Joining Storytellers All Around the World

By Charlotte Bumstead

It’s the first Friday in March. Men and women ages 40-plus have gathered at Mary-Eileen McClear’s barn, just west of Waterloo, Ont. The Story Barn fills up fast. A soft glow from candlelight encompasses the room. McClear stands near the two tall stools placed centre stage, softly tapping on musical chimes, but all 40 chairs are now full, and everyone sits in attentive silence.

Tonight’s routine at Baden’s Storytelling Guild is altered due to McClear’s lack of a voice. Fortunately, the room is full of tellers whose tales will last long into the night. Tonight is a special occasion. Professional tellers Brad Woods and Kevin Morse, two members of The Great Wooden Trio—a male group who combine the mystery of storytelling with the ecstasy of music, are here in celebration of World Storytelling Day. It is a date designated with the intent of joining as many people from as many places as possible; all coming together and telling stories on the same day, at the same time.

As Woods—wearing a blue tuque and a beard—begins to speak, all eyes watch him intently. Eventually, as if entranced by his words, some people let their eyelids fall shut. Woods tells the story of a gardening grandmother who dreams of finding a secret key with a promise to “change her life forever.” When she wakes up the next day, her dream becomes a reality. She is forced to choose whether she wishes to use the key or not, as the story comes to an end, Woods pulls an old-fashioned key from his shirt pocket. Soon Morse starts strumming his guitar and breaks into song.

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The history of storytelling is quite ancient—so old, in fact, that the origin of storytelling is unconfirmed. But the purpose of storytelling has always remained clear: to share dreams, morals, and memories.

World Storytelling Day began in Sweden in the early ’90s. Over the next five years, the enthusiasm spread to other countries, and it was soon celebrated across the globe. This year, endless festivals will take place all around the world—many events of which are scheduled across Canada. Members of Baden’s Storyteller’s Guild will be joining at the Waterloo Region Museum on March 19 and 20. Proceeds will go to StorySave—a program which records the voices of elder Canadian storytellers and makes the living legacies available world-wide on CDs.

Also on March 19, Manitoba Storytelling Guild is presenting a concert at the Gas Station Theatre in Winnipeg. Toronto holds its 33rd Annual Storytelling Festival from March 25 to April 3. Venues vary across the city, with a different headliner each day and a mixture of music, stories and dance. At the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, the Gala Storytelling Extravaganza put on a storytelling concert for all ages on March 12. Events are also scheduled in Halifax, Calgary and Edmonton. (For more information, click here).

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As each storyteller’s tale comes to an end, The Story Barn erupts in supportive applause. The teller heads back to his chair and another comes. Every story is completely separate from the others; every teller is unique in his or her own way. The magical surroundings of the room are magnetic. It’s not just the words casting a mystical presence, but all of the people, too.