From Vancouver Island to St. John’s, Newfoundland, each week roughly a million Canadians tune into CBC Radio to hear Stuart McLean and his program The Vinyl Cafe for its unique blend of humorous short stories, thoughtful heartfelt reflections on Canadian towns and places, and showcasing of home-grown musical talent.
But without a doubt the heart of The Vinyl Cafe, and what has won Stuart McLean such a devoted following of readers and listeners - the factor that draws sold out crowds to auditoriums, and theatres in towns right across this country - are the stories that he writes and performs based around that timeless fictional family of four: Dave – the lovable error prone husband and father, his mostly understanding wife Morley and their two children Sam and Stephanie.
The stories centred on these four endearing characters and the extended universe in-which they inhabit are at once wistful and humorous. Although there are laughs, the stories are above all marked by a certain gentleness and humanity. The characters in his fictional universe might not always get things right, they may and certainly do at times exasperate each other, but at their core, they’re trying their best and that's what seems to count.
“I was an awkward kid… as maybe we all feel we are. But I felt not quite a part. Like I was an underdog."
Through his opening essays, Stuart often reflects on the unique factors and historical winds that shape a locale, and make it what it is. In fact while on tour he and the crew will often come to towns they're recording in a few days in advance in order to get a sense of what distinguishes, what marks, the people and landscape of the community. So whether it’s speaking about the St. Lawrence River in Gananoque or the Laurentian Mountains in rural Quebec, Stuart McLean is able to capture the essence of a place, the tides that shaped it, and put it in the larger context of the Canadian story, in a way that few can.
It’s now been 20 years that The Vinyl Cafe, has been on CBC radio, and each year it seems to only get bigger and more beloved, not bad for a show that's a celebration of things humble and small, or as they say at Dave's Record Store "We may not be big, but we're small." In our conversation Stuart shares the stories of his childhood growing up in Montreal when he felt like an outsider, his struggles as a student, his roundabout beginnings with the CBC, as well reflects on the big feelings he has for this country, and what for him it means to be Canadian.
Listen to our interview with Stuart below & to hear more interviews with iconic CBC voices, subscribe to our podcast