Reminisce about old school Canadian kids television and take a trip down memory lane at Myseum of Toronto’s new exhibit “Mr. Dressup to Degrassi: 42 Years of Legendary Toronto Kids TV.”
“Mr. Dressup to Degrassi” is a chronological timeline of local and internationally recognized children’s television programming created and produced in Toronto from 1952 to 1994. Each piece reflects social and political values throughout the decades.
On Tuesday, Now Toronto attended the opening night of the exhibit and Executive Director of Myseum of Toronto Heidi Reitmaier spoke about its contents.
“It’s 42 years of legendary TV that explores those programs that were made in Toronto during a 44-year-period. Toronto from the 50s to the early 90s was this kind of hotbed of creative talent,” she said.
“And people came together, puppeteers, script writers, producers, editors to kind of make an onslaught of programs that we all remember, there was also a kind of evolution of the broadcasting world. So the evolution of CTV, CBC, YTV, TV Ontario, they all emerged during that period,” she added.
Reitmaier says the exhibit looks at the history and the educational threads paramount within that timeline.
The goal of the exhibit is to transport Canadians back to a simpler time where the internet was not a factor and television was in a retrospective state. The exhibit also relates to everyone, no matter whether they grew up in Toronto or elsewhere within the country.
Curator and founder of Retrontario Ed Conroy says visitors will truly feel the sense of nostalgia. He shares the one-of-a-kind pieces he feels visitors will particularly enjoy.
“The thing I’m most proud of is we have the original puppet, Muffy the mouse from Today’s Special. We also have from the same puppeteer Nina Keogh, we have the Bookmice, which was from another program TVO made, we have The Grogs, which were these kind of crazy puppets that took over YTV in the early 90s,” he said.
“We have lots of ephemeral items, records, books, we have multiple old television sets that are showing this old content. So really, it’s a time machine for all intensive purposes,” he continued.
Conroy hopes visitors will come and remember the good times of Canadian kids programming.
“…Toronto was doing all this incredible stuff before anybody else and putting a smile on people’s faces whether you remember those shows or whether you bring your kids and it’s all new to them, you know, I think it’s just a reminder of what great pop culture Toronto creates,” he said.
THE VALUES OF PAST CANADIAN KIDS TELEVISION
In comparison to past Canadian kids television, Reitmaier believes this period of TV is vastly different in terms of principles and content accessibility.
She says in older shows, such as The Friendly Giant and Sesame Park, the programs teach children soft skills, including being caring and thoughtful. However, today’s TV no longer reflects these values as well.
In addition, she thinks children are growing up at an accelerated rate because TV is everywhere and constantly accessible.
“…If you’re not cognizant of what your kids are watching, you can pretty much watch anything. I mean, I have two teenagers, they watch everything and anything, and I think they grew up much faster than I did. Because we were mediated by when TV, when we could watch it, how slow it was, it was only available at certain times of the day,” she explained.
Meanwhile, what Conroy appreciates about former Canadian kids programming is how the creation and production is strictly Canadian to its core. He says a lot of present TV content is by an international co-production, such as the current number one kids show, Paw Patrol.
“The programs we’re talking about were really Toronto shows, there was nobody looking at them from a financial perspective or from a merchandising perspective, whereas now, they look at the toys and the merchandise before they even make the show…it’s just very different now,” he said.
MESSAGE TO VISITORS
Canadian actor Mark Kersey, who played “Mark the Repairman” on Mr. Dressup, made a special appearance at the exhibit. He says he deeply admires his role on the 1967 show and will always stay connected to it.
He shares this message for those planning on visiting the exhibit:
“Leave your cell phones at home, bring a camera, but come down and see it and open your eyes to what it was like when your parents were little kids like you and what was available to them. This is all Canadian programming and there’s so much of it. It was a golden era for us in kids programming in Canada.”
Visitors can see “Mr. Dressup to Degrassi: 42 Years of Legendary Toronto Kids TV” for free at the Myseum of Toronto until Aug.20.
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