For Mother’s Day we didn’t have any plans, I didn’t have any desires. In the morning I mainly wanted to sleep in and wallow. Then it occurred to me that maybe it was finally our time – it was the day we could visit the children’s television exhibit at the Museum of History.
I have always loved Canadian children’s television, and not just because I have deep nostalgia. I truly believe that this country produces quality content that helps kids learn and encourages open-mindedness.
Now, we’re living in the same town as Canadian puppetry legend Noreen Young, OC, who has worked in children’s television in this country since 1967. We have had the privilege of meeting Gloria and Jacob from Under the Umbrella Tree, among other puppets she’s created. (No sign of Holly, I think Joe has met Iggy, but I haven’t had the pleasure).
It wasn’t until we moved here and I started seeing so much of her work that I realized Noreen also built Muffy and Sam from Today’s Special, both of whom were in the exhibit.
My main reason for visiting, though, was one of the biggest parts of the display, and appeared right by the start.
The treehouse from Mr. Dressup used to be at the CBC Museum in Toronto and I always wanted to go and see it. I always joked that if I ever did get to stand in front of it I would break down in tears. Turns out, not a joke.
Mr. Dressup was a major part of my childhood. He was my favourite and I loved him, and Casey and Finnegan, dearly. On his show he did arts and crafts, he played pretend, and he talked to kids who were watching, and he had a whole cast of characters who visited him.
Perhaps it is well summed up by this sentence in the Canadian Encyclopedia:
When a camera operator once asked Coombs if he felt foolish playing dress-up on TV, he simply replied that he was doing what any father would do for his own children.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/mr-dressup
My mom told me she put me in afternoon kindergarten so I would still have my Mr. Dressup in the mornings. I kept watching him if I was home sick for years.
And so when I rounded the corner, and there was the treehouse, with Casey’s little door, a a dog house for Finnegan, and at the foot of it the Tickle Trunk, I lost it.
There is a clip of Ernie Coombs on Jonovision from 2016, he’s sitting beside Snake from Degrassi and Sharon from Sharon, Lois and Bram. He walks out and the audience of teenagers starts screaming. This is 10 years after the show ended. I don’t think he understood the life-long effect he had on so many of us. Before my daughter was born I sought out the three DVD set that CBC released because I knew I needed to show them too.
Ernie Coombs died on September 18, 2001. Still reeling from September 11, it was a devastating blow. This great, good man was gone from this world that had just changed forever.
But for 29 years and 4,000 episodes, kids across Canada had Mr. Dressup on their TVs in the morning, and the memory of what he tried to teach us all. And the tradition of Canadian children’s television continues – have you seen Napkinman?