If you're going to do a show about Stuart McLean, where would you begin?
Well you could start with the fact that in December 2011 he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada. Or you could say that his show Vinyl Café is required listening for over half a million Canadians. And it's big in the States too.
You could talk about his stories- how Dave Cooks the Turkey has become a Canadian Christmas tradition. You can find it on one of McLean's six best-selling Vinyl Café books or buy it on CD or download the podcast or just hear it on the radio. Yes, Stuart McLean is our own king of media. And he has earned his crown using the powerful tool of story-telling.
Stuart McLean began telling stories on CBC Radio back in 1979, making documentaries for Sunday Morning. He won an ACTRA award for his documentary on the Jonestown Massacre.
(Stuart McLean - Jerry Davey CBC Still Photo Collection)
But for some reason, Stuart McLean decided that he wasn't cut out for the hard news. In 1984, he became a regular columnist on Morningside with Peter Gzowski.
McLean's appearances had a specific formula. He would sit down with Peter Gzowski and bring two gifts: a story and some tape.
He would tell Peter his tale and play bits of interviews he'd gathered in the field. In radio parlance, this was known as a tape-talk. And it was a format invented by Stuart McLean. He was the first and many would argue the best at it. McLean with the help of his tape recorder would bring stories of everyday life from all corners of Canada. Today we have three of them to share with you.
(Peter Gzowski, 1989 - CBC Still Photo Collection)
The first is from April 1987. Stuart McLean had visited a flower auction on the outskirts of Toronto. It's a place where hundreds of flower growers and sellers converge in a big warehouse very early in the morning and perform an intricate ritual to buy and sell their wares.
In classic Stuart McLean style, it illustrates the remarkable in the everyday.
The second piece is from September of 1986, when Stuart took a simple child's toy and turned it into a magical radio moment.
After that, a piece that illustrates McLean's ability to find and infiltrate the most secret and closed corners of our world.
The Harmony Ranch is still up and running almost twenty years after Stuart's visit there. You can find out more about this unusual institution at www.campandsing.com