Bill Mason: Wilderness Artist

Colour photograph of a man paddling in a red canoe on a lake, with a rocky cliff and waterfall behind him. 

Passionate about nature and art, Bill Mason spent his whole life combining his two passions and creating beautiful, nature-inspired artworks. On today’s episode, we will discuss Bill Mason’s life and legacy with the help of three members of the Mason family: his wife, Joyce, and his two children, Becky and Paul. LAC archivist Jill Delaney will also join us to highlight Bill Mason’s amazing body of work and discuss the vast collection of items that the family donated to Library and Archives Canada in 2016.

Duration: 50:27

File size: 72.8 MB Download MP3

Publish Date: May 19, 2022

  • Transcript of Bill Mason: Wilderness Artist

    Josée Arnold (JA): Welcome to “Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.” I'm your host, Josée Arnold. Join us as we showcase treasures from our vaults; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada's documentary heritage.

    Bill Mason was a canoeing fanatic. He was also an award-winning Canadian filmmaker, naturalist, author, artist and conservationist.

    Passionate about nature and art, Bill Mason spent his whole life combining his two passions and creating beautiful, nature-inspired artworks. He also wrote two canoeing books on paddling and had a very successful film career, directing 18 documentaries for the National Film Board (NFB). Often described as a “wilderness artist,” Mason left a legacy that includes books, films, and artwork.

    On today’s episode, we will discuss Bill Mason’s life and legacy with the help of three members of the Mason family: his wife, Joyce, and his two children, Becky and Paul. LAC archivist Jill Delaney will also join us to highlight Bill Mason’s amazing body of work and discuss the vast collection of items that the family donated to Library and Archives Canada in 2016.

    Quote from CBC interview.

    (Music, sound of water…)

    Bill Mason Clip (BMC): Well, I was born with this unexplainable obsession for canoes. How can you explain this young kid, you know, like, three and four and five years old, clambering over the canoes at Grand Beach on Lake Winnipeg? Then, as I went on into school, all would do is draw pictures of canoes and, you know, they flunked me in grade one, because I would just make Plasticine models. I was just obsessed with it. Then the first thing I bought with my first job was a canoe. I made a kayak to resemble a canoe when I was 12. And, as the years went on, my parents kept thinking, well, he’ll outgrow it. And here I am, you know, the age I’m at now, and I’m more fanatical than ever about the canoe.

    So, you’d have to say that I’m a canoeist first. A lot of people ask me, “What came first? Your love of the canoe or your love of the land?” Well, it was the canoe for sure, but then, as I began to go further and further afield in the canoe, I would go on these long canoe trips. Then, I fell in love with the land.

    I like to think of a canoe as alive. Like, for instance, we’re sitting here. You notice how it’s moving—it wants to get going! And it’s the waves hitting it. And you put it into a big rapid, and it’s like a bucking horse. You put it in waves on Lake Superior, and it’s all you can do to control it! So, it is the habitat of the canoe, and I think that, as a living habitat, my