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Amazing Race features Niagara-on-the-Lake locations, businesses and people

The popular CTV show visited Niagara and held some of its challenges here, including one involving Joe Pillitteri and another a Queen Street hotel involving wine.

It’s been just about a week since he said it on national television, but Joe Pillitteri is already getting used to people shouting “these bins look good” just about everywhere he goes. 

“I rushed home from New York State to watch the show with my sisters and my mom and dad,” Pillitteri tells The Local. “At one point they got me saying that phrase, and I’ve been hearing it a lot. I’m thinking of getting T-shirts made.”

The local comedian and business owner appeared on The Amazing Race Canada last Tuesday, an episode which saw the teams
of competitors participating in challenges in St. Catharines, Welland, Pelham and Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

Pillitteri’s Lakeview Vineyard Equipment grape harvesters took the spotlight when competitors were given a short driving lesson on the big rigs. They were then tasked by host Jon Montgomery to fill one of the harvesters with water, then carefully maneuver their payload across Chateau des Charmes Winery to fill two troughs to the top.  

Pillitteri himself appeared beside Montgomery, ready to hand the next clue to the successful competitors. 

“I was really nervous leading up to seeing that episode,” Pillitteri says. “The viewership for that show is huge, I think it’s in the millions per week. I felt this nervousness that I don’t usually feel when I think of being in front of a crowd.”

The opportunity to showcase Lakeview Vineyard Equipment, and to outfit the contestants with T-shirts with the business’ logo, came about by chance. Location scout Peter Donato, who operates local company Niagara Cycling Tours, contacted Pillitteri some time in January to ask him about the harvesters potentially being part of an Amazing Race challenge. 

Donato explains that one of his guides would stop by Lakeview’s Lakeshore Road location with cyclists to point at the harvesters, explaining to them a bit about the process of making wine. 

“It became a regular stop for all of our guides,” Donato says. “So when our producer Ann (Camilleri) needed some locations in Niagara, we thought those harvesters would make for a great challenge. They are fascinating machines.”

As Donato explains, with the episode set to be shot in May, growth on the vines would be quite young at that time. As well, there was no way contestants could be shown drinking wine as that is against broadcast rules in the country. So using the harvesters in such a challenge was a perfect idea. 

Pillitteri at first thought Donato’s request was some sort of scam. 

“He said he was part of an award-winning travel contest show,” says Pillitteri. “When I did talk to him on the phone, he seemed genuine. Then, when he came in on his own, he said he wanted to highlight agriculture in Niagara in a bit of a different way. They came back with one of the producers, we put her on a harvester and got her doing some basic maneuvers in about 10 minutes.”

The NOTL portion of the episode also featured contestants taking part in a wine identification challenge on the patio at 124 on Queen Hotel and Spa. 

Alana Hurov, the hotel’s director of marketing, gives her public relations team credit for attracting the producers to the new facility. 

“We don’t know for sure, but we heard that Jon Montgomery came to stay at the hotel following a referral from them,” says Hurov. “He fell in love with the hotel and got in touch with the show’s location manager.”

Hurov says they were in negotiations with Insight Productions, who shoot the program, for a couple of months. 

“They took over our Gate House with their crew and equipment for about a week,” she adds. “It was the hardest secret I’ve ever had to keep. It was so exciting to see this world-class production crew shooting at our hotel. The buzz was getting around town, but we signed a strict non-disclosure agreement and couldn’t say a word.”

The challenge there involved contestants sniffing six different glasses of wine and matching each selection with a tray containing samples of scent items, such as raspberries and peaches, that a sommelier would typically be able to suss out. It was organized and run by Steve Gill and Jessica Neal-Ellis of the Niagara College Learning Enterprises Corporation and a small team of staff from the Wine Visitor + Education Centre, who set up the sensory challenge for the show’s participants at 124 on Queen Hotel & Spa.

Hurov and her team hosted a viewing party last Tuesday in the hotel’s new NOTL Bar & Restaurant. More than 75 people gathered around two big-screen televisions to witness the local sites and people on the national television show. 

The crowd cheered loudly as the show opened in the city of St. Catharines, specifically at the historic British Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Catharines and the statue of underground railroad legend Harriet Tubman. 

Everyone laughed raucously when contestants Tyler and Kayleen got delayed by the Glendale Bridge over the Welland Canal. And the guffaws came hard when Derek and Jaspal repeatedly overturned their rowing shell during another challenge on the Welland Flat Water Centre. 

But everyone roared when, midway through the episode, the Queen Street cenotaph appeared. And the VU metre buried itself in the red zone when the front door of the hotel was finally shown. 

“It was a phenomenal experience,” Hurov says. “To be on national television for about eight minutes was incredible. To see that blue door come up so many times was surreal. It was so exciting to share our beautiful town and the region with the rest of Canada.”

Hurov expects that they will be developing some Amazing Race sommelier-
type experiences at the hotel soon, hoping that the exposure translates quickly into drawing fans of the show to NOTL. 

The episode concluded with contestants racing to Fort Mississauga, which served as the final destination, where Montgomery was accompanied by a representative from Parks Canada. The difficulty the contestants had in locating the fort was quite humorous. 

“It’s amazing how many locals couldn’t even tell them where it was,” Donato laughs. “As a bike tour operator, I think I know more about local spots than most locals actually do. In this business you really do see everything.”

And Donato, who splits his time between a home in Toronto and one here in town, adds that he doesn’t rule out the possibility of a return to the region. 

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Donato says. “Next year will be season 10. We’ve been to Toronto four times, Calgary three times, Vancouver a few times, all the big cities. Niagara may not be a top five city based on size, but it’s such a great region and there’s so much more to show.”


Mike Balsom

About the Author: Mike Balsom

With a background in radio and television, Mike Balsom has been covering news and events across the Niagara Region for more than 35 years
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