Stuart McLean, an award-winning humorist who became a beloved fixture on CBC Radio as host of The Vinyl Café, has died after battling melanoma. He was 68.
“We were deeply saddened to learn that Stuart McLean passed away earlier today,” Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs, CBC English Services, announced Wednesday.
McLean was a veteran journalist, former Ryerson University instructor, and three-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for humour.
He is best known as host of The Vinyl Café, a summer replacement show in 1994 that became a popular staple on the CBC Radio roster at noon on Sundays in 1997.
“Stuart was an exceptional storyteller who has left an indelible mark on CBC Radio and countless communities across Canada,” Thompson noted.
The Vinyl Café, which featured a mix of stories, essays and music often performed live in cities and towns across the country, was spun off into a series of bestselling books.
The show’s gently humorous stories centred on Dave, the owner of a second-hand record store, and also featured his wife, Morley, their two children, Sam and Stephanie. One of the show’s most popular tales, “Dave Cooks the Turkey,” soon became an annual Christmas tradition on the show thanks to demand from McLean’s loyal fans.
Thousands of Canadians expressed their sorrow after a Facebook message was posted by the show’s production team.
“We are heartbroken. But we are also finding comfort in memories of our dear friend,” noted the message, which was shared more than 26,000 times and attracted more than 5,000 comments by press time.
“I discovered his stories of Dave and Morley at a time in my life where I desperately needed some levity, and couldn’t be more grateful for the joy and laughter he brought,” wrote one Facebook correspondent.
“The USA has lost one of our favourite Canadians,” wrote a Seattle man, who said he’d attended several of the Christmas season touring shows in the U.S. and Canada.
A London-area man said he proposed to his wife during one of McLean’s shows, noting “society has lost a great story-teller . . . and our arts community a great advocate and ambassador.”
Longtime Vinyl Café producer Jess Milton tried to explain McLean’s special talent on CBC’s As It Happens on Wednesday evening.
“He was a conduit for other people’s stories. He listened and observed and did this incredible job of sort of passing the stories along to others,” she told guest host, Helen Mann.
“He took the mundane . . . and made it beautiful,” Milton added.
“He believed that moments add up and that every moment counts and I’m certainly grateful for every moment I had with him.”
A one-hour tribute to McLean will air Thursday at 1 p.m. on CBC Radio One, hosted by Michael Enright.
McLean began his career in journalism in the 1970s as a researcher on Cross-Country Check-Up before moving on to making documentaries for CBC Radio’s Sunday Morning.
He later became a columnist and guest host on CBC’s Morningside before becoming host of The Vinyl Café.
The show began touring across Canada and the U.S. around the Christmas season in 1998. But McLean suspended it in November 2015, when he announced he was fighting melanoma.
In December 2016, McLean said his first round of immunotherapy treatment had not been completely successful and he needed to undergo another round this year.
The Vinyl Café had been in repeats until last month, when McLean said they would be discontinued “to make room for others to share their work on the radio.”
McLean began teaching broadcast journalism at Ryerson University in 1985 before retiring in 2004 when he was appointed professor emeritus. He was also appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in 2011 for his “contributions to Canadian culture as a storyteller and broadcaster, as well as for his many charitable activities.”
Angela Glover, a news media production specialist at Ryerson hired by McLean, worked alongside him for 10 years.
“He had an enthusiasm for life. He was curious about everything. And when he was talking to you, he had a great way of making you feel interesting and important,” Glover said.
“As a teacher, he was funny, he was personable, he was compassionate. He was a great teacher to have.”
McLean was upbeat about his cancer setback last December and told fans in an online message that he expected to return to work.
“I don’t want you to worry about me. A year ago I told you that I expected this to be just a bump in the road, not the end of the road. I still believe that to be true. I hope we will meet up again — on the radio or in theatres. We’ll make sure to tell you before that happens,” McLean wrote.
“In the meantime, look after yourselves and each other. And know that this isn’t goodbye. It’s just . . . so long for now.”
A public tribute will be held at a future date. His family is requesting donations be made to the Stuart McLean Camp Kanawana Fund, where he worked for five summers. The fund helps children and teens without the financial means to attend the YMCA camp just north of Montreal.
In a 2013 interview with the Star, McLean emphasized the power of a positive attitude.
“Look, the world is a dangerous place. Bad things happen. None of us get out of here alive and we don’t all get to die as old people in bed.
But when something like, say, 9/11 happens, it makes me double down. It’s like, if they’re saying, ‘The world is like this,’ then I say, ‘Oh no, the world is like this!’ ”
‘Canada’s great storyteller’