TV, Then and Now

I was thinking back to the 1950s when television arrived in Cape Breton and how many of us made our way up to Charlotte Street to stand looking into the window of a store that displayed a small set, itself displaying what we came to know as a test pattern. There was no movement but we watched entranced, wondering what we would eventually see on that small screen were we lucky enough to acquire one.

Some of my neighbors were quick to purchase these wonderful and amazing boxes that soon began to provide us with news and entertainment, mostly from the United States, if I remember correctly, although the CBC came along soon after, opening an affiliate station in Sydney in 1954.

When one of my closest friends invited me to drop in and see their brand new TV, I was quite excited to watch my first ever episode of The Ed Sullivan Show and the guest who was just then making a name for himself, the one and only Elvis Presley! His dance moves soon drew criticism from older viewers but that didn’t stop them being imitated everywhere—including in Cape Breton. I laugh when I recall watching The Don Messer Show (later Don Messer’s Jubilee) at my grandparents’ home where my grandmother refused to watch The Buchta Dancers because they whipped their skirts too high for her liking!

A photo of a group of musicians and dancers.

Cast of Don Messer’s Jubilee. (Photo by Robert C. Ragsdale, via Library and Archives Canada )

On one TV-viewing visit, a friend’s father asked if I would like to see color TV and naturally I jumped at the chance only to discover that he had secured a large piece of red cellophane to his TV screen and—voilà!—color television!

Lloyd MacInnis, a regular on CJCB Radio, was the first personality I can recall making the jump to television (CJCB TV began broadcasting in 1954). I remember him interviewing a guest but also providing music, which involved selecting an LP, placing it on a record player, gently lowering the needle into place and then (I figured) taking the opportunity to relax before finishing up the interview or bidding good night to his audience.


It’s hard to believe those first, innocent TV offerings have evolved into today’s 24-hour cable news channels, outlets that do bring us some good tidings—of spaceships and telescopes providing us with knowledge of what lies beyond our own small part of the universe; of the triumph of science over illness and disease; of groups and individuals who have managed, even if only in small ways, to change the world for the better.

But TV also brings us lots of bad news: war, famine, racism, homelessness, natural disasters, mass shootings and more stream into our living rooms, raising dark questions about where the world is heading.

Mind you, most people these days aren’t watching TV in their living rooms at all, they’re streaming “content” on their cell phones or tablets or laptops wherever they happen to be.

All in all, my career as a television viewer has been quite a roller coaster ride, from worries about Elvis Presley’s hips and the Buchta Dancers’ skirts to existential worries about climate change. Fortunately for me (and for all of us), many of those streaming their content these days are forward-thinking young people who are fully aware of the problems they face and are joining together to demand solutions.

I wish them the very best of luck.



Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.