6 Classic Canadian Kids’ TV Shows
Did Bimbo the Birthday Clown ever read your name on TV? Did you keep your toys in a Tickle Trunk? If you grew up in Canada or a border city in the 1960s and 1970s, these TV series were probably as much a part of your morning as milk on your corn flakes.
1. The Friendly Giant
Millions of Canadian kids, remember looking up—“waaaaay up”—every day to watch The Friendly Giant. The story-telling tall guy was played by Wisconsin native Bob Homme, who was so low-key that he made Mr. Rogers look like a caffeine addict. "Friendly" always opened and closed his show by arranging the furniture in front of his fireplace to allow viewers to settle in a rocking chair for those who liked to rock, or a large armchair for two to curl up in. He was ably assisted by two puppet pals, Rusty the Rooster (who lived in a book bag) and Jerome the Giraffe (who lived outside and poked his head in through the window). The show's theme song, "Early One Morning," was once voted the second-most recognized TV theme song in Canada, after "Hockey Night in Canada."
2. Mr. Dressup
How iconic is Mr. Dressup in the Great White North? On what would have been his 85th birthday, he was featured in a Doodle on Google Canada’s website. Pretty impressive tribute for a guy who started out in the business as an assistant puppeteer to Fred Rogers (who would later move back to the States and be better known as Mister Rogers). Ernie Coombs was born in Maine, but he relocated to Toronto in 1963 to work for the local CBC public broadcasting affiliate. He created the character of Mr. Dressup and launched a show in 1967 on which he told stories, pulled costumes out of the Tickle Trunk and put on plays, and interacted with puppet friends Casey and Finnegan (a dog who never spoke). After he retired from the series in 1996, Coombs toured universities and shared behind-the-scenes stories with students while also giving advice on careers in children’s television programming. Some students were a bit surprised to witness Mr. Dressup (gasp!) sipping a beer onstage during his presentation.
3. The Uncle Bobby Show
If you were a kid during the 1960s and '70s, chances are you watched The Uncle Bobby Show (most likely you were home for lunch and just waiting for The Flintstones to come on). Uncle Bobby was Bobby Ash, who was born in Staffordshire, England, in 1924 and began acting on stage at the tender age of five. He emigrated to Canada after reading an ad for a new TV station starting up in Toronto that was looking for talent. The Uncle Bobby Show aired from 1962 to 1979 on CFTO and was also syndicated across Canada. Sadly, Uncle Bobby always remained something of a second-string children's TV host in a market that included The Friendly Giant and Mr. Dressup, and he had to moonlight as a school bus driver in Scarborough, Ontario, to make ends meet. After he eventually retired from television and public transport, he wrote children’s books until his death from a heart attack in 2007.
4. Chez Hélène
When I was a tot, Chez Hélène was a part of my regular TV viewing, even though I couldn’t understand a word Hélène Baillargeon said. (I used to call the show “Cheese Helen” until my mom finally corrected me.) Baillargeon was a Quebec-born folk singer and entertainer. She started the 15 minute long daily program bearing her name in 1959 as a way to teach French to English-speaking Canadian preschoolers. Luckily, Suzie the Mouse spoke English enough to keep me and other Anglophones tuning in every day.
5. Tales of the Wizard of Oz
This cartoon series was actually one of the first offerings from the studios of Rankin-Bass, and one of the few cel animation shows they ever produced. For the Oz project, R-B teamed up with a Canadian producer named F.R. Crawley and sidestepped copyright issues with the L. Frank Baum estate by giving the main characters names (Socrates the Scarecrow, Rusty the Tin Man, and Dandy the Lion) as well as personalities that differed from those in the book and feature film. Just try and get this theme song out of your head!
6. The New Adventures of Pinocchio
This series was more typical of Rankin-Bass; The New Adventures of Pinocchio utilized the studio’s Animagic stop-motion filming technique. The series was syndicated in the early 1960s and saw little success in the U.S. It turned out to be popular in Canada, however, and the CBC ran it for many years. Five daily episodes per week formed the chapters of one “story,” so Monday through Thursday’s shows always ended in a cliffhanger, with Pinocchio’s dilemma resolved on Friday. The overall plot of the series was the puppet boy’s (along with a cricket who sounded like Cheech Marin with a throat infection) continued search for the Blue Fairy.