Want to see some of Winnipeg's most kitschy TV furniture ads? Well then, 'C'mon down!'

Someone left the nostalgia-making machine on and now we're overstocked with cringe-worthy commercials, so make your way down to the University of Winnipeg and get a slice of the frenetic 1980s energy of Kern-Hill Furniture ads.

University of Winnipeg has digitized Kern-Hill Furniture's commercial collection

The head and shoulders of a man wearing a cowboy hat and beige suitjacket, is seen superimposed on furniture in an old TV commercial.
Nick Hill speaks in a Kern-Hill Furniture Co-op commercial from 1984. (YouTube)

Someone left the nostalgia-making machine on and now we're overstocked with cringe-worthy commercials, so make your way down to the University of Winnipeg and get a slice of the frenetic energy of Kern-Hill Furniture ads.

The university has digitized the Kern-Hill collection of cassettes so those commercials can be enjoyed by those who never experienced them, and those pining once more for Nick Hill's bombardment of bargains.

"These advertisements hold a significant place in the city's audiovisual history and are deeply embedded in the cultural memory of those who experienced local television during that period," U of W English Prof. Andrew Burke, who specializes in film and television studies, cultural studies and popular music studies, said in a news release from the university. 

"It's part of media history, it's part of retail history, it's part of business history, and it's especially a part of television history."

Long before the days of on-demand streaming video with non-existent commercials and the ability to pause, TV viewers had to watch their programs when they were on or risk missing something. When commercials came, they often used the opportunity to grab a snack or take a bathroom break.

And that was Nick Hill's challenge — to grab the suddenly distracted viewers in order to pitch his products.

"There's an argument to say Nick Hill is the absolute master of the form. He was at the cutting edge of thinking about what a commercial could do," Burke said in the release.

"If you quiz people on a TV movie they watched in 1982, they'll have fuzzy memories of it. But given the repetition of the Kern-Hill commercials and how often they were broadcast, they're absolutely seared into anybody's memory who was regularly watching TV at that time."

In his raspy, auctioneer-like voice and with his down-home country charm, Hill launched a salvo of items for sale, squeezing in as much as he could while the sofas, dinette sets and solid oak bookcases flashed behind his head.

He often blamed his "No. 1 son" for leaving the furniture-making machine on, leaving the business overstocked and ready to blow the products out at bargain.basement prices. Then he urged people to "C'mon down." 

They're commercials that Winnipeggers love — in a trippy, low-budget way. The presentation mirrored Hill's motto of no frills.

"You have the inserts with the heads in the corner so that you can see them along with the furniture," Burke said. "You have the rapid-fire patter that's matched by the rapid-fire editing. You have flashing text, scrolling text, and different coloured texts."

Kern-Hill Furniture Co-op started around 1952 as John Kiernicki's business, Manitoba Television Sales and Service, in the North End on Derby Street, according to the Winnipeg Places blog. Hill joined as a partner in 1957 and it was renamed Kern-Hill Furniture and Appliances.

Hill took over the business in 1960 and relocated it a couple of blocks over on Main Street. He registered the business as a co-operative in 1962 and moved it a few blocks further south on Main in 1963. That latter location was part of a block of structures that burned down earlier this month.

When Hill died in 2003, his sons took over the business, and in 2005 they relocated once again to Nairn Avenue, where the store continues to operate.

The Kern-Hill Furniture Co-op fonds at the U of W archives is accessible to researchers and available for classroom use. A collection of the commercials is also on the YouTube page for the archives.

The fonds consists of recordings on Betacam and U-Matic cassettes. The recordings were produced for several television studios in Winnipeg, Portage La Prairie, and Grand Forks, N.D.

The material was housed at Kern-Hill until 2005, when then-general manager Barry Evans and owner Andy Hill gave the tapes to Matthew Rankin and Walter Forsberg for use in their film Kubasa in a Glass: The Strange World of the Winnipeg Television Commercial (1975-1993).

Rankin donated the videos to the U of W archives with the permission of the Hill family.

Because the collection was preserved on videocassettes at risk of degradation and decay, Burke applied for a grant to digitize it.


  • An earlier version of this story identified a former Kern-Hill general manager as Barry Graham. In fact, his name was Barry Evans.
    Feb 25, 2023 3:54 PM CT


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.


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