A little bit of Canada died yesterday. Stuart McLean, one of our great story tellers and a national treasure, passed away after a two year battle with melanoma. With his death we have lost someone who recorded and told stories of ordinary Canadians in an extraordinary way. He was the last of several generations of CBC personalities who were uniquely Canadian: Max Ferguson, Alan McFee, Peter Gzowski, Bob Kerr, Elwood Glover, and Clyde Gilmour to name a few.
When Stuart’s Vinyl Cafe first came on the air I wasn’t exactly thrilled – it was replacing Gilmour’s Albums one of my favourite programmes. There was no way this guy could replace Clyde as far as I was concerned. Begrudgingly I listened in and frankly was not impressed but Saturday morning was a time to do chores around the house and listen to the radio so each weekend I’d tune in at 1000 and listen to the music and the stories. And slowly I became caught up in the world of Dave, Morley, Sam, Stephanie and the Vinyl Cafe. This very ordinary family became familiar friends. These were people I could recognize; they were people I could laugh with (never at!), sympathize with and, perhaps most importantly, empathize with. Of course the situations were exaggerated but they were believable and that’s what master story telling is about. And Stuart was a master story teller.
Here’s an early Davey and Morely story based on a dilemma I’m sure more than one mother (and father too) has faced.
He once said that his work celebrated “the importance of being unimportant”.
As well as being a story writer and story teller Stuart was also a story collector and many of those stories were collected on his travels across Canada as he met people on trains, in airport lounges, hospital cafeterias and on the street. And often those stories would be incorporated into his radio show (the earlier Morningside or Vinyl Cafe) or into one of his many books. He once said that his work celebrated “the importance of being unimportant”.
Someone said in a call-in today: one minute you’d be laughing and the next fighting back the tears. And I couldn’t agree more. As I’ve listen over the years to the adventures of Dave, Morley and all the others I have choked with laughter but just as often choked with tears. Though I think those tears have never flowed quite as easily as they did when I saw the report of his passing yesterday.
Like many Canadians I feel that yesterday I lost a friend. Thank you Stuart, you loved and you were loved. “So long for now.”