Canadian TV started with stations in Montreal and Toronto in 1952, which was three years before I was born. I have lived in Canada all of my life. Our family was fortunate to have a TV in the early years of the mid 1950s. My dad had an opportunity to buy his uncle’s first TV from him when he bought a new one. Family and friends would come to our house to watch shows. It was an occasion. On the farm in rural southwestern Ontario, we mostly got one London, Ontario television station and a couple of USA stations on a good weather day. The USA stations were accessible due to our close proximity to Lake Erie, with the USA only a few miles on the other side.
These are the years of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, when we used a TV antenna that stood alongside our house and reached up above the house height. When it needed to be rotated for a hopefully better view of the picture on the TV, one of us went to the dining room window and opened it up. That person proceeded whether hot or chilling cold air, and slowly rotated the pole so that the antenna at the top would rotate to potentially pick up signals. The other person of course was in position to be able to see the TV and call out when the picture was in better focus, and for the person at the window to stop turning the pole. I recall that at midnight the stations signed off. There was no TV to watch until morning. If the TV was turned on there was a loud humming buzz sound that immediately let us know to turn it off as there were no shows to watch.
It was an eerie droning hum of 400hz.
When I Googled and researched this reality, it was noted that there was not enough programming to run the 24 hours, nor were there enough people up to watch shows at that time. The TVs were black and white analog of course. The symbols of the card that was shown on the TV had the purpose of measuring the resolution of the signal and to align the receiver to get the best picture! Years later stations also realized that it was an opportunity to promote their own station as they also added their information to be seen throughout the night. At this sign off, “God Save the Queen” would play and then “Oh Canada” to close off the day.
By the 1990s there was the “Oh Canada” but then there was programming on into the night. For years this included infomercials, not regular shows for night viewers to enjoy.
The sign-ons in the mornings were a reverse of the sign-offs of midnight. This occurred at about 5 or 7 am and there was a newscast starting the day.
As programming was offered in the night hours it was usually old movies and low cost.
Overall in the 1950s, at the beginning of Canadian TV, the government was determined that its involvement was necessary in order for Canadian broadcasting to express and encourage Canadian identity and national unity. They avoided USA buying into the Canadian TV programming and were focusing on our dual identity of Francophones and Anglophones. This was also a time of vast immigration from Europe. The TV programming grounded the Canadian values and culture.
I’m almost 63 years old and yes, I really did walk for miles to get from our rural home to the one room school, in the heat, rain, or snow that was not yet plowed. Plus, I walked through the woods, across the creek and a road, then up the hill. These are additional personal stories to be written.
Story by Brenda Murray.