Why the Family of Late Vinyl Café Host Stuart McLean Asks for Donations for Camp Kanawana

You are here

Stuart McLean would be the first person to seek out the upbeat amid the sadness. The beloved host of CBC Radio's The Vinyl Café — also a bestselling author and award-winning humourist — died yesterday (Feb. 15) at age 68 after a battle with melanoma.

Yet in death as in life, McLean brings the happiness. His family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Stuart McLean Camp Kanawana Fund which helps children and teens without the financial means to attend Camp YMCA Kanawana, a community where they learn to care for themselves, each other and the environment.

It’s no overstatement to say Camp Kanawana changed McLean’s life. Indeed, the acclaimed Montreal-born storyteller said that himself, reflecting on his work there over five summers in the late 60s and early 70s beginning as a counsellor in the senior boys’ section.

A quote of McLean's posted to Camp Kanawana’s website sums up why the experience was so impactful to the then would-be radio star: “Probably because there were no parents here.  And whatever I did that summer, whatever choices and decisions I made, I had to make them for myself and by myself.

“At Kanawana, there are all these great people, and they seemed to like me, and before long, I couldn’t help myself, before long I started to trust myself.  And believe in myself. And most importantly, like myself.”

It's easy to understand McLean's attraction to the place. Founded over 120 years ago on 550 acres of wilderness north of Montreal, Camp YMCA Kanawana is Québec’s oldest summer camp.

“It’s a microcosm of Canada, where English, French, rich, poor, recent immigrants and locals sing together around the camp fire,” the site adds. “Each year, we welcome over 800 campers aged 7 to 16 years from across Canada and throughout the world.

Camp YMCA Kanawana endeavours to ensure that at least one in five campers is from a financially disadvantaged background. It’s a role that’s viewed as essential; the YMCAs of Québec offered over $150,000 in financial support to children and teens to attend Camp YMCA Kanawana in 2016.

Certainly, McLean’s later success served (and continues to serve) as an inspiration for youth. The Vinyl Cafe – a radio series weaved around pithy stories spun by a second-hand record shop owner – was a hit globally, and spawned 10 best-selling books published in the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.

McLean also toured the show far and wide across North America. He was an Officer of the Order of Canada (appointed in 2011), a professor emeritus at Ryerson University in Toronto and former director of the broadcast division of the School of Journalism.

Multiple universities conferred honours on McLean including but not limited to Trent, McMaster, University of Calgary and Concordia University. McLean began his broadcasting career making radio documentaries for CBC Radio's Sunday Morning, scoring an ACTRA award in 1979 for his contribution to the program's coverage of the Jonestown massacre.

But amid all the accolades, it was McLean’s deep humanity and his convivial humour that will be remembered most.

Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.