A half-tab cartoon serial created by Walter Ball. See BALL Walter. It appeared in the Toronto Star Weekly beginning with the November 3, 1956 issue. Readership surveys showed 85 percent of subscribers read it an unusually high percentage for any magazine feature. Walter during an interview with Robert MacMillan said that the cartoon never fell below third place in popularity over its life and was often in first place.
In describing his sources Ball related that the house in the cartoon was modeled after the house he grew up in. The stove in the “Rural Route” kitchen was the one in which his mother used to bake the family bread. The mailbox that was the logo for the strip was based on the mailbox his father bought for $3 in 1911, the year he was born. The characters were combinations of people he knew. (16) For example Dr. Ripley, a friend, who enjoyed ice fishing, appeared in the strip in a reworked fashion. (1) Religion and politics never surfaced in “Rural Route” and Walter’s favourites today “Dagwood” and “Peanuts” follow the same philosophy.
Walter described Elmer as a man with the best intentions but even when he managed to do the right thing it was usually at the wrong time. (10) He told reporter Sharon Hay that he thought there was a lot of Elmer in him. Like Elmer, Walter saw himself doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, getting into hot water and putting things off too long. (1)
After 600 strips Walter began to grow weary of “Rural Route” “It was getting so I really had to wrack my brain for new ideas….” The Toronto Star Weekly ceased publication which ended “Rural Route” perhaps to Walter’s relief. “But sometimes I do miss the feeling of putting my feet up on the table with just an empty mind and an empty piece of paper.” (10)
The Art Gallery in Grimsby has 100 originals of “Rural Route in its collection. As Walter recalled: “I was just planning to line the walls of my garage with all the strips.” But the founder of the Gallery who was a friend of his: “He convinced me my cartoons are distinctly Canadian and the product of a certain era. How could I turn him down?”
“Rural Route” has a particular place in the line of Canadian newspaper cartoon strips beginning with Jimmy Frise’s “Birdseye Centre” and moving through “Rural Route” and Wright’s “Nipper”, to Johnston’s “For Better Or For Worse” and Bell Lundy’s “ Between Friends”. All of them based on theirs creators’ life experiences, are good reflections of Canadian life at different stages of the nation’s development, from the rural community life of the late 19th to early 20th centuries to the current nuclear urban family of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. “Rural Route” occupies the transition position of portraying a rural life but a modern individual farm family rather than a rural community. Ball’s creation is also more biographical than Frise’s heavily fictionalized work but more fictional than the heavily biographical work of the later cartoonists.
“His Heart Is In His Rural Route.” Writ., Joh Brehl. Star Weekly Magazine, I June 1957: 16.
“Cartoon creator finds humour in everyday life.” Writ., Sharon Hay. Richmond Hill Liberal, 10 Sept. 1980:1.
. “Elmer and Myrtle live on as comic strip Canadiana.” Writ., Paul Wilson. Hamilton Spectator, 30 Dec. 1981:10.
Car., Walter Ball. Star Weekly Magazine, 2 July 1960: 46.
Car., Walter Ball. Star Weekly Magazine, (?): 36.
Car., Walter Ball. Star Weekly Magazine, 7 Sept. 1963: 18.
Car., Walter Ball. S.W. Comics, 20 May 1967.
Car., Walter Ball. S.W. Comics, 7 Oct. 1967.
Car., Walter Ball. S.W. Comics, 14 Oct. 1967.
Note: The 1967 cartoons are printed on pulp paper. The previous cartoons are printed on glossy magazine paper.