“Heartland” is the longest-running hour-long drama in the history of television in Canada, and there’s no sign that it’s going to end anytime soon, after season 15 just finished airing on 19 December 2021. Fans have been following the story of the Fleming sisters, Amy and Lou, along with their father and grandfather on their family ranch in Alberta, Canada for many years, and they were heartbroken by the untimely death of Tyler “Ty” Borden, Amy’s husband, in season 14. This could only mean one thing – Graham Wardle, the actor who played the role of Ty, left the show.
Meet Graham Wardle
Graham Wardle was born on 6 September 1986, in the city of Mission in British Columbia, and along with his five siblings grew up in New Westminster, just outside Vancouver. When he was young, he would always cause a ruckus as he had a fascination for burning things, although not buildings, but he didn’t know why.
He said that there’s a reason why things happen in one’s life. Graham believed that since he’s into football, he would have become an athlete instead of an actor if he hadn’t suffered a severe concussion in 12th grade, which made him re-evaluate where his life was headed. He and his siblings did commercials when they were kids – his first at age six was for toys. However, it was only during his three years at the Motion Picture and Production Program at the Capilano University in Northern Vancouver that he realized he wanted to be in front of a camera.
He attended audition technique workshops, took private coaching, and read the book by Larry Moss entitled “Intent to Live”, in which the author described a situation that resonated with Graham, and helped him in his approach to acting. He paid attention to his emotions and reactions so that he could utilize them whenever a scene called for it.
Understanding oneself and having compassion about what other people go through, or their perspectives in life, would help one connect to a character being portrayed. As an actor, he found it most exhilarating when he would get lost in a scene, saying that it was all about finding that delicate balance between being in character and being aware of the camera.
Graham made his TV debut in 1998, playing a minor role in “The Sentinel”, followed by guest appearances in “The New Addams Family,” “The Outer Limits,” and “Life as We Know It”, then starring alongside Kristen Stewart, Adam Brody and Meg Ryan in the 2007 romantic comedy, “In the Land of Women.”
The family drama series “Heartland” premiered on 14 October 2007 in Canada via CBC, and was later available on Netflix. Its story was originally based on Lauren Brooke’s 26-novel series that started in 2000 with “Coming Home”, about Amy Fleming who along with her family helped heal abused horses at their ranch in Virginia called Heartland.
Michael Weinberg, the TV series creator and executive producer, said someone had mentioned to him that the books would make a good TV show, so he read a few of them. Since the target readership was for ages eight to 14, he naturally found it too juvenile, but saw its potential. They changed the setting to Alberta for a more Canadian feel, and made the story multi-generational so it would resonate with people of all ages. Michael bought the rights and had a script written before pitching it to the network; CBS then ordered a pilot to be made.
Graham Wardle was still studying film production when he received a call from his agent who said, ‘I know you’re taking a bit of a break from acting while you’re in school, but I think you should give this one a shot’ – he was glad that he did, as it changed his life. He recalled that he bought a pack of cigarettes before going to his audition, as the Ty Borden character was originally written as a smoker. Since he didn’t smoke, he gave it to Beau Mirchoff, who was later cast in the recurring role as Ben Stillman.
For those who have seen the first episode of Heartland Season 14, you must have a lot of questions. Here are some answers directly from @GrahamWardle. Warning, *spoilers* #iloveheartland https://t.co/noXAsVD3XV
— Heartland (@HeartlandOnCBC) January 11, 2021
He took it as a good sign when the director of the pilot episode, Dean Bennet, shook his hand after he was done with the second audition, as it had never happened to him before. He’d never shot a pilot episode, nor been a series regular, so he had few expectations when he was cast. As his character was a ranch hand, he took riding lessons just days before filming started, learning a lot about horses from his co-star, Amber.
It was said that the storylines from the first eight books of “Heartland” provided the inspiration for the first season, but the author, Lauren Brooke, wasn’t involved in the making of the show. By season two, it had become a world of its own, but it was still character-driven.
Tyler “Ty” Borden
Fans of the books wondered why the character of Ty Borden in the series seemed to be the polar opposite of the one in the books. The writers chose to portray him differently, at least on the surface, but said that the heart of the character remained the same.
The rule of thumb for the writers when making a storyline or a character that was not in the books was that it should fit in the world that Lauren Brooke created in “Heartland.”
Ty had an abusive stepfather named Wade, whom he attacked for assaulting his mother, Lily Borden, for which he was arrested and sent to a juvenile detention center. For his probation, the 17-year-old teen was hired as a stable hand by Marion Fleming (Lisa Langlois), a well-known horse whisperer, at a sprawling ranch called Heartland owned by her father, Jackson “Jack” Bartlett (Shaun Johnston).
Marion died in an accident while returning home with her 15-year-old daughter Amy (Amber Marshall), after rescuing an abused horse named Spartan. Amy’s older sister, Lou (Michelle Morgan), then came home from New York to help run the ranch. Their estranged father, Tim Fleming (Chris Potter), also returned to make amends for the past.
Some new signed photos for charity coming soon. I put on my best “deep feelings” face for ya’ll. Thanks @jenna_berman for your mad skills with the camera. 📸
He and Marion went their separate ways when Amy was five and Lou 14, and was kicked off the ranch by Jack due to his drug and alcohol abuse problems after a rodeo accident. Over time, relationships were mended.
As Jack got to know Ty better, he treated him like a son. Ty received his high school diploma and later became a veterinarian. He and Amy developed a close relationship and fell in love, eventually marrying in the eighth season finale, “Written in Stone,” and becoming parents.
Graham was subsequently nominated for Best Lead Performance by a Male in a Dramatic Series at the Leo Awards (2009, 2010, and 2012).
Graham’s exit from “Heartland”
In the season 13 finale, “The Passing of the Torch,” which aired on 24 November 2019, Ty rushed Amy to the hospital when she was shot in the shoulder by a poacher, only for a nurse to point out that he had been shot as well.
They both seemed to recover, but Ty succumbed to complications – when season 14 premiered on 10 January 2021, fans were shocked to learn that Ty died due to a blood clot that developed as a result of the gunshot wound. In the “Keep Me in Your Heart” episode, Ty collapsed on the ground as he was leading the horse, Spartan, back to the barn; Amy and Jack rushed to his side but it was too late.
Naturally, the viewers were devastated as the relationship between Ty and Amy was said to have been the true heart of “Heartland.” As Amy grieved over the loss of her husband so did the fans. In an interview with Amber Marshall, she revealed that she received a call from Graham in which he informed her that he was leaving the series; he wanted to tell her before anyone else. Admittedly, she was hurt by this news as they have been great friends for years since they’d started working together.
However, she understood him once she had time to process it, and said that ‘nobody should stand in the way of someone who wants to pursue what their true heart’s desire is.’
Graham said that the decision to leave the TV series was not made on a whim nor was it sudden, as he said, ‘I have not taken this decision lightly. I have spent a few years now contemplating and trying to figure out how to honor myself and…honor the show.’ He had been asking himself what the next step would be in his life, and knew that this was it. He couldn’t ignore what his heart was telling him as he’d done that in the past, and which hadn’t worked out well. There was no bad blood with cast members or within the production crew; he just felt that it was time to move in a new direction. He worked with the creators on the series to make the transition as best as they could, so he was still part of season 14 as he did what they called ‘ghost work.’
He learned so much from working alongside talented actors on the show for more than a decade, and was grateful for it. Graham only had praise for Dean Bennet, as his approach to producing and directing was something that inspired him. The two had powerful conversations regarding the nature of human life, and Ty admired him for his depth of wisdom.
That the show was a hit was an understatement. For it to have lasted this long means that it’s indeed special. The setting in Alberta provided an idyllic place for healing, since the story dealt with love and loss as characters went through experiences that most people could empathize with, becoming a place where people wanted to visit or even reside as the show greatly impacted their lives. Graham said that he was hoping that one of the messages that people would get from the TV series was that life could get really bad but one could turn it around as his character had.
What’s next for Graham?
He was putting acting on hold and producing his own content.
There were things that he would get excited about and be committed to, but he wanted to be open to new opportunities as life changed and things evolved. He said that if he didn’t commit to doing what he wanted to do now, he might never do it at all, as he could get caught in another role, and it would become the next chapter in his life.
His first project was called “Mathamagical,” an audiobook that included ‘guided meditations, visualizations and multiple exercises for personal reflection and growth’, written and narrated by Lynette Elinda, a life coach and intuitive guide. Graham was uncertain of how this would turn out but relied on his faith as he went through the creative process. ‘I’m honoured to have had this opportunity to help bring this project to life…I hope Mathamagical awakens your heart, as it has mine,’ he said.
He launched the podcast called “Time Has Come” about the ‘joys and journeys of life’ He said that the name just popped into his head as he was meditating with his hand on his heart, and it was what he wanted his podcast to be – of people stepping out of their comfort zones to be true to themselves, and live a life that their hearts desired. His podcast is a great way for his fans to get to know him better, and perhaps understand why Graham left the show.
He considers himself more spiritual than religious, even though he was raised Catholic, as he said, ‘I do believe in God or the divine or universal love that pervades everyone in everything.’ Spirituality for him is a personal connection to whatever one defines as divine or God. He shared a spiritual experience that he had after ingesting weed gummy that had THC, a psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. At that time, he assumed he was only taking 2.5mg so he thought he wouldn’t even feel it, as he’d experimented with marijuana before.
However, he wasn’t aware that he took 150mcg and his psyche opened up, revealing things in his life including those that he was grateful for, or that caused him pain. What happened to him was dangerous and not something he would recommend to anybody, but the effect on him taught him the importance of letting go, and having the courage to move forward.
Graham has two tattoos, one on each arm, which read “Be Yourself” and “Know Yourself,” inspired by a book he read entitled “The First and Last Freedom” by Jiddu Krishnamurti, a 20th-century Indian philosopher.
He is open to having an honest dialogue with various people, even those whose opinions differ from his, such as those who believe that the earth is flat. He talked about taking various meditation courses over the years that helped him in various ways. Although the process was difficult, he would find something beautiful, his resting place in it, which grounded him and made him more productive.
— Graham Wardle Fans (@GrahamWardleFan) April 2, 2017
Graham attended a 10-day silent meditation retreat, after which he realized that he was hurting so bad about a long-term relationship that was over, because in his mind, he hadn’t made that decision. He shared what his older sister told him – that he had to get out of a relationship if he was no longer happy, because delaying it to avoid hurting the feelings of his lover was depriving her of being with someone who would be happy too.
He wrote a poem about it, which he included it in his book “Find Your Truth,” a collection of his writings and photography. His interest in art started when he was around 17, after his father brought home a camera. What he loved most about this is that in taking photos, he could choose what he would focus on and what it meant to him.
It wasn’t clear if was referring to his ex-wife. As he liked to keep his personal life private, it wasn’t until a fan asked during a Facebook live session in 2020 what he and his wife Alison, whom he married in 2015, were doing during the covid-19 pandemic that people learned that they were divorced.
The paperback and the digital copy of his first book are available for sale on his website, as well as a 10-minute guided meditation called “Appreciation Meditation.” The proceeds go to charities that he supports, such as The Center for Child Development and Sophie’s Place; he’s been able to raise $50,000, but Graham said he would direct funds in a new direction after that. If fans wanted to have a 30-second personalized video message from him, they only had to pay $125. He has a Cameo page where one could access the VIP club for special content. He’s working on his second book, so his fans could look forward to that as well.
With one of the lead stars leaving the show, some people assumed that “Heartland” is nearing its end, but it’s not. There are more stories to tell as the family keeps changing and growing. Graham hoped that people would continue watching, and find a new appreciation of the direction the show would be taking without him.