American kids had Mr. Rogers\’ Neighborhood. In Canada, we had Ernie Coombs aka Mr. Dressup. The show premiered 13 February 1967, and was one of the longest running children\’s shows in Canada. Every weekday morning he would lead his preschool viewers through songs, stories and games. He was aided by puppets Casey and Finnegan the dog, who lived in a tree house in Mr. Dressup\’s back yard.
Another mainstay of Mr.Dressup\’s show was the tickle trunk, where he would get his costumes to act out skits. Sometimes the costume would need an accessory like a hat for his costume. Then he would lead his audience in making a craft.
Casey was voiced by puppeteer Judith Lawrence, who retired in 1989. They gradually lessened the appearance of Casey and Finnegan before her official retirement. They then announced that Casey and Finnegan were no longer there because they had started kindergarten. New characters were introduced. Among them were Chester the Crow, Granny and Annie.
The last new episode aired in 1996. Ernie Coombs then spent a few years taking Mr.Dressup on the road to various towns. By this time he had become an icon for a few generations of Canadian children, as well as northern American children who could get CBC\’s signal. I remember taking my daughter to his show when he came to our town. I have to admit I enjoyed it as much as she did, getting to relive a part of my own early childhood.
The show was broadcast daily in reruns for another 10 years, when CBC moved it to Sunday mornings for another few months. The final airing was in September 2006.
Sadly Ernie died of on a stroke in Toronto 18 September 2001.
Casey and Finnegan\’s tree house can be seen just outside the CBC Museum in Toronto. Inside the museum is Mr.Dressup\’s tickle trunk.
On November 26 2012, the Canadian honored Mr. Dressup, Casey, and Finnegan with a Google Doodle to honor what would have been Ernie Coomb\’s 85th birthday.
You can look at CBC\’s digital archives on Mr.Dressup here
Amazingly enough, you can see episodes of Mr. Dressup on YouTube, if you\’re feeling nostalgic.