Saturday, September 18, 2010

Elmer, Murphy and The Old Lady

From the perils of traffic to the woes of Gingivitis to the dangers of fire (and everything in between), inventive ways of educating elementary school children in Ontario historically have involved friendly and informed caricatures. Not only did they contribute effective PSAs into our young lexicons and ways of thinking but they also created a geographically unique legacy of awareness that could be adapted for future generations. Those who grew up as these lessons unfolded or evolved were blessed with a wonderful sense of nostalgia owing primarily to the iconic and beloved characters that were used. And where would this little blog be without nostalgia?

The standout characters in my recollections were: Elmer the Safety Elephant, Murphy the Molar and The Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe. Remember?

Elmer the Safety Elephant

Elmer the Safety Elephant was created in 1947, to teach elementary school children how to stay safe. Elmer came with an easily memorized list of safety rules. Creators adopted an elephant mascot owing to the animal's legendary memory. As it happened, Elmer's impact was immediate:

"Traffic collisions among Toronto children dropped an astonishing 44 per cent – even though vehicle registrations increased by 10 per cent!"

My memories of Elmer are circa the late 70s to early/mid 80s but this charming clip from 1955 (via CBC archives) captures the spirit and history of the jolly elephant. I can still see the Elmer flag waving at our school.

Murphy the Molar:

Created in 1967, Murphy the Molar was the mascot for the Ministry of Health dental programs during the 1970s (and into the 80s). The friendly iconic tooth realized the need for preventive dentistry: teaching children to take good care of their teeth before cavities got the upper hand. Replete with an over-sized tooth, toothbrush and replica gum/teeth line, public health workers made rounds at local schools, teaching children how to floss and brush their teeth. I always wanted their replicas. Fun toys, in my eyes. This program worked, as it got kids thinking about their teeth. To watch Murphy in action click here or view the clip below!

Murph had it going on: There's something very snappy and rat pack about that pose.

The Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe

Yes, of course she lived in a shoe. And as most people who live in shoes do, the Old Lady knew all about fire prevention... Alright, I'm not entirely sure about that last statement but there was indeed a lovely series of 70s PSAs featuring The Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe reminding children to be informed about fire hazards. One such vignette is featured below.

Again, another charming education tool that worked.


  1. I remember dancing around that crazy elephant in Kindergarten since I was so delighted to be around the cheerful character. That and fact that I was always a cartoon and illustration nut from day one.

    Later on being all grown up I ended up working for the company that designed and painted those inflatable Elmer costumes. :D

    Oh and who can forget all those other Canadiana pop culture characters. I always think of the National film board of Canada when I see those.

  2. From dancing around Elmer to designing Elmer costumes...that's awesome. :)


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