Remembering Stuart McLean
Staff at the Petawawa Public Library have joined the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
We’ve all been there; driving in our cars, listening to that voice on the radio that makes minutes feel like seconds. Many of us have arrived at a destination and still remain seated just to find out what happens next in the story. Canada lost a true icon this week with the passing of Stuart McLean. To many Canadians, it feels as if we have lost a friend.
Stuart made us laugh, cry and ponder life’s lessons through his poignant storytelling. The Vinyl Café introduced us to the fictional family led by the ill-fated Dave and his adoring wife Morley. I remember the first time I heard a Dave and Morley story. I, like many of us, was driving in my car when a deep, distinguished voice immersed from the radio. All of a sudden my dreaded long drive seemed effortless. Stuart’s way of telling stories was timeless and had a way of making the mundane everyday seem special. The story I first remember involves Dave and Morley’s children building a giant slide out of the second storey of their house and their 90-year-old neighbour having a go at it. The story was simple, yet hilarious. What surprised me the most was how powerfully Stuart could paint a picture in my head; the way the children relished in the summer sun, the old man popping out his teeth before he went down the slide. I am an avid reader and often listen to audiobooks, but this was different; this seemed special.
Stuart often performed in front of a live audience. In this day and age, it seems unlikely that someone simply sitting on a stage reading stories would attract many people, but Stuart did it, time and time again. For more than 20 years, he travelled all over Canada, meeting locals and sharing the stories he wrote along the way with audiences that reached thousands. I had the pleasure of seeing Stuart live last year in Belleville, Ont. In the middle of the show he called upon the youngest person in the audience. A shy four-year-old little girl graced the stage with her mother while Stuart asked her questions to make her feel more comfortable. He then asked if the oldest person in the audience would join him. There was a lady who was celebrating her 94th birthday. This represents the epitome of what the Vinyl Café was – multi-generational. In this show alone, 90 years didn’t separate the enjoyment these people felt listening to his stories. These stories are a chance for people of all ages to come together and share something. That show in Belleville ended up being his last ever. Two days later, Stuart announced publicly that he was diagnosed with Melanoma and was putting his tour on hold indefinitely. He never did get to perform again.
As a librarian, I have witnessed Stuart’s presence in the literary world. His stories have been complied into several bestselling books. Of course, the audible versions are always favoured, but his way of writing is undeniably special. When you ask people why they
enjoy Stuart’s stories some say they reminds them of childhood, some say it makes them feel proudly Canadian, some say the stories make them laugh, for others they cry. In my mind, there isn’t a known author that could do all of those things, but Stuart did. And he made it seem effortless.
Although we have lost a true Canadian icon, Stuart’s stories will live on forever. I encourage everyone, the next time you are driving in your car, to listen to a Vinyl Café story. It may make you howl with laughter, or well up with tears, or remember something from your past and I can guarantee it will make us all feel closer together as he will always be Canada’s greatest storyteller. Visit the Petawawa Library or your local library to check out Stuart McLean’s books or audiobookss today and honour one of Canada’s greats.
Katelyn Schubert is the children and teen services co-ordinator at the Petawawa Public Library