Goin' Down the Road

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Goin' Down the Road
Promotional movie poster for the film
Directed byDonald Shebib
Written byWilliam Fruet
Donald Shebib
Produced byDonald Shebib
StarringDoug McGrath
Paul Bradley
Jayne Eastwood
Cayle Chernin
CinematographyRichard Leiterman
Edited byDonald Shebib
Music byBruce Cockburn
Distributed byChevron Pictures
Release dates
  • 2 July 1970 (1970-07-02) (Canada)
  • 19 October 1970 (1970-10-19) (U.S.)
Running time
90 minutes
BudgetCan$87,000 (estimate)[1] or US$78,000[2]

Goin' Down the Road is a 1970 Canadian film directed by Donald Shebib, co-written by William Fruet and Donald Shebib. It tells the story of two young men who decide to leave the Maritimes, where jobs and fulfilling lives are hard to find, for the excitement and perceived riches of Toronto. It stars Doug McGrath, Paul Bradley, Jayne Eastwood and Cayle Chernin. Despite the small production budget, the movie is generally regarded as one of the best and most influential Canadian films of all time and has received considerable critical acclaim for its writing, directing and acting.


Pete and Joey drive their 1960 Chevrolet Impala from their home on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia to Toronto with the hope of meeting up with their relatives in the city who might be able to help them find jobs; but their relatives hide from what they see as the pair's uncouth behaviour and the two are set adrift in the city. The men find jobs at a local ginger-ale bottler for $80 per week, a job with tough working conditions that doesn't pay much better than what they could have had back home. They fill their days smoking, drinking beer, and hitting on young women along Toronto's busy Yonge Street strip.

They soon turn their good fortune into residency in a small apartment, which they decorate with centrefolds from men's magazines and movie posters. Both men start romances; Joey decides to get married when his girlfriend, Betty (Jayne Eastwood), becomes pregnant. He pursues a credit-driven lifestyle undreamt of back home with his wife, buying a new colour television, stereo, and furniture on an installment plan.

Disaster strikes when Pete and Joey get laid off at the end of the summer and the trio are forced to move to a smaller, less-comfortable apartment. Pete and Joey find new jobs washing cars and resetting pins in a bowling alley but at much smaller wages than what they received at the bottling factory. Tensions mount at the crowded living situation and the lack of money begins to wear on them, and Betty tells Joey she will soon need to stop working at her waitressing job because of her pregnancy. Pete accuses Joey of not making enough money to support his share of the costs, and Betty resents Pete for making the accusation.

Unable to find steady work and with bills to pay and Joey and Betty's baby on the way, they resort to stealing food from a local supermarket. The caper results in a grocery clerk being assaulted by the pair when he tries to prevent the robbery. Pete and Joey return to their apartment in the morning to find Betty gone and their possessions on the street, after the police came in search of them and their landlord evicted them as troublemakers.

Broke, homeless, wanted by the police for theft and assault, and with Betty staying with her aunt and uncle, the pair decide to pawn the rented colour TV set for money in order to make it out to Western Canada. Pete convinces Joey that husbands leave their wives "all the time" and Joey agrees to leave Betty and her unborn child in Toronto, as she will slow them down. The film concludes much as it began, with Pete and Joey driving west in search of greener pastures.


  • Doug McGrath as Peter McGraw
  • Paul Bradley as Joey Mayle
  • Jayne Eastwood as Betty
  • Cayle Chernin as Selina
  • Nicole Morin as Nicole
  • Pierre La Roche as "Frenchie" La Roche
  • Don Steinhouse as Plant Co-worker
  • Ted Sugar as Plant Co-worker
  • Ron Martin as Plant Co-worker

Social relevance[edit]

The film reflected an important social phenomenon in post-war Canada as the economy of the eastern provinces stagnated and many young men sought opportunities through internal migration to the fast-growing economy of Ontario. Although the men in the film come from Nova Scotia, the "Newfie" as an unsophisticated manual labourer was a common stereotype starting in the early 1950s as many Atlantic Canadians moved to the cities looking for work, only to find widespread unemployment and jobs that may have seemed to have attractive salaries, but made living in large cities marginal at best. Many of Toronto's early housing developments (particularly Regent Park) were built to handle the influx of internal migrants before they were eventually replaced by external immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia starting in the 1960s.

