The personal archives of beloved storyteller and award-winning humorist Stuart McLean have found a new home at Hamilton’s McMaster University.
The just-announced public archive gives audiences a new window into the creative process of the longtime CBC journalist, bestselling author and host of The Vinyl Café, who died earlier this year at the age of 68.
“It’s really an incredible collection,” said Vivian Lewis, university librarian. “His work reflects Canadian culture and the Canadian sense of humour in a way that might tend to be quite understated, but so well crafted.”
The collection is huge — McLean donated 100 boxes of material just before he died, and it took until now for it all to be processed and organized.
His archive includes book and story manuscripts, photos, sound recordings, set pieces from live Vinyl Café performances, and correspondence with other Canadian icons like Margaret Atwood and Ken Dryden.
It also features the manuscript for the famous Dave and Morley story “Dave Cooks the Turkey,” complete with hand-written notes added by McLean and his editors.
As Lewis delved deeper into McLean’s collection, it became clear how important it was for it to be preserved at McMaster alongside other creative greats, she says.
McMaster’s archives include work from the likes of philosopher Bertrand Russell, science fiction author Robert Sawyer, and even the original transcript of Anthony Burgess’s famed dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange.
But there are more intimate pieces that matter in McLean’s archive, too. Lewis recalls visiting McLean and seeing his childhood report cards, where he was “repeatedly admonished” for inattentiveness.
“He seemed to take this mischievous joy in how bad his marks were in some subjects,” she said.
‘Things don’t always go as planned’
McLean died in February. In November 2015, while on a Vinyl Café Christmas tour, he revealed he’d been diagnosed with melanoma and cancelled the remaining scheduled dates.
Just over a year later, he revealed he was suspending The Vinyl Café indefinitely to focus on his cancer treatment.
“What can I say? Things don’t always go exactly as planned,” McLean said in a statement in December 2016, revealing that he was preparing for another round of immunotherapy treatment after his first hadn’t been completely successful.
Before the institution that was The Vinyl Café, McLean was a documentary producer on CBC’s Sunday Morning and was a regular columnist and guest host on CBC’s Morningside with Peter Gzowski. He also taught at Toronto’s Ryerson University for years, and received an honourary doctorate from McMaster in 2014.
Preserving for hundreds of years
McLean’s archives are open to be viewed by the public. (McMaster University)
In a statement, McLean’s sons Christopher Trowbridge, Robert McLean and Andrew McLean said they are delighted that their father’s work has a new home where it will be preserved.
“This is something that Stuart started working on a few years ago. He loved combing through old letters, manuscripts, photos and scraps of paper,” the statement reads. “He spent months meticulously collecting and boxing up work and correspondence from the past five decades.”
“We know how happy it made Stuart to know that his archive would find a home a McMaster. We hope others will take as much pleasure in it as he did.”
Lewis says McLean’s work will be kept in climate and humidity controlled rooms and in acid-free boxes, which will help it last for hundreds of years.
“The preservation aspect is absolutely critical,” she said.
Anyone who wants to view McLean’s archives can do so at the lower level of Mills Library on campus at 1280 Main St. W.