Chasing Rambo in Hope, BC

Hope is a landmark location both for its natural beauty and iconic Hollywood scenery

Credit: Alyssa McLeod

Hope’s iconic marker still welcomes Rambo fans

Though it was filmed in Hope almost 30 years ago, Rambo’s First Blood continues to leave its mark on the tiny town, giving fans just enough reason to chase a piece of aging Hollywood action

With an attractive name like Hope, it’s a wonder the Fraser Valley town is not a more popular tourist destination. Most people know of Hope only as a place they pass along the Coquihalla Highway on their way to other destinations.

But to some, Hope is the travel destination, a mecca, so to speak. That’s because almost 30 years ago, Hope was used as the film location for First Blood – the first film in the Rambo quadrilogy.

When it was released in 1982, though up against box office heavyweights like ET the Extra Terrestrial, Star Trek II and Rocky III, First Blood grossed an estimated $15 million.

First Blood also changed the way filmmakers looked at BC. Until the film boom in BC during the 1980s started by Rambo, BC didn’t have much of a film industry at all.

Today, die-hard fans continue to make the pilgrimage to Hope in search of Rambo. I wanted to see for myself the birthplace of Hollywood North and the appeal of the iconic movie location.

First Blood Film Locations

Hope is set in an impressive landscape. Amid high reaching mountains, the quiet little town is nestled in a small valley with rivers and canyons bordering its limits. It is where the Fraser and Coquihalla rivers meet.

The Fraser Valley topography inspires tourists and filmmakers alike. (Image: Alyssa McLeod)

Wanting to take in the full Rambo experience, I started by visiting the Hope Visitor Information Centre, which has film memorabilia and film location information. I learned that three notable film sites had had buildings constructed purposely to be blown — or beaten — up during the action film: the sheriff’s office, the gas station and the gun store. Even though only a whisper of these buildings’ existence remains today, visiting their remnants is a high priority for fans.

The current state of the gas station that served as a filming location for First Blood. (Image: Alyssa McLeod)

The gun shop, which goes down in a blaze of fire in the film, was constructed in the intersection at Commission Street and Third Avenue, right in the heart of the downtown core. Though there isn’t much there now but pavement and the occasional passing car, when I looked hard enough, I could picture Rambo – in all his badassery – tossing a citizen off his motorbike and whizzing past to escape police.

Rambo rides through through the town of Hope.

The sheriff’s office was beaten pretty badly during filming but never set ablaze. It stands today on Douglas Street and serves as a retirement facility, but was originally constructed in front of Hope District Hall in the town centre. Adjacent District Hall is a lovely restaurant with patio seating. While Rambo hunted and then dined on wild boar, I instead chose to purchase and eat a leisurely lunch in the sun.

My server suggested I try the drink special: the Gold Diggertini. I looked across the courtyard to the site where Rambo would have been detained and abused by police. I declined the drink, feeling Rambo-induced-shame for considering the fancy cocktail. Something tells me Stallone wouldn’t have approved.

Rambo Goes Beyond Hope

Above: The bridge in First Blood; Below: what remains of the movie icon. (Image: Alyssa McLeod)

After lunch, I followed Rambo’s legacy out of town toward the city limits to the iconic ‘Rambo bridge’ (Kawkawa Lake bridge) that appears in a number of important scenes throughout First Blood. For 30 years it has been a fanatic hot spot – but not for much longer. Despite efforts to save the bridge, in July 2011 it was officially decommissioned, and currently stands beside its replacement in a half demolished state, guarded by fences and danger signs.

The “Rambo bridge” was decommissioned in July 2011. (Image: Alyssa McLeod)

Further outside of town are the Othello Quintette Tunnels in Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park, which deserve recognition in their own right. The tunnels are a series of long, dark passages blasted through the mountainside. They were initially created for the Kettle Valley Railway in the early 1900s.

The Othello Quintette Tunnels are a straight line of passages drilled into the mountainsides. (Image: Alyssa McLeod)

This underrated geological masterpiece was the site for the famous canyon scenes in First Blood where Rambo displays his superhuman prowess. While being pursued by hateful, hillbilly cops, Rambo scales the mountainside, is chased by a helicopter, and jumps down the mountainside into a tree to cushion his fall.

In First Blood, Rambo hangs from the side of the Othello Tunnel cliffsides.

Most of the area is visitor-friendly, offering paths, bridges and barricades. Signs warn tourists to stay clear of trail barriers and it’s easy to see why. Rockslides and unreliable terrain were part of the whole Rambo experience and remain today. Unlike Rambo, I am not a Green Beret Vietnam war veteran trained in survival and combat. I was comfortable enjoying safety and beauty simultaneously, and also posing for sneakily framed look-alike photos.

The author orchestrates a Ramboesque shot in the same tunnels. (Image: Alyssa McLeod)

The Rambo I Found

After talking to some locals, I began to realize what US filmmakers liked so much about filming in this area. The landscape looks relatively similar to that of the western United States, so it easily passes for places like Oregon or Washington. The rainy season weather — often very gloomy and misty — helped communicate an ominous tone. And most importantly, the British Columbian government welcomed the film with open arms and massive subsidies to ease production woes.

The Fraser Valley geography provides an accommodating background for many a movie. (Image: Alyssa McLeod)

In Rambonian fashion, the Hollywood filmmakers came to Hope, blew some stuff up, and left their tangible absence behind. But despite the lack of tourable structures, echoes of Rambo’s legacy remain.

It surprised me that the voice of Rambo seemed to take over my internal dialogue. Moreover, I surprised myself with my legitimate fear of disappointing him.

While I did not run through the forest, scale mountainsides and hunt for my own meals, I did, in my own way, have the satisfaction of a “hunt”. Searching for film locations felt like a scavenger hunt, and I admit, I experienced a lot of dorky excitement for every one I discovered. Researching the films and locations, driving to the destination and discovering what I had searched for was oddly satisfying.

And I think John Rambo would be proud.

Alyssa McLeod is a Northern Ontario bumpkin turned British Columbian. She is also a Master’s of Publishing candidate and teaching assistant at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. She survives solely on humour and sunshine.