Stuart McLean during a live recording of The Vinyl Café in 2008.
Early Life and Education
Stuart McLean was born in Montreal, the son of Andrew Thompson and Margaret Patricia McLean. He has often cited his childhood as a source of inspiration for his later work as a writer and radio host. “I grew up in Montreal West, a community fenced in on three sides by railroad tracks,” he said in a 2013 interview with the Toronto Star. “It created a sort of playground that was also a rock-solid place. My mom and dad had a fantastic marriage and all of that combined to make me feel I came from a place of safety and security and community.”
McLean attended high school at Lower Canada College and received a BA from Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) in 1971.
Early Career with CBC
McLean’s interest in radio began in childhood, after his father bought him a Motorola transistor radio while he was sick in bed. A fascination and passion for the medium stayed with him ever since.
McLean got his first professional experience in radio working as freelance journalist for the CBC in Montreal. He then worked as a researcher for the broadcaster’s national call-in show, Cross-Country Check Up. In 1978, he began producing documentaries for the CBC Radio program Sunday Morning. From 1982 to 1984, he acted as the show's executive producer. In the 1980s, he appeared as a regular contributor and occasional host on CBC Radio’s Morningside, the national weekday morning show hosted by Peter Gzowski.
McLean’s slice-of-life storytelling charmed listeners across the country, and his published collection of radio essays, The Morningside World of Stuart McLean (1989), became a Canadian bestseller. It was also a finalist for the 1990 City of Toronto Book Awards.
The Vinyl Café (1994–2016)
In 1994, Stuart McLean created the CBC Radio program The Vinyl Café as a summer replacement show. With his signature understated humour, McLean would recount the exploits of a fictional family whose patriarch, Dave, owns the world's smallest record store. Aside from McLean’s storytelling, a portion of The Vinyl Café was always dedicated to a musical performance.
By autumn 1997, the show was broadcast every Sunday at noon. In print as Stories from the Vinyl Café (1995), the book became a bestseller in Canada. A series of bestselling Vinyl Café collections followed. Home from the Vinyl Café won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 1999 and Vinyl Café Unplugged won the award in 2001. A third Stephen Leacock Medal was awarded for Secrets from the Vinyl Café in 2007. McLean added to the series with Extreme Vinyl Café (2009), Revenge of the Vinyl Café (2012), Time Now for the Vinyl Café Story Exchange (2013) and Vinyl Café Turns the Page (2015).
In 1998, McLean began taking the Vinyl Café on the road to theatres across the country. It was broadcast every week on CBC Radio. It was also heard via satellite radio around the world and on public radio stations in the United States.
McLean was diagnosed with melanoma in 2015. He stepped down as the host of The Vinyl Café in 2016 to focus on his health. He died in February 2017 at the age of 68.
Honours and Awards
- Best Radio Documentary (program about the Jonestown Massacre), ACTRA Awards (1979)
- Barbara Rooke Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching, Writing and Research, Trent University (1994–95)
- Best Non-Fiction (Welcome Home: Travels in Smalltown Canada) Canadian Authors' Association (1993)
- Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour (Home from Vinyl Café) (1999)
- Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour (Vinyl Café Unplugged) (2001)
- Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour (Secrets from the Vinyl Café) (2007)
- Jubilee Award (Vinyl Café Diaries), Canadian Authors’ Association (2004)
- Officer, Order of Canada (2011)
- Doctor of Education, Nipissing University (2001)
- Doctor of Laws, University of Windsor (2004)
- Doctor of Letters, Trent University (2007)
- Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law, Saint Mary's University (2012)
- Doctor of Laws, University of Calgary (2013)
- Doctor of Laws, Concordia University (2014)
- Doctor of Laws, McMaster University (2014)