The history of Canadian children’s television
As I approached the Canadian Museum of History, I couldn’t help admiring its grandiose architecture and breathtaking views of the Ottawa River and Parliament Hill. Once inside, I made my way to the reception desk to pick up my tickets, which I had reserved online, and then headed to the corridor where the special exhibitions are displayed. The exhibition From Pepinot to PAW Patrol: Television of Our Childhoods is divided into several themed zones illustrating 70 years of TV history through nearly 100 English- and French-language Canadian children’s shows.
The evolution of key themes
As I entered the exhibition, an installation caught my attention: a screen showing various scenes from children’s shows where the characters are welcoming the viewers. That put a big smile on my face!
To enter the first zone, I walked through a giant model TV set with video footage from children’s shows projected on it. I then found myself in a space built to look like five rooms of a house, whose five different colours correspond to the primary colours of television. The rooms themselves correspond to the places where people most often watch television, namely, the kitchen, bedroom, living room, family room and dining room. Children can play among the sets while adults watch the video clips.
Contrary to what I thought, the exhibition isn’t organized chronologically; rather, it groups scenes from children’s programs under different themes in order to highlight the contrasts between eras and generations. The themes include school readiness, managing emotions, healthy lifestyle habits, parent-child relationships, and life lessons. By layering different decades, the video clips capture both the evolution of educational methods and the changes in society.
I was very happy to have company on my visit and to be able to share my feelings about some of the examples shown on the screens. Watching some of the shows I grew up with, this time through adult eyes, gave me a better understanding of the parental model with which I was brought up and made me think about my vision of parenthood and the values I want to pass on to my child.
This zone runs along a corridor where the items on display include the costumes worn by Polkaroo and Mr. Dressup. For me, entering this passage was like stepping back in time.
This section focuses on the so-called must-see shows of yesterday and today, from Anne with an E to Takuginai and Degrassi to PAW Patrol. Interpretation panels with individual earphones allow you to learn more about each show without turning the space into a cacophony.
Numerous puppets, carefully placed in display cases, gave me a better understanding of their history and their workings. I got a close look at Pepinot, the first puppet to appear on a children’s show. I was also thrilled to see Bibi and her distinctive hair.
I then headed to the Imagination Carousel, a space lined with TV sets positioned to create a 360-degree view and displaying spectacular images, from outer space to the world underground. Entering this area was like stepping into another universe!
Looking to the future
In this zone, interviews presented as documentary clips lift the veil on values and attitudes from earlier eras. Topics include the environment, people with disabilities, racism, and gender and linguistic identity, to name only a few. Although the contributors voice their opinions on taboo subjects, the vignettes are light-hearted, while still providing food for thought and inviting people to question their assumptions.
The images are projected on screens set up in small cubicles that can accommodate two or three people. These intimate spaces are designed to promote discussion and questioning of the stereotypes that have been present in television programs over the years.
When I reached the end of the exhibition, I found a setup similar to the one at the entrance, except that this time the screen showed scenes from various children’s shows where the characters are saying goodbye to the viewers. As I watched the images unfold, I could hear the Friendly Giant’s voice in my head: “This little chair will be waiting for one of you, and a rocking chair for another who likes to rock, and the big armchair for two more to curl up in when you come again to our castle.” A wistful smile came over my face, and I have to admit, I got a little teary-eyed. I didn’t expect my visit to the museum to make me so emotional…
From Pepinot to PAW Patrol: Television of Our Childhoods is much more than a special exhibition of children’s programs. In an era where technology is more accessible than ever, this thought-provoking exhibition provides a real opportunity to look back at this universe and move forward without repeating the mistakes or injustices that were committed and/or overlooked; to see how much progress has already been made and how much is being done to improve ourselves as a society; and to develop new products that are relevant and representative of society to promote children’s learning, entertainment and acceptance.
Before I left, I visited the museum gift shop to pick up a souvenir for my son. There’s nothing more enjoyable than spending quality time doing a craft, putting together a puzzle or playing with figurines while reminiscing about my own childhood memories.
100 Laurier Street, Gatineau, QC
The special exhibition From Pepinot to PAW Patrol: Television of Our Childhoods runs at the Canadian Museum of History until September 1, 2023.
There’s no extra charge for the special exhibition. Admission to the museum includes access to all the exhibitions, including special exhibitions, the Canadian Children’s Museum, and CINÉ+. Infant (under 2 years old): Free | Child (age 2–12): $14 | Student (age 13–17): $16 | Adult (age 18–64): $21 | Senior (age 65+): $19 | Family (maximum 2 adults): $53
There’s a free coat check. | A souvenir catalog of the special exhibition From Pepinot to PAW Patrol: Television of Our Childhoods is available at the museum gift shop for $9.95.
Book your tickets online now and plan to visit this wonderful exhibition yourself!
Did your visit to the museum whet your appetite? Treat yourself to some of the best pizza in the Outaouais.