By Carol Hansson
When flood waters ravaged Southern Alberta in June 2013, High River, a small town of about 12,000 just 45 minutes south of Calgary, experienced the worst damage. This scenic town in the foothills of the Alberta Rockies is well known as the fictional town of Hudson in the hit CBC TV show, Heartland, currently filming its seventh season.
“We have been filming in (High River) for seven years now and the people of the town have always been so supportive of us,” says Amber Marshall, the 25-year-old Canadian actress who plays Amy Fleming, the central character in the TV series.
Amber, along with many other Heartland cast and crew members, took up the cause to raise money for the badly flooded town. “By opening up the doors to our Calgary studio for set tours and photos with cast members, we were able to raise close to $75,000 from the general public. So thank you to everyone who helped out!” she says.
And that wasn’t the only opportunity Amber used to help out. “When my husband Shawn and I were married last month, we decided to take donations instead of gifts,” says Amber. “After seeing the effects of the flood in High River we changed our charity of choice to the High River Disaster Relief Fund. I am very happy to say we raised over $5,000 from the wedding,” she says.
Amber also raised money for the Relief Fund on her website, Facebook page and Twitter feed, selling Amber Marshall Apparel as well as her Life & Style Magazine and calendars.
Charitable work is nothing new for Amber. She has long been involved in charities, starting from when she was in high school. “I began volunteering for Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Centre outside of London, ON. It was always so rewarding working with the animals. I learned many things about wildlife there, but I also learned how good a caring human heart can be.”
Amber definitely has a special place in her heart for animals. Her southern Alberta farm is home to many animals, including a rescued Border Collie named China. “China was in a bad state when I rescued her five years ago. She had been pulled off a reserve and was deathly afraid of people. She bonded to me fairly quickly, so I would bring her on to the set everyday so she could become more socialized,” explains Amber. “I would leave her off lead all day, and she would hide in the tree line and watch from 200 yards away. If someone (other than myself) tried to approach her, she would fly backwards and bark at them.
“Over time the gap between her and humans decreased. Over the first year she started to hide in the grass, just behind where we were filming. Soon she realized that humans will give you yummy snacks if you come over to them. Now, she is a totally different dog. Five years later she still comes to the set everyday, but now she wants to be right where all the action is!”
Amber also has four horses — three Quarter Horses and one miniature. As many horse owners know, there is nothing like being able to look out your window to see your horses in your yard. “Having my horses on my property always sets me at peace. For years of being a horse owner I boarded at a nearby stable. For the last four years I have been able to look out my bedroom window, and watch them happily graze in the field.”
Amber isn’t the only “star” in her household. Her King Shepherd, Remi, has appeared in quite a few episodes of Heartland. “I really enjoy working with my dogs on taught behaviours and obedience. Doing things like mark training (teaching the dog to go stand on a mark) is one of the ways China and I bonded,” says Amber.
“We would play fun games all the time, and by teaching her behaviours on cue she learned to trust me. I did the same with Remi from a young age. Before she was on the show, Remi knew how to do all the basics like sit, stay, heal, come, lie down, etc., as well as go to a mark, lay on her side and crawl.
“After Heartland said they were interested in using her, I taught her a few new behaviours like head down, head up, hold it and speak. We have some great dog handlers on the show that help us out with fine-tuning and working with her on set. For the dogs and I, it’s all for fun.”
Horses and dogs are not the only animals Amber shares her life with. Her motley crew includes three cats, five miniature Jersey cows (including one, Ella, who is very playful), four chickens, 20 doves, one peacock and a rabbit. “Living with animals is incredible. The animals that I interact with daily are very much independent and I try and give them as much freedom as I see safe. So I guess what I love most would be the constant interaction.”