Regular readers of this column (officially known as “poor souls”) might remember me mentioning in early January that I was launching a blog to help celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.
I knew that I wanted the “Canada Through My Eye” project to recount my personal experiences as a Canadian throughout my 44-plus years of life. But I didn’t realize that I would wind up discovering so much about the country and the elements of Canadiana that made up my childhood and adolescence in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Some of these revelations, naturally, are about Canadian children’s entertainers.
For example, I knew Raffi had released an album called Adult Entertainment in 1977, the year after he unveiled the first of his many child-oriented releases, Singable Songs for the Very Young. But I had no idea that Raffi also had another adult-oriented acoustic folk album, 1975’s Good Luck Boy, which opened with one of my all-time favourite songs, Stan Rogers’ “Forty-Five Years.” (I also didn’t know that he stumbled into children’s music pretty much by accident, as a result of his future mother-in-law asking him to perform for her nursery-school class in Toronto.)
I knew that Fran Pappert, aka. “Miss Fran,” was the host of CTV’s nationally-broadcast version of Romper Room during most of the ‘70s and the early ‘80s. I didn’t know that there were dozens of separate editions of Romper Room across the United States and Canada since the show’s debut in 1953, including individual versions broadcast out of Halifax, Saint John, St. John’s, and four Ontario locations.
I also didn’t know that, in 2009, Pappert converted to Islam and now wears the traditional head covering known as the hijab. (As the source of that story is the Waterloo Regional Record, which takes in the Kitchener, Ontario home of “Miss Fran’s” version of Romper Room, I have no reason to believe it’s fake.)
I knew Judith Lawrence created the puppet characters Casey and Finnegan for the long-time CBC children’s series Mr. Dress-Up. I didn’t know Lawrence also produced Rita MacNeil’s 1975 debut album, Born A Woman.
Speaking of Mr. Dress-Up, I knew that the originator of that character, Ernie Coombs, was born in the States (specifically, Lewiston, Maine) and worked there before coming to Canada in the ‘60s to work on children’s television with Fred (“Mister”) Rogers. I didn’t know that Bob Homme, aka. The Friendly Giant, was also lured northward by CBC after developing the series in Madison, Wisconsin, nor did I know that the late Lois Lilienstein, of Sharon, Lois and Bram fame, was originally from Chicago. (That also made her one of the few non-Canadians to receive the Order of Canada when it was presented to the group in 2002.)
I knew that Toronto native Richard Williams had animated two delightful opening sequences for Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther movies in the mid-‘70s before going on to become the Oscar-winning director of animation for the ground-breaking 1988 classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I didn’t know that Williams’ insistence to be away from the bureaucracy of Walt Disney Studios (which released Roger Rabbit under its Touchstone Pictures wing) led to his refusal to work on the film in Los Angeles. Disney eventually set Williams up at London’s Elstree Studios, which had previously served as home base for all five seasons of The Muppet Show.
I knew Neil Young had made several appearances, comedic and otherwise, on Stephen Colbert’s spoof series The Colbert Report and Colbert’s edition of CBS’ Late Show. I was astounded to learn that Young has also appeared on NBC’s The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, joining the host – dressed as Young – to duet on the classic hit “Old Man.” (I also didn’t know that Fallon-as-Young has sung the theme music from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” with vocal accompaniment on the latter song by the real David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, no less.)
I didn’t know that Keith Hampshire, whose voice has filled Canadian radio playlists for the last four decades with the likes of “The First Cut Is The Deepest” and “Daytime, Nighttime,” is also responsible for the early-‘80s baseball tribute “OK Blue Jays.”
Finally, I knew Al Waxman played the title character on the CBC sitcom King of Kensington. I didn’t know that there’s a statue of Al Waxman in Toronto’s Kensington Park, nor did I know that it was defaced in 2014 by vandals who decided Waxman would have made a great Joker for the first round of Batman movies.
And that’s just what I’ve learned from my first two months of blogging. I can’t wait to see what Canadian surprises await me during the rest of this anniversary year.