Stuart McLean

Stuart McLean

Remembering Stuart McLean

Residents of Nakusp remember the CBC radio host and his visit to the village in the early 90s.

It’s been over 25 years since Stuart McLean, professor, author and CBC radio host, came to Nakusp.

He spent a month in the village collecting material for his second book Welcome Home: Travels in Smalltown Canada.

McLean passed away on Feb. 15 after a battle with melanoma.

Many of the people who he spoke to in the village have either moved or passed away, but there are still those who remember his time here.

Edith Izairovich is one of them.

She and her husband Nick, now deceased, used to run The Village Bread and Pastry Shop, which was across from Nakusp Secondary School.

Though Edith can’t remember exactly what they talked about, she remembered his personality, and found him to be very charming.

“The way he talked, he had a very pleasant voice,” she said. “He talked very politely about what he wanted to say. He asked me about things and I told him, and I felt very comfortable with him.”

Charlotte Poulin, a former employee of the bakery, agrees.

“He was very personable,” she said. “He asked about my interests, and how long I had been working at the bakery. I had only been at the bakery maybe a month or two.”

Reading his words about the village, you’re afforded the view of a snapshot in time.

Some of the businesses named in the chapter been taken over by new management and renamed, like the Lord Minto Restaurant, now Nick’s Place. Most however, like Olson’s Marina, are gone.

McLean said the marina was his favourite refuge in Nakusp, and enjoyed how it was run more like a brotherhood than a business. The marina was a home away from home of sorts for the hunters and fishermen in the area.

Glen Olson, the former owner and operator of the Olson’s Marina, remembers McLean’s visit well.

“We had quite a few discussions,” he said. “I really liked talking to him. He was a nice, quiet and gentle type of man. He was really interested in small communities like this.”

McLean spent two days in the shop, writing stories, taking notes, and meeting the people who came into the shop.

Because Olson has lived in Nakusp all his life he was able to tell him about what it was like to ride the Minto up and down the lake, and the fishing and logging that went on, and how the town has been doing over the last few decades.

Olson really liked McLean, and enjoyed the conversations they had together.

“To me, he was gentle-spoken,” he said. “When some people come in they want you to do this or tell them this, but he was very gentle.”

It would be neglectful to write about Nakusp without at least mentioning the Columbia River Treaty.

Halfway through the chapter McLean recounted meeting Chris and Janet Spicer, two of Nakusp’s most prominent citizens. McLean described Chris as being “The skinniest, liveliest, fastest-moving 78 year old I have ever met.”

The Spicer family was among the countless families in the area who’s land was expropriated for flooding.

Though he was born and raised in Montreal, he fit in very well in smaller communities. He had an ability to talk to anyone about anything, and was never one to shy away from more sad or serious topics.

This is highlighted in Welcome Home’s, chapter on Nakusp.

Eight pages into the chapter the whistle of the Minto is discussed, with several residents talking about how it sounds different now that it’s at the information centre. This transitions into the story of how the sternwheeler met its end.

The picture of the Minto burning…hangs over the fireplace at Murphy’s Landing, the bar at the Kuskanax Lodge.

“They gave her a Viking funeral,” someone is bound to say if they see you looking at the picture.

As if the words somehow added dignity to the affair.

Maybe.

But there is no disguising what people really feel.

They shouldn’t have burned her and are ashamed they let it happen.

While McLean has left a mark on Nakusp, the village it seemed also left a mark on McLean.

“I think he loved Nakusp,” Olson concluded. “I just had a feeling that he was a small-town boy, and that he liked to get into a small town and just listen to the stories.