and Port Hope is the city of Oshawa (which is reached by rail from Toronto). Ben’s house, seen as concerned citizens are putting up posters for the missing Hockstetter, is 80 Fisher Street at Court Street southwest of downtown.
And it’s in Oshawa that the decrepit ‘Well House’ at ’29 Neibolt Street’ was constructed. It was simply a frontage erected on the vacant lot where Eulalie Avenue turns 90 degrees south to become James Street, and was dismantled after filming.
Surprisingly, the cobwebby interior is a real location back in Toronto proper. It’s Cranfield House, 450 Pape Avenue, a historic structure dating from 1902 that’s stood empty for years after repeated plans for its renovation came to nothing. Happily, that’s resolved and, as of September 2019, the house is finally being restored, to be used as a women’s shelter.
There is one none-Ontario location, inserted digitally, which is the ‘Derry Standpipe’, featuring on the postcard Ben writes to Beverly and past which Bill cycles. It’s the Thomas Hill Standpipe, in Bangor, Maine, home of Stephen King.
The film's Production Designer, Mara LePere-Schloop, had visited Bangor to scout locations before Ontario was finally chosen, where the old standpipe, built in 1897, is a distinctive landmark atop Thomas Hill.