CBC Digital Archives

Walter Ball's Rural Route

From the wholesome wartime heroics of Johnny Canuck to the exploits of a three-foot-tall aardvark named Cerebus, Canadian comics are anything but dull. Though comics got their start south of the border, Canada has become home to an eclectic roster of cartoon talent from the Pulitzer Prize-nominated strips of Lynn Johnston, to the world-renowned comic art of Seth and the multi-media phenomenon of Todd Mcfarlane's Spawn. The CBC Digital Archives takes an in-depth look at the history of our homegrown comic strips, comic books and graphic novels.

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Uncle Elmer, Aunt Myrtle and nephew Willie may not be familiar to newspaper readers today, but for more than a decade starting in the 1950s the folksy characters were a staple in newspapers across the country. The stars of Walter Ball's popular comic strip Rural Route, they offered increasingly urbanized Canadians a welcome, weekly dose of unhurried life back on the farm. This CBC Radio clip takes a retrospective look at Ball's strip and features a rare interview with the artist himself.
. Walter Ball's Rural Route began its run in the Star Weekly in 1956 and ran until 1968, when the once-popular magazine was cancelled. The strip detailed the foibles of life on a fictional Canadian farm and often featured the comic misadventures of rotund Uncle Elmer.
. The fact that the strip resembles Jimmy Frise's Birdseye Center was no coincidence. Frise moved his popular strip from the Star to the Montreal Standard in 1947, and the Toronto paper was eager to replace it. Ball, an illustrator at the Star, suggested an idea based on his youth growing up on a farm and it was accepted.

. Walter Ball was born in 1911 in Cookstown, Ont., about 60 km north of Toronto. He originally set out to become an electrical engineer, but ended up taking a job as an illustrator at the Toronto Daily Star in 1932.
. Ball befriended Frise, whom he would eventually replace, in his early years at the paper. In addition to its inclusion in the Star Weekly, Rural Route was syndicated in several small town papers across Canada.

. After the strip was cancelled in 1968, Ball was made head of the Star's art department. He continued in this role until retiring in 1976.
. At the time of this interview, Ball was working part-time at the Star.
. Arn Saba, who conducted the Ball interview featured in this clip, was a cartoonist himself and created the comic book Neil the Horse which ran for 15 issues in the 1980s.
. Saba was also an accomplished journalist who filed nearly 100 reports on comics and cartoons in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Medium: Radio
Program: Don Harron's Morningside
Broadcast Date: June 21, 1982
Guest(s): Walter Ball
Host: Don Harron
Reporter: Arn Saba
Duration: 12:26
Clip has been edited for copyright reasons.

Last updated: March 5, 2012

Page consulted on September 9, 2014

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