The film is well known to Canadians and was parodied as Garth & Gord & Fiona & Alice in an episode of SCTV, with John Candy and Joe Flaherty as a Maritime lawyer and doctor (respectively) seeking a better life in Toronto after hearing about the job openings there. Eastwood reprised her role as the pregnant girlfriend, and Andrea Martin expanded the list of characters as a French-Canadian nuclear physicist who was also seeking better opportunities outside her native province of Quebec. As in the original, the men are entranced by the big city appeal of Yonge Street, a primary commercial thoroughfare in downtown Toronto. The parody ends on a happier note, with the characters leaving Toronto to seek better opportunities in Edmonton.

Production and significance[edit]

Many of the film's sequences were improvised on the spot. For example, the scene in Allan Gardens where Pete and Joey interact with some musical tramps: according to Donald Shebib, McGrath saw the men and called Shebib who hurried down with his camera and other cast members in tow. Shot on 16mm reversal stock, the near-documentary look of the movie impressed a number of critics who appreciated the film's honesty and its refusal to pander to the audience. Pete and Joey are not depicted as being punished for a moral failure, and there is no happy ending. The film builds on such works as The Grapes of Wrath but it puts the story into the present, and the story itself is not dated – the flight from rural to urban areas continues throughout the world today.

Quebec cinema also was influenced by the realistic look of Goin' Down the Road, and many successful Quebec films based on real life experiences were also critical and often commercial successes. Other Canadian filmmakers have also taken advantage of the cost savings that realism can mean to a production (such as shooting on less expensive film stock).

This film has been designated and preserved as a "masterwork" by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada, a charitable non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the preservation of Canada's audio-visual heritage.[3] The Toronto International Film Festival ranked it in the Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time four times, in 1984, 1993, 2004 and 2015.[4] In 2002, readers of Playback voted it the 5th greatest Canadian film of all-time.[5]

The then up-and-coming singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn composed several songs for the film, including "Goin' Down the Road" and "Another Victim of the Rainbow". Cockburn refused to release the songs commercially because they represented the experiences of the movie's characters and not his own. Director Shebib was introduced to Cockburn, who was then playing in coffee houses in Toronto, by journalist Alison Gordon.

Shebib subsequently directed the 1981 film Heartaches, starring Margot Kidder, Annie Potts and Robert Carradine in a thematically similar story about two women.

In 2010, Shebib announced that a sequel film was in production.[6] Down the Road Again was released in October 2011.

A digital restoration of the original Goin' Down the Road was released in 2017.[7]


  1. ^ "AV Trust – Goin' Down the Road". Avtrust.ca. Archived from the original on 2011-09-30. Retrieved 2011-10-22.
  2. ^ David Sterritt (Feb 10, 1971). "Film: 'casual virtuosity ... harsh actuality': Little 'happens' Undoing". The Christian Science Monitor. p. 4.
  3. ^ "Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada". Avtrust.ca. Archived from the original on 2011-09-30. Retrieved 2011-10-22.
  4. ^ "Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time Archived 2013-07-03 at the Wayback Machine", The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2012, URL accessed 2 May 2015.
  5. ^ "Egoyan tops Canada's all-time best movies list". Playbackonline.ca. Retrieved August 28, 2019.
  6. ^ "Donald Shebib Is Back On the Road Again". Torontoist, October 20, 2010.
  7. ^ "Goin' Down the Road". Cinematheque. July 2017. Archived from the original on 2018-10-04. Retrieved 2021-11-13.

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