British Columbia

In one of his final performances, Stuart McLean spoke about Canada's treatment of Indigenous people

Shortly before suspending his tour in 2015, Stuart McLean recorded a live performance of the Vinyl Cafe in which he reflected on Canada's troubled past with Indigenous people and offered thoughts on how to move forward.

Radio host said we must 'listen carefully' to make sure we are on the right side of history

Stuart McLean speaking on stage at the CN Centre in Prince George. (Pharis & Jason Romero)

Stuart McLean, the host of CBC Radio's The Vinyl Café and award-winning humorist, has died at age 68 after a battle with melanoma.

One of his final public performances was when he spoke in Prince George, B.C., March 2015, to celebrate the city's 100th anniversary.

He delivered thoughts on Canada's troubled history with Indigenous people and how the country can move forward with respect and tolerance.

Here is a truncated version of those remarks:

100 years is a long time. 100 years of anything is worth noting.

There is an exuberance to youth, an endearing and appealing energy but there is dignity to longevity. Things that last, last for a reason.

So when something has weathered a century, be it a tree or a book, a painting or a person, be it a civilization or as we are celebrating today, a city, it is worth taking the time to ask what is going on.

Listen to Stuart McLean's full performance in Prince George, B.C.

The province instals a roundabout out near the highway in Big Narrows. 53:59

Your town evolved the way so many towns have in this country. It began with the First Nations. People of the Carrier Nation have lived here at the junction of the Fraser and Nechako rivers for thousands of years.

It was the rivers that brought the European explorers and then, inevitably, the traders. The Northwest Company built a trading post here in 1807. It was called Fort George.

Your town was whistled into existence by the Grand Trunk Railway. And we'd be whistling in the dark if we didn't acknowledge that here, as in so many places across the country, there were shameful things done to the First Nations in those early days and in more recent days, too.

McLean's blend of storytelling and nostalgia won him fans across Canada and around the world. (Bruce J. Dynes)

What is the wisdom of this place, of any city?

Why do we come together?

What is the glue that binds us? 

Living with others has never been the easiest choice. Families and neighbours are often cranky and always disruptive.

Yet from coast to coast to coast, living together is the choice we make. 

And I would put forward the accommodations that are asked of us by our inclination to come together, by the way we come together in cities like this, in cities like yours, have deepened us and are the source of our wisdom, such as it is.

I'd like to think we would not today turf people out of their homes with the righteous insensitivity of our forefathers and I'd like to think we would be more mindful of the agreements we struck with the people with whom we've collided. 

As we look back on the last 100 years, I would also like to think that our Canadian story has, nevertheless, been one of slow — painfully slow, inexcusably and unbearably slow — but slow as it is, movement nonetheless from solitude to community. And with that from injustice to justice.

We must remember, as we head off towards the next century, that the loudest voices are not necessarily the wisest.- Stuart McLean

Yes, we have stumbled, but in our stumbling ways I would like to think that we are stumbling towards the light.

And one hopes that with Prime Minister Harper's apology to the First Nations for the horrors of the residential schools that we are inching towards the long overdue dialogue when we Europeans will shut up and listen for the wisdom of the people who have lived on this land for so much longer than us.

But even in our stumbling way we can say, and with some confidence, that we have over this century contributed to the greater good.

Author and humourist Stuart McLean is presented with the Officer of the Order of Canada in Ottawa on Friday, Sept. 28, 2012. (Fred Chartrand/CP)

Banting and Best's discovery of insulin. Pearson's nimble negotiations during the Suez Crisis.

The Group of Seven's wistful vision. Gordon Lightfoot's tuneful soul.

And, of course, the Timbit.

And it's also worth remembering on this day of days that the wisdom of many of the things that we hold dear was not always apparent: The doctors of Saskatchewan predicted and indeed threatened no end of disruption when Tommy Douglas' government introduced his plan for medicare. And so did many veterans when Prime Minister Pearson introduced his new made-in-Canada flag.

We must remember, as we head off towards the next century, that the loudest voices are not necessarily the wisest.

And so, I would say today as we toast the last 100 years, our toast should contain a certain humility. A modest acknowledgement of our stumbles and our quiet determination to try harder, to listen carefully, to be thoughtful of new ways, to be sure that we are on the right side of history.

That is, to continue our coming together with open minds and hearts.

And finally to ask ourselves from time to time how people will look back at us, 100 years from now.

Will they say of us we were tolerant and enlightened?

Will they say we did the right thing at the right time?

Will they find people among us who stood firm and inched things forward, who made the world a better place?

Happy birthday, Godspeed. It is good to be here. Thank you for having us.

McLean's trademark became The Vinyl Café, a radio show that demonstrated his love of performance and his passion for writing. (CBC)

With files from CBC Prince George.