Mr. Dressup: 10 Surprising Facts About The Iconic Canadian Show

Starring the oh so charismatic Ernie Coombs as the eponymous character, the TV show enlightened and entertained five generations of viewers…

Mr. Dressup, the endearing Canadian children’s television series that ran from 1967 to 1996, continues to occupy a cherished spot in the hearts of many across the country. The beloved series starred actor Ernie Coombs as Mr. Dressup and was aired every weekday morning on CBC Television enlightening and entertaining generations (five generations to be exact). Mr. Dressup would lead children through a series of songs, stories, arts, crafts and imagination games, with the help of his puppet friends – a child named Casey and a dog named Finnegan – who lived with him and often played in the tree-house in his backyard.

With its mix of creativity, warmth, and educational value, Mr. Dressup continues to be celebrated as a cherished classic in the realm of children’s programming. Feeling nostalgic? Here are ten fascinating facts about Mr. Dressup that you might not know. For those who grew up watching the TV series, these little gems will offer a little more insight into the show’s history and the man behind the character.

1. American roots
Ernie Coombs, the man behind Mr. Dressup, was born in Maine, USA on November 26, 1927. He moved to Canada in the early 1960s to work with Fred Rogers—yes, the beloved Mr. Rogers—before eventually creating and embodying the Mr. Dressup character.

2. Casey and Finnegan
Two of the show’s iconic characters, Casey and Finnegan, were not originally designed for Mr. Dressup. Casey and Finnegan first appeared on another Canadian children’s program, Butternut Square (a Canadian children’s television series which aired on CBC between October 19, 1964 and February 10, 1967), which was also Coombs’ initial foray into Canadian television and where the character of Mr. Dressup originated. On Butternut Square Coombs played Mr. Dressup, and when the show was cancelled, Mr. Dressup would get his own series, with Casey and Finnegan joining him.

3. Long-running show
Debuting on CBC on February 13, 1967, Mr. Dressup aired for an impressive 29 years before the final episode on February 14, 1996. During its run, the show produced over 4,000 episodes, becoming one of Canada’s longest-running and most beloved children’s series.

4. Tickle Trunk magic
The Tickle Trunk, a large magical chest containing a myriad of costumes and props, was a highlight of the show. Despite appearing effortlessly whimsical on-screen, the trunk required meticulous planning and organization backstage to ensure the correct items were readily available for each episode.

5. The Art of drawing
Drawing was a significant component of Mr. Dressup throughout its run. Coombs wasn’t a naturally gifted artist but practiced diligently to improve his skills. His dedication demystified the art-making process for young viewers, making it accessible and enjoyable.

6. Award-winning series
Mr. Dressup didn’t only win over hearts; it garnered accolades, too. The beloved Canadian series received numerous awards during its 29 year run, including the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television’s Gemini Award for “Best Preschool Program or Series” in 1996.

7. Life after Mr. Dressup
After the show ended, Coombs continued to advocate for children’s programming and occasionally reprised the Mr. Dressup character for special events and appearances. He remained active in the industry until his retirement in 2001. Coombs suffered a stroke on September 10, 2001, and passed away eight days later on September 18, 2001, at the age of 73.

8. Endearing theme song
The show’s theme song, with its uplifting melody and charming lyrics, is instantly recognizable to fans. It was written by Donald Himes, a Canadian composer who contributed significantly to the soundtrack of many children’s television shows during the era.

9. Legacy continues
Though Coombs passed away in 2001, the legacy of Mr. Dressup endures. The series is fondly remembered, and its impact on early childhood education and entertainment in Canada is celebrated with tributes and exhibitions. A new documentary Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe premiered on October 10, 2023 on Prime Video.

10. Commemorative stamp
In 2009, Canada Post honored Mr. Dressup by issuing a commemorative postage stamp featuring Ernie Coombs as Mr. Dressup, alongside Casey and Finnegan. The stamp is a tangible acknowledgment of the show’s enduring contribution to Canadian culture.

Tags: CBC, Mr Dressup, Mr Rogers, tv

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