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Mister Rogers’ Uniquely Torontonian Origins

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is one of the most celebrated children’s TV shows to ever air. Lucky us, our favourite friendly neighbour is closer to home than you might think.

Mister Rogers Neighborhood was broadcast by National Educational Television (NET), which later became the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) from 1968-2001. However, did you know that years before it was named Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood the show was known as Misterogers? Did you also know that it was produced by the CBC and was filmed in Toronto? Yes, the ‘neighborhood’ broke ground up North in 1961.

“The day after graduation, I had a call from Dr. Frederick Rainsberry in Toronto who was then head of children’s programming for the CBC. He said, Fred, I would like you to do a program for our network. I said, you can’t imagine what a voice from heaven you are to me right now because I really didn’t know what I was going to do. I could have accepted a parish ministry job. But I felt that this was a ministry in itself. So I did a daily program”. (Fred Rogers interview with Terry Gross, NPR, 1984)

Source: CBC Still Photo Collection.

That phone call led to a little road trip from Pittsburgh, where he worked behind-the-scenes on television show, The Children’s Corner, to Toronto. He wouldn’t travel solo though, bringing a puppeteer named Ernie Coombs with him. Coombs would eventually become fondly known as, Mr. Dressup.

For four years and 337 episodes, Fred Rogers would cut his teeth in Toronto. Behind the scenes no longer, Rogers used his time here to further develop his voice and format.

In 1964 Rogers got the rights to Misterogers and headed back to Pittsburgh to further develop it. Coombs however wouldn’t head back with him, as Rogers convinced the CBC to give him a show. What Rogers did take back with him was a Toronto made trolley, castle, puppets, and invaluable learnings from his time in our city.

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood would make its US national debut on February 19, 1968 and for thirty years, Rogers would become a familiar visitor to millions of children.

Source: CBC Still Photo Collection.

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