Well if you’re like me, and belong to a certain generation of Canadians, who grew up in the 80s and 90s, there’s a good chance that hearing the name Fred Penner triggers a series of fond memories from childhood. That’s because Fred Penner was the man behind Fred Penner’s place, a popular children’s television show that ran on CBC from 1985 to 1997.
Over the course of almost 1000 episodes, Fred Penner entertained his young viewers with stories, music, and words (you might remember the famous “Word Bird”) and in the process influenced an entire generation of young Canadians.
Fred Penner grew up in Winnipeg, and from a young age developed a love for music. But it was through playing songs for his younger sister Suzy, who was born with Down’s Syndrome, that he came to see music as a way to connect and make a positive difference in the life of children.
After graduating after from the University of Winnipeg, he started performing and touring around Canada both as a solo musician and as a member of various groups and acts. But it was in 1979 when he recorded His first LP of songs for children, The Cat Came Back that his career really took off. The album became hugely popular, and went on to sell more than 150,000 copies in Canada alone.
The success got him noticed by popular childhood musician Raffi, who invited Penner to tour with him around North America. And after a few years of performing both with Raffi and as a solo artist to ever increasing audiences, Penner was approached by the CBC and asked if he would be interested in developing a children’s show based around his musical performances.
And so Fred Penner’s place born, and it quickly became one of the most popular and beloved children’s shows on TV. His warmth and his obvious love for music endeared Fred Penner to a generation. And although the show was abruptly cancelled by CBC 1997, Penner never stopped believing in the importance of what he was doing, and continued performing and positively connecting with young people right up to the present.
He’s recipient of the Order of Canada and multiple Juno Awards. And when he’s not busy performing, he’s actively involved with numerous children organizations and causes. I can only imagine how thoroughly impressed my 5 year old self would be that I had the great pleasure of meeting and speaking with Fred Penner in person!