Growing Up Can-eh-dian in the 90s: Part 1

October 16, 2017
So I have been a long time reader of these articles. First off I must say thanks. Like most people, these articles turn into fuel for my own nostalgic trips into my childhood. The detail I have observed is actually insane and major props go out to the writers.

I am going to try my best to provide my own bit of Canadian content, because it often seems overlooked. It can be like your own Canadian pen-pal, from the past...sent here to change your perspective on your crazy friends from the north.

I will probably jump around in articles/topics, but that is just how my brain works for these things. Some memories are buried and only surface with a particular memory or prompt. But I will try to be linear.

So let's set the scene generally about the atmosphere and environment in Canada in the 1990s. For me, born in mid 80s made me a perfect age to consume the 90s. Some things that I did not appreciate or understand back then, I have made efforts to go back and immerse myself.

What is it like being a Canadian kid in the 90s

You hear a lot about NAFTA (funny enough given it is top of mind today), some good, some bad, and the messenger (our "conservative" Prime Minister Brian Mulroney) is not the most liked guy. Today, in retrospect, he isn't disliked as much, but back then there were masks of this guy and his famous chin on Halloween just like Nixon.

Why is this important? Well, because it is your first exposure to the fact that as Canadians we consume a disproportionate amount of US Products, and the promise of NAFTA is consistent with the feeling at the time, which is bring on the US stuff! U.S.A. U.S.A.! chants are a big thing down south, so we can't help but feel the shockwave.

Things, generally, are not bad. Economy is okay, technology at school is very basic.

At the same time, our own little country is starting its own accent on the international stage. In just a few years, Donovan Bailey, Alannis Morrisette, Shania Twain, Jim Carrey are in the process or just about to become household names. Canadian pride is also on the up.

The two neighbouring countries have arguably their best relationship period of all time.

What did we watch on TV

Thankfully, all the staples were covered. We got ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS and a smattering of smaller network stations from the US. We watched our parents watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.

When we play along in Price is Right, thankfully we see enough US commercials each day to get an idea of what pricing is like down there. Our dollar sucks compared to yours. About 65 cents on the dollar. So when we see a vacuum selling for 50 bucks that easily goes for 150, we habitually guess over the price.

One thing that I do not believe the US had was a station called YTV. It was equivalent to our Nickelodeon, and had many of its shows broadcast rights in Canada. But YTV, and all of the commercial break bumpers, was certainly everywhere in schools. We had Goosebumps from you, but we gave you Are You Afraid of the Dark.
Sadly, Canadian movies were not really a thing yet. Vancouver was not Hollywood North, and we relied heavily on America's exports there.

Not sure if even Americans know this now, but like most Canadians I watched US News each night, so I got a drift of topics like Desert Storm, Clinton stuff, OJ...I can go on. It was also very cool sometimes when our US commercials would play during broadcasts, since we got a glimpse into life in America. Growing up, we saw broadcasts from Rochester, Buffalo, Detroit. Wow, just realized that this sounds like we lived in North Korea. It wasn't bad, I promise...and to prove this point, I will tell you that growing up in liberal Canada, things existed on regular TV that never would in the US, and to my unaware friends, I will simply tell you these two words which will ring so strongly in the minds of so many young Canadian boys everywhere: Bleu Nuit....

We didn't really have a sketch comedy show that wasn't niche like Kids in the Hall, for our generation. There was a show called Royal Canadian Air Farce, but a cast of mostly balding white males limits the sketches you can get away with and it never reaches outside of the limits of Tim Hortons' dining lounges and Royal Canadian Legion drinking halls. We watch SNL and MAD TV like every other sane person wanting to laugh. Sometimes you would watch a show called "Comics!" (the exclamation mark, I believe, placed there to add certainty to the viewer that they are actually watching comedy). Again, Canadian comedy in the 90s was going through an interesting phase: Jim Carreys, Norm MacDonalds, Akroyds and co have already left, so it's mostly still the old guard of Canadian Comics doing the same schtick. We change the channel, because Jim Brewer is so hot right now

Now here's an educational part for you yankees: a few Canadian kids shows you should check out:
- Polka Dot Door
- Elephant Show
- Mr Dressup
- Today's Special

Want a good idea of what Canadian TV was like, check out these amazing compilations and get lost on a youtube adventure:

Our networks: Canadian Broadcast Corporation (national public funded broadcaster, mix of news, sports that US didn't care about like Hockey and Horse Jumping), Global Television (this was huge, they played all the Bills Games - GO BUFFALOOOOOOOOOO #BillsMafia), aforementioned YTV, a very cool multi-cultural station called CFMT that played wicked eastern martial arts movies, TVO (a provincial public broadcaster that played some classic shows)....

and with special mention (a problem which still persists today), we never had nor do we currently have ESPN in Canada. Its beyond whak. As soon as the world erradicates hunger and poverty around the world, I really hope we turn to getting us ESPN. It is still criminal to get a ESPN feed from TSN (the "Sports" network, a station which played and still does hundreds of hockey highlight minutes each morning, on a loop) since you see what you could watch 24/7 if you hid in Jim Carrey's luggage when he moved.

Funny aside: I used to watch the PBS funding drives in the 90s and remark how poor quality the sets, prize displays and even camera quality was. A couple of years ago I came across the channel again and my fears are confirmed: their funding drives obviously unsuccessful, they have been unable to update their equipment from the 90s and the quality issues persist. Like what is up with that???? It's not just the cameras, people rock mullets, no sideburns, shoulder padded sport coats...and these drives are happening in 2015...

Major viewing events:
- The Ford Bronco commercial through the streets of LA
- The ensuing Ford Bronco Driver trial
- Princess Diana's funeral was a big deal
- 1996 olympics, specifically the 100m events where our homegrown Jamaican sprinter Donovan Bailey seeks to erase the bad taste left from our other homegrown Jamaican sprinter Ben Johnson's failed drug test a decade prior

Honourable/Funny mentions:
- The Show North of 60, maybe you got some random feed from a tower in Sault St Marie, but I don't know what this show was about. I just remember seeing it advertised. It had all the staple ingredients for a long running Canadian show in the 90s: it was funded by the Government funded CBC, had some kind of RCMP mountie in it, involved nature or scenic locations
- Ready or Not, a coming of age show, two girls, poor camera quality and teen driven story lines (smoking cigarettes, boys, safe sex, you know...the usual). Fun fact, check out Lani Billard today
- Uh Oh! Kids game show that every single child growing up in the 90s dreamed of being on, and could not unless you lived in Toronto or were lucky enough to be selected to run around Sir John A's statue during one of the on-location race events
- Open Mic with Mike Bullard, was our attempt at a late night show. Seriously, this is the ONLY one in Canada that I can remember. It was hosted by "comedian" Mike Bullard, who literally got introduced to Canada like a girl introduces her biker boyfriend to her parents: quickly so you didn't have time to ask any questions. He always gave away a vacuum. Before you knew it, he was going to start offering guests birthday cards with $10 dollars inside. Here's a clip from a late 90s show, and seriously, if you can find another more Canadian looking broadcast, I will give you my collection of Ketchup chips:

Because music has a special place in my heart, it deserves its own separate article, and it time...

Stay tuned. Drop a comment if you'd like to. Or don't, like whatever...
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