Mary Mortimer – CJLY radio host (Tale Spinners) passed away in Nelson on Sept. 12, 2022, at home in her beautiful garden, surrounded and embraced by her 4 children.

Legends, fables, myths and yarns – stories of all kinds – this was the stuff that Mary Mortimer, storyteller extraordinaire absolutely loved.

Nelson radio listeners came to know Mary as she co-hosted Kootenay Co-Op Radio’s Tale Spinners show for many years with her good friend Wendy Nelson.

(Listen to an archive of their shows here)

Mary’s storytelling prowess was honed over a lifetime – starting around campfires at her beloved summer camps in Ontario’s Lake country, charming her children and their friends over many years and then in a 32-year career as a volunteer guide at Toronto’s world-famous ‘open concept’ zoo. Mary was a passionate naturalist and her time at the zoo provided many opportunities to deliver short lectures and interpretive stories for the many zoo visitors (and doubtless the resident animals that surely came to love Mary’s familiar voice and manner during her regular tour visits). Mary was a lifelong learner and she jumped at the chance to enroll in a string of mentored storyteller training sessions – Toronto’s first – this was in the years before the craft of storytelling entered the arts and culture mainstream with its own festivals and other events. Mary fortuitously found herself mentored by the legendary storytelling master – Alice Kane, children’s librarian and founder of the Storyteller’s School of Toronto. This was a great opportunity for Mary and working with Alice – a revered and internationally known storyteller – helped Mary move to the next level in the storytelling art form.

In the late ’90s, Mary’s family of Kootenay grandchildren was expanding and Mary started sending packages of story books to her beloved grandkids – One of these books was the first Harry Potter release – what a treat as the book wasn’t even available in the Kootenays at that time. Following the storybook packages west, Mary joined her children and grandchildren in the Kootenay’s in 2006 and continued – in person now – entertaining, educating and encouraging her family with myriad stories, poems and songful ditties. Mary joined the Nelson Storytelling Guild, making many friends there and hosting regular guild storytelling events at her home on Kokanee Ave. Mary would appear pre-Christmas as Granny Moon dressed up and entertaining the many children gathered around her storytelling rocker at Kootenai Moon Furniture’s Hall Street storefront.

Mary also regularly travelled to Rossland / Trail for Nadine Tremblay’s White Buffalo Storytelling evenings and even travelled to Newfoundland to deliver stories there at the request of the St. John’s Storytelling Club.

Mary was always up for something new and became interested in communicating with hearing-challenged listeners becoming semi-proficient in American Sign – as well as taking up the ukulele and working with its musical storytelling power – both signing and strumming were just additional mediums for the ever-adventurous Mary to stand and deliver her stories.

Mary had a wide range of stories in her repertoire, stemming from her innate curiosity and love of travel which led her to many interesting places and of course the stories they held.

Whether journeying on horse packing trips in the Rockies, standing in as captain for a day on the Canadian Navy’s HMCS Haida, attending Edinburgh’s Tattoo Festival (not skin ink but rather the military parade drill with bagpipes and kilts), visiting friends on Vancouver Island, taking in the 60th anniversary of D-Day at Normandy, arriving in Vienna for a string of classical concerts and visits to famous composer’s childhood homes, canoeing the Klondike River goldfields (reciting her beloved Robert Service tales en route to Dawson City), spending a few days in Paris (the seat of all things romantic) or travelling to Kenya’s Serengeti National Park and viewing the zoo animals she loved so much in their natural habitat – Mary used her travel experience to build her storytelling inventory. There was plenty of time between adventures to reflect on and build stories, fantasize themes or commit legends and mythical renderings to her bottomless storytelling memory and this Mary did with consummate skill. When you live to be 89 – there’s lots of time and Mary used it well.

Mary’s left us now and her stories form the basis of the many fond memories her family and friends now hold. The Tale Spinner archive maintained on the Kootenay Co-Op Radio website is a wonderful resource – how marvellous that all who loved Mary can now listen online to a large selection of Mary’s (and Wendy’s) timeless tales. Mary’s family would like to extend their heartfelt thanks to the team at Kootenay Co-op Radio for welcoming Mary and making her smile and laugh during her time at CJLY and of course to Wendy Nelson – Tale Spinners co-host and good friend for the many great years and memories.

Mary’s last words were ‘thank you all – thank you world’ – a heartfelt and grateful goodbye from Mary – we’ll miss her but may we carry her spirit forward by crafting and sharing our own collection of tales and stories within our own community of friends and families.

– Don Mortimer