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Saving frozen souls: A winter transit tale from storyteller Stuart McLean

Monday 23rd, February 2015 / 13:27
By Andrew R. Mott
A Calgary Transit bus like this one was the catalyst for one of Stuart McLean's most beloved tales.

A city bus like this one was the catalyst for one of Stuart McLean’s most beloved tales.

CALGARY — Canada’s master storyteller, Officer of the Order of Canada and three-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour usually comes through Calgary once a year, at the beginning of December or occasionally at the end of November, for the Vinyl Cafe Christmas show. This year happens to be one of the rare years that has Stuart McLean coming through Calgary twice to tell us stories. So, since this March 2nd is going to be one of those special occasions where Stuart makes an extra trip to town, BeatRoute felt the need to catch up with him and dig a little deeper into Calgary’s past history with “Canada’s Favourite Storyteller.”

Like most Canadian conversations, ours started with the weather. You see, Stuart was in Montreal visiting his mother when we spoke and when asked how the weather was treating him he simply stated, “It’s winter in Canada,” which led to the need to point out that winter has been a bit confused in Calgary this year. Mr. McLean replied with an experienced knowledge, “Well, it often is in Calgary,” and it was with that statement the digging began. It turns out that just over a decade ago when Stuart was in Calgary during the beauty of autumn he awoke to the completely unexpected surprise of around two feet of snow. “I had to get to the CBC and everything, the whole city was shutdown there was so much snow, and so the only way I could get there was walk. I set off for the CBC with no boots, literally plowing my way down Elbow Drive up to the knees in snow. I saw, in the distance coming, a city bus and I thought ‘this is my saviour’ but then I saw the sign on the bus was ‘Not in Service’ and I thought ‘Oh, darn!’”

Despite the bus’s proclamation the driver stopped and picked up the hapless Stuart from the drifts, inquired as to his desired destination and then stated that he would take him there free of charge. Along the way, other stranded frozen souls found refuge and a free trip to town upon this misnomer of a weather-strong city bus. Stuart says that in that moment he thought to himself. “Well, this guy deserves a medal, an award! And who better to give it to him.” And he made good on that musing as the following fall on Oct. 9th 2004, the actions of that heroic Calgarian bus driver, Mr. George Whalley, inspired the first of what has become a long standing tradition of recognizing and rewarding the unsung heroes of life on the Vinyl Cafe, the Arthur Awards. “The weather in Calgary has made an indelible mark on the Vinyl Cafe and it’s one of our ‘most’ favourite shows of the year. Everybody always looks forward to the Arthur Awards… I guess that’s my favourite Calgary story.”

Catch Stuart McLean and his musical guest Rueben and the Dark at the Jack Singer Concert Hall on March 2nd.

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