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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Educational Canadian Kids Shows...From Good to Creepy

Over my near thirty-one years on this planet, I have seen a lot of weird television in my day, but nothing tops the weird scale quite like Canadian television for children.

And, that's what this blog topic is about. Picking out the good, the bad, and the ugly in selected Canadian programs that some of you may have never seen, or have forgotten about.

But I remember. Some I really wish I COULD forget.

I have talked about a few Canadian programs on this blog (The Polka Dot Door and Today's Special), but both of those shows are well-loved by kids all over the world. This entry will talk about some of the forgotten programs. Shows that haven't aired in well over twenty years or more.

So, let's get right to it.



READALONG (1975-1976)

First things first...the show is thirty-seven years old. I remember watching it when I was four. I feel incredibly old now. If you like, you can click HERE to watch a full episode of it.

And, secondly, what an interesting concept. It's basically a show that teaches young children how to read. I guess in some ways, it was sort of a Canadian version of “The Electric Company”. The strange part? We were taught how to read by a work boot (Boot) and a pink shoe (Pretty). There was also a grandmother puppet (Granny), and several appearances by small children (who are probably in their early 40's now). I liked the show as a young boy. I admit that watching the show today still gives me a chuckle. But, I think it's still relevant today. Sure, the 1970s music and fashions are long gone, but it still is capable of teaching children how to read. Now, if they could only get rid of that scary logo at the beginning...



BLUE RAINBOW (1984-2000)

The thing that surprises me the most about this program was the fact that it ran for more than fifteen years. It was probably one of the weirdest shows that I have ever seen. It originally ran on CBC before Global bought the program. I just don't know how to best describe it, so I'll post a short clip of it below.

Okay, bottom line is you have the woman in a pink dress who tells stories and plays a harp. There's also two bald guys who don't speak English. I'm pretty sure that if one drank enough alcohol, you might be able to understand them, but I wouldn't recommend it. You'd likely die of alcohol poisoning before that happened. It was that bizarre...



TELEFRANCAIS (1984-1986)

...though not nearly as bizarre as two kids talking to a pineapple in the middle of a garbage dump!

Let's get the obvious out of the way first. None of the characters speak English. That's because in Canada, there are two official languages. English and French. So, it wasn't uncommon to see some French language programming on TVOntario, where this show originally aired. The show was an introductory program for young children to learn basic French vocabulary. The two kids, Jacques and Sophie, meet the talking pineapple (appropriately named Ananas), and adventures soon follow.



Oh, and the musical entertainment involved a group of singing French skeletons (known as Les Squelettes). Enough said.



There was another popular French language show called PASSE-PARTOUT which ran from 1977-1987, but all I remember about that show is the opening. You can watch it above.



CAMP CARIBOO (1986-1989)

The one thing that I probably remember the most about this program is the theme song. It was catchy. And, I admit that the show's concept itself wasn't overly bad. It took place at a summer camp, and it showcased a lot of activities that people would do at a summer camp. They told stories, they sang songs, they did crafts. I liked it. Tom Knowlton and Mark Baldwin were the counselors of Camp Cariboo, and they were the driving force behind the show. They also played the role of the “Keeners”, two guys who wanted to stay at the camp, even though they were much too old.



BALLOONER LANDING (1988-1992)

There's a lot of people who probably don't remember this show, so I hope that the opening that I found refreshes your memory. But, if it doesn't, the show was hosted by Lee and Sandy Paley. They started each show by flying down towards their home in a giant hot-air balloon, greeting their dog “Do Good”, interacting with Prudence the Parrot, and lots of singing. I admit that it's been years since I have seen the show, but I always liked it. Lee and Sandy were great entertainers, and as of 2012, they're still performing. That's always great to see.



HAPPY CASTLE (1988-1989)

Have you ever watched a program that is so bad that you want to change the channel, but are so mesmerized by it that you can't look away? Happy Castle was that show for me.

I mean, look at the opening. I am sure that back in 1988, the opening was at its peak of creativity...but now it just looks cheap. And, the show itself was like one gigantic acid trip. A Cinar production, the show depicts a young girl (who is really probably twenty-two) who somehow gets stuck in the kingdom of Betwixt. She meets a whole bunch of animals who vow to protect her, but she also has to deal with the fact that a wicked queen is out to capture her. It's like they took Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Alice in Wonderland, and blended them together into Happy Castle. I imagine that when it first came on the air, I might have liked it, but unfortunately it really has not aged well. At all.



KIDSTREET (1988-1992)

Have you ever seen the television game show “Classic Concentration”? The one where contestants have to solve a rebus in order to win the chance for a car? Well, this children's game show hosted by Kevin Frank was like that. The final round of the game was a rebus round, where the kids would try to have to guess what the puzzle was. If successful, they could win an entire wall filled with toys and games. But, before they could do that, they had to sit in a giant car and answer questions about their teammates (which could be a sibling or a cousin). I remember watching this show loyally, and I remember wanting to be a contestant on it so bad. But, being the kid who never had siblings or cousins close to his age, that was a fleeting dream. I enjoyed watching it though.



EUREKA! (1980-1981)

So, this program was geared towards the junior high or high school set, but that's okay.  The show's original run only lasted less than a year, but the reruns reportedly aired on TVOntario for a little over twenty-five years. As a kid, I remember watching it and not understanding what the heck the program was even about. I almost wish that I had paid attention because it would have definitely helped me get better grades in science class. But, it was a neat series because it taught a lot of concepts in physics by using animation. And, for a few years, it was really the only fun science program Canadians had to watch...that is until Dr. Fad and Bill Nye the Science Guy came along.



SIZE SMALL AND SIZE SMALL ISLAND (1982-1987)

I honestly don't know why I loved this show so much as a child. I couldn't get enough of it, and I had to watch it every day or else I would be in a very bad mood the rest of the day. Looking at the show now, it's really kind of cheesy. I mean, Miss Helen was always nice and lovely, and I suppose the triplet puppets were cute in a creepy kind of way. But, I'll admit that Grandma Gussie used to aggravate me to no end every time she spoke. Because she used to whistle every time she said any word containing the letter “S”, I always felt as if someone forgot to take off the pot of tea from the burner in the background.



We won't even discuss the record that dances and bangs spoons together.

And, finally...saving the creepiest for last.

CIRCLE SQUARE (1974-1986)

Believe it or not, Canada is known for producing a lot of television shows that deal with Christianity and the church. And, that's fine. But this show was just...creepy.



For one, the opening shows all the kids deliriously happy. So happy that we can see the gleam of their teeth behind the braces that some of them wore. No child is EVER that happy in real life. Though that girl who winks to the camera in almost a suggestive manner is strangely ironic, don't you think?

Even when they talk to the camera, those smiles never go away. It's just...creepy.

And, apparently, there was a Circle Square songbook. Who knew? I remember watching a couple of episodes of the show just out of boredom and curiosity, and feeling very left out that you needed a songbook to be able to fully appreciate the show. They didn't even provide subtitles for the songs being sung. Yeah, great message. We'll entertain you for free, but if you don't buy a songbook, you're left out, and can't measure up to the perfection of the Circle Square kids.


(Well, provided the books were actually sold.  They might have sent them for free...I don't know.)

All the songs of course were hymns written for kids about how God is awesome, and other Christian themes. Which is perfectly fine on the surface. I've no issue with that. It's just the way the kids were so monotonous and smiling and had the same blank expression on their faces...it was like I was watching a musical about the Children of the Corn.  With the exception of the girl by the window who is in a "dark place", these children seem to have smiles that seem forced.

By that description, I have no problem listing Circle Square as one of the creepiest shows I've ever watched.  Ever.  Even creepier than Happy Castle.

So, that's a look back at some of the forgotten shows that we kids in Canada would watch during the 1970s and 1980s. Can you add any more to the list?

3 comments:

  1. Have you ever seen "The Music Place?" It was a Canadian children's television show that I watched when I was a toddler and pre-schooler living in Washington State in the early 1970s. I lived in a small town in Eastern Washington which was very close to the Canadian border, and we got at least one Canadian station on our tv. The show featured two women and there was at least one puppet, a dog named Blue. The two women would sing songs like "Wade in the Water" and "Three Craws Sat Upon a Wa." They talked a lot about rhythm/notes and rests, and they would show the notes and rests on a display board, and they would count the beats and rests by saying, "Tee tee ta, tee tee ta, rest, rest," etc. The show annoyed my grandmother to no end. The only person I've talked to who remembers this show is my mom.

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  2. A french canadian tv show for kids..with a puppet that had pointy yellow hair.

    Anyone???

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  3. Omg happen castle! I totally had this show and zoobilee zoo all mixed into one memory and could not for the life of me remember which show I was watched way back when I was a small kid at 4pm just before my dad would get home from work lol

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