The University of Winnipeg



Preserving local television history

The University of Winnipeg Archives digitize the Kern-Hill Furniture commercial collection

A still of a Kern-Hill Furniture commercial

Thanks to the generosity of the Hill family, The University of Winnipeg Archives digitized a collection of Kern-Hill Furniture commercials that were preserved on videocassettes.

“Come on down!”

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.

Dr. Andrew Burke

Ask any Winnipegger what they think of when they hear those three words and they will most certainly tell you about Kern-Hill Furniture, which has been a bargain retail stalwart for nearly 50 years.

Andrew Burke, Professor in the Department of English at The University of Winnipeg, specializes in film and television studies, cultural studies, and popular music studies.

In 2020, he released his latest book, Hinterland Remixed: Media, Memory, and the Canadian 1970s, which focuses on film, television, and music to show that Canada never fully left the 1970s behind.

After learning University Archivist Brett Lougheed had acquired a collection of television commercials produced by Kern-Hill Furniture in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s for the UWinnipeg Archives, Burke applied for, and received, a Discretionary Grant to digitize the collection.

“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,” Dr. Burke explained. “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.”

Because the collection was preserved on videocassettes at risk of degradation and decay, it was important to digitize the collection for preservation and access purposes, a process which Lougheed oversaw.

Now digitized, the Kern-Hill Furniture Co-op fonds is held at the UWinnipeg Archives and, thanks to the generosity of the Hill family, accessible to researchers and available for classroom use.

Commercial innovators

What made Kern-Hill Furniture’s commercials stand out from other local ads?

Dr. Burke says founder Nick Hill approached them with a real vision and sense of adventure, all while learning the extent to which he could push the very capacity of video.

“You have the inserts with the heads in the corner so that you can see them along with the furniture,” he 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.”

And, of course, it had the “Come on down!” tagline.

“There’s an argument to say Nick Hill is the absolute master of the form,” Dr. Burke said. “He was at the cutting edge of thinking about what a commercial could do.”

“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.”

Digital collection uses

Now that these commercials have been digitized, Dr. Burke plans on extending his work in Hinterland Remixed by exploring the remnants of 1980s and 1990s Winnipeg television, examining the role that the videocassette plays in the preservation of deeply idiosyncratic and profoundly local materials.

He will also be including the digitized Kern-Hill Furniture collection into one of his classes.

“I regularly teach a course titled ‘Visualizing Winnipeg’ that focuses on film, television, and photography produced in Winnipeg in order to think through the way the city has been depicted and what we can glean about the experience of place through a history of its visual representations,” he said.

To view the full digitized collection of Kern-Hill Furniture commercials, visit the UWinnipeg Archives YouTube page.