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6 Classic Canadian Kids’ TV Shows

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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.

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Food
A Brief History of Poutine
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Walk down a street after a hard night of drinking in Montréal and you’d be hard-pressed not seeing someone gorging themselves on poutine, a high-calorie classic staple of Québécois casse-croûtes—or “greasy spoon”—cuisine.

Just what is poutine, you ask? The delicious Canadian dish is comprised of a holy-hoser trinity of ingredients: French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Try some yourself and you’ll be hooked. It’s become so popular that it’s readily available at certain restaurants in the U.S. (Lucky New Yorkers can get their hands on some traditional poutine at Brooklyn restaurant Mile End.) Otherwise, the dish has become so ubiquitous in its home province that even McDonald’s and Burger King sell it as a side.

Much like the debate in the U.S. about the origins of the hamburger, poutine has similarly unclear beginnings. The most widespread claim for inventing poutine comes from the small dairy-farming town of Warwick, Québec, where, in 1957, a customer asked restaurateur Fernand Lachance to throw cheese curds and French fries—items the owner sold separately at his restaurant L’Idéal (later renamed Le lutin qui rit, or “The Laughing Elf”)—together in one bag because the customer was in a rush. Legend has it when Lachance peered into the bag after the two ingredients were mixed together, he remarked, “This is a ‘poutine,’” using the joual—or Québécois slang—for a "mess.”

Noticeably absent from Lachance’s cobbled-together recipe is the gravy ingredient, which was added to the mix in 1964 when a restaurant-owner in nearby Drummondville, Quebec named Jean-Paul Roy noticed a few of his diners ordering a side of cheese curds to add to the patented gravy sauce and fries dish at his restaurant, Le Roy Jucep. Roy soon added the three-ingredient item on his menu and the rest is delicious, gravy-soaked history.

Eventually, poutine spread across the province and throughout Canada—with different combinations added to the fries, curds, and gravy recipe—but the original remains the most recognized and honored. It even initially made its way to the United States by way of New Jersey, where an altered recipe known as “Disco Fries” substitutes shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese for the Canadian curds.

But if you ever find yourself in Montréal and have a hankering for greasy food, be sure to order it correctly. Anglophones usually pronounce the word as “poo-teen,” but if you want to pass for a real Québécois, it’s pronounced “poo-tin.”  

This story originally ran in 2013.

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language
15 Colorful Canadian Slang Terms
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Americans looking to take a trip across their country's northern border might find themselves bewildered by some Canadian turns of phrase. It is, after all, a place where people go out for a rip to the beer store and plunk down their loonies to pick up a two-four. Pretty confusing, eh? But fear not. For all you keeners who want to learn how to speak like a Canuck, here’s a handy chart to help you master Canadian slang, courtesy of Expedia.ca.

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