this PSA brought to you by…

My eight-year-old tried to tell me the classic elementary school joke “how do you know an elephant was in your house?” (“there are footprints in the peanut butter”, of course) and after I dutifully laughed I said “that’s also how you track house hippos”.

You know when you refer to something that has etched a permanent groove in your brain and the person you say it to just stares blankly? And you realize you’ve dated yourself yet again because the reference is at least 25 years old?


So off to YouTube I went, and lo, it delivered. I showed my kids the House Hippo PSA, and they were as enchanted as I was every single time it aired during the Saturday morning cartoon rotation:

The House Hippo

If that little bit of whimsy left you feeling sad that house hippos are impossible, you are not alone. An entire generation of Canadians now trusts nothing and no one because if you were a certain age when you saw that for the first time, your heart remains just a tiny bit bruised that you will never find a hippo in a nest made of dryer lint.

A forgotten casualty of the million-channel age is the child-focused PSA. They were in heavy rotation in the 80s. No problem was too serious that it couldn’t be addressed by a 30 second spot marked by low production values, punchy taglines, and weirdly-aggressive characters.

Canadian Fire Prevention

There was a whole series of fire-prevention PSAs starring the old lady who lived in a shoe. I could only find one on YouTube, but it’s a doozy:

Everything about this is delightful. Her “horrified scream” sounds like a gasp. She almost calls the kids dummies. She has an entire cupboard full of cookies and candy because we hadn’t all decided junk food was irresponsible poison! I love it.

Play Safe

Another one that ran every commercial break during the entire Saturday morning block was this trippy bit of weirdness from the WarAmps:

I MEAN. I know the 80s were a more dangerous time, what with the free-range playing and whatnot, but where in the hell were we supposed to be finding the opportunity to jump off of buildings and monkey-climb through some sort of factory that makes rotary saws?


This one was one of the first PSAs I ever saw. I had a sticker for my lunchbox with the two aliens, and “I agree, Smedley” still flies out of my mouth fairly regularly even though the spot hasn’t aired since 1985.

Don’t litter

When I was brainstorming this post, Nicole suggested “give a hoot, don’t pollute!” I don’t think it aired on CBC (the one channel I had) because I don’t remember this bug-eyed nightmare fuel at all… on the other hand, maybe I just blocked it out of sheer terror. WHY IS THIS OWL WALL-EYED.

Don’t poison yourself, or something

This, friends, is the nadir of Canadian childrens’ PSAs. If you have never seen it, prepare to be amazed. If you have, I apologize in advance for embedding this damnable earworm in your brain.

I still remember most of the words to that wretched jingle. I have been known to say “yes, that berry might look good to eat” and then whisper “like a muffin or a beet” when I take small children on nature walks. When I was in high school, many of us had younger siblings who still watched children’s programming and so naturally, “don’t you put it in your mouth” took on a whole new significance. (Listen to it again, pretending you’re a 16 year old boy. Hilarity will ensue.)

Do you remember any of these? Were there others? Bonus points for sharing links in the comments!




6 thoughts on “this PSA brought to you by…

  1. I am American so I haven’t seen most of these, but I can still sing from memory the Woodsy Owl song they played here and it’s been several decades since I saw it. I also remember some really weird PSAs about eating healthy snacks that all began with “It’s time for Timer” who went on to instruct us variously not to “drown your food in mayo, or ketsup, or goop” or eat a snack of cheese and meat instead of chips or some such thing. Bizarre.

    Marginally related: I actually purchased the School House Rock DVD set because I loved it so much and wanted my kids to love it too. I can now credit it with two generations learning their 3 times tables with Three Is A Magic Number as well as the preamble to the Constitution. Good stuff.


  2. Love and remember all of them!

    The ones I would LOVE to find are the Celsius/Centigrade ones from when I was teeny. There was a little snowflake or raindrop or something with a hat and they talked about how thick the ice had to be to be safe for skating, etc. I have searched high and low and nada.

    Fun post!

    House Hippo FTW!


  3. OMG the fire prevention one!! What a freaking flash back that was! We watched the house hippo with our 9 year a while back. He loved it. And I still wish they were real. *sigh*


  4. We had some fabulous PSAs in the UK – sadly I didn’t have a TV as a kid so I missed out on these glories first time round but they are still spectacular now. Here is an archive of ALL OF THEM and my particular favourites: The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water Ask for the Coastguard Protect and Survive.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s