By Greer Kaiser
Stuart MCLean was a storyteller and I felt compelled to share mine.
I’ve shared it many times by retelling it, but here it is in written form. It involves Stuart, Peter Gzowski’s last Morningside show and Tim Horton’s Roll Up the Rim to Win.
I moved across the country from Nova Scotia to British Columbia in 1989 to begin my career.
I teach in northwestern British Columbia and like many people across the country, CBC has long been a kindred and valued “friend.”
I really got to know CBC intimately when I first drove across this vast country in the July of 1990 to return, with my cat, to visit my home province.
I would drive the 6,500 km from Kitwanga, B.C. to Hubbards, N.S. and then six weeks later turn around and do it all over again in reverse direction. I made this trek four summers in a row.
As a Canadian Studies major, I truly got to know my country more by making that trip while listening to CBC than I did in my six years of university.
It was during these summer sojourns that I came to appreciate and know both Peter Gzowski and Stuart Mclean.
I became a fan of both and even when I dropped down into the States, I felt safer if my VW Fox’s radio picked up a CBC station.
Gzowski spoke of the landscapes I traversed. Stuart regaled stories about everyday folks, much like myself and those I knew.
When it was announced Peter was retiring and Morningside was coming to a close, it was long before podcasts and internet streaming.
I desperately wanted to be able to listen to the show in its entirety and scrambled to figure out how I could make it happen.
I was teaching junior high school by that time and my students were not interested in listening, plus I wanted to savor the show uninterrupted in a respectful solitude.
Back then, our school district had funds that would release teachers for a half day to write up our Individual Education Plans on our students who required adaptations and modifications to their programs.
I decided to use my half day the morning of the last show and sit in the back of our school library writing up my IEPs while listening to the program.
It was a win-win situation.
It was also during the early years of Tim Horton’s Roll Up the Rim contest.
Because I did not have to report for teaching that morning, my routine was a bit slower paced.
I left for work a few minutes later than usual so when I drove through Tim Horton’s that day, I got my coffee a few minutes later than the normal time.
Once at school, I got my paperwork ready and headed to the back of the library, where the day before, I had set up a radio set to our CBC station.
I set to work listening to the show and writing my reports.
Stuart brought the famous hissing cockroach to Gzowski and I as giggled along with them as the story unfolded, I finished my coffee and rolled up the rim.
Fully expecting the “Please Play Again” message, I was shocked to see a winning message.
And it was not a pack of Timbits or another coffee. It read: “You won a BBQ.”
Stuart and Peter laughed while I stopped breathing for a couple of seconds! “I won! I WON!!”
I sat down and listened to the rest of the show, feeling very lucky.
I had had the pleasure of hearing the last Morningside and I had won an actual prize of value.
I silently thanked Peter Gzowski knowing that if I had not booked the morning off, my day would have started at the regular time and my new barbecue would have gone to someone else.
My winning was destined to be! (I always meant to write and tell Gzowski or Stuart the story …)
But being an ordinary Canadian with a good yarn, much akin to Dave or Morley, my story doesn’t stop there.
At the end of the day, I excitedly took my winning cup to the Tim Horton’s where I won, naively thinking they would simply hand over my barbecue.
Instead I was informed that I should take a form they supplied, fill it out, cut off the winning portion of the cup and send it, via registered mail to the Tim Horton’s prize office in Ontario.
They informed me it would take four to six weeks before I heard from them.
True to their word, weeks later I got a call from Tim’s prize office informing me that the next day I would get a call where I would be quizzed on a skill testing question so I could “win” my prize.
As many people aren’t aware, Canada has some weird rules about winning prizes that require us to answer a skill testing question before we can be given something for free.
I was informed what time they would call and be ready.
I requested they phone outside of instructional hours and because of the three-hour time difference we settled on a time that would work for everyone involved.
The next day I sat in an office down the hall from my class that had a phone and waited for my call.
Being the stereotypical and quintessential Canuck, I did not sit with a calculator, but rather a clean sheet of paper and two sharpened pencils.
I need to add that math has never been a strong point, but I felt I could easily master a basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division sort of problem.
At the arranged time, the phone rang. I picked it up and so we began …
A woman’s voice launched into the instructions to me …
“I will read you an equation and ask you to repeat it and whether you understand what needs to be done. Once you say yes, your time will begin. You will have 90 seconds to respond with the correct answer. Do you understand the process? Because this is a legality, this call will be recorded so you will hear beeps as your 90 seconds passes. Are you ready?”
My quiz master read the question. It was a basic order of operations problem.
Add two numbers. Multiply that number by another.
Take the answer and subtract another. Take that answer and divide it by yet another and voila! The answer.
It seemed simple enough. I did have mastery of these basic skills.
I flashed back to learning these skills in Grade 3. Always double check your answer by doing it twice. I set out to do the math.
I did the question, got my solution and double checked by doing it again quickly.
I arrived at the same answer so I quickly submitted my answer:
“You still have more time” came a seemingly bored reply to my zeal.
“Oh. My. GAWD!!” I thought to myself. “I got the answer wrong.”
I had to do it again. Where was my mistake? How much time remaining did I have??
I had stopped wearing a watch a few years before and I was starting to sweat. Did I have 10 seconds? More? Less?
Frantically I redid the math, this time doing it in the reverse order to see if I could find my error.
And I did. I had borrowed incorrectly. The answer was a difference of 10.
“37”. I yelled into the phone. “The answer is 37!!”
“Thank you,” came the continued non-plussed and quite possibly truly bored reply.
“Your barbecue will be delivered to your store in six to eight weeks.”
The next day I did a guest stint in the Grade 8 math class next door.
“And that,” I shared with the 12 year olds, “is precisely WHY basic math skills are IMPORTANT.”
The kids looked at me like I was somehow deranged.
“Why didn’t you just use a calculator? How would they have known?”
“I would know,” I replied, “and to me that would have felt like cheating.”
“Whatever, Ms. Kaiser.”
At the end of October, my barbecue arrived, almost six months after the day I won it. In a box. Unassembled.
I opened it up, well after barbecue season had ended for the year and set to putting it together one Saturday afternoon inside my living room. It took six CDs worth of music to get that grilling machine together.
There were a lot of parts and it was really hard with only one set of hands of a woman who had never taken a shop class, let alone assemble any other mechanical working contraptions. But I did it and it worked.
I used that barbecue up until two years ago and when I finally upgraded and gave it to a friend, I carefully removed the Tim Horton’s wooden plate on the utensil shelf.
I keep that plaque in my box of barbecue tools.
I kept it as a source of pride both for winning it and then for being the one who put those myriad of pieces together after just about failing the skill testing question.
Now I will keep it as a remembrance to two well-loved, and now gone, Canadian icons.
Thank you Peter.
And now thank you, Stuart. I like to think that the two of you might be together again broadcasting your new show, Heavenside, entertaining all the masses of folks who join you there.
To take from Stuart’s last message to us, I offer this wish, “and know that this isn’t goodbye. It’s just … so long for now.”
So long, sir, I will miss you but will cherish your stories and the laughter you have left behind.
Greer Kaiser is a teacher in Terrace, B.C.