Did you grow up with Mr. Dressup? How about The Friendly Giant or Polka-Dot Door?
Starting today, those shows and many others are being saluted this spring and summer at the Myseum of Toronto. The exhibit is titled, “Mr. Dressup to Degrassi: 42 Years of Legendary Toronto Kids TV.” The retrospective goes all the way back to the beginning of TV broadcasting in Canada with the launch of Toronto’s CBLT in September of 1952.
One of the first faces Canadian viewers saw back in the early fifties was that of Uncle Chichimus, a peanut-headed puppet featured in a daily, 15-minute children’s series. Chichimus even starred in one of Canadian TV’s first headline-making “stunts.” That came about after the puppets used on the series were stolen from the back of creator John Conway’s unlocked car in 1954, throwing CBLT programmers in a panic. Until replacements could be built, the human character on the series, Larry Mann, took part in a detective storyline in search of the lost uncle.
Puppet characters were everywhere in the early days of television; among other reasons, they held up well under the hot lights. There was a Canadian version of popular American TV kiddie friend Howdy Doody, for example, complete with its own peanut gallery.
Those and many other stories can be sourced at the Myseum. You’ll find links to early CFTO children’s heroes, including my favourite growing up, Kiddo the Clown (memorably played in the early ’60s by brioux.tv: the podcast guest Trevor Evans) and his successor at that station, spirited Brit Uncle Bobby. Dressup’s pals Casey and Finnigan are part of the fun. Memories of shows such as Today’s Special and even later teen fare such as The Kids of Degrassi are also shared.
The exhibit was curated by Retrontario founder Eds Conroy. Fans of Toronto TV back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s have enjoyed his nostalgic clips, culled from the heyday of videotape, on YouTube and other social media platforms. Some of those video nuggets pertaining to kiddie shows can be viewed at the Myseum’s living room-like spaces. There are even felt puppets for youngsters of all ages who wish to bring these characters to life — or even make their own puppet friends.
The Myseum is located at 401 Richmond Street West (eastern entrance). “Mr. Dressup to Degrassi: 42 Years of Legendary Toronto Kids TV” has a special opening tonight, Tuesday, May 23, and is then open to the public Wednesdays to Saturdays from noon until 6 p.m. The exhibit is scheduled to run through August. Admission is free; donations gratefully accepted. For more information, please follow this link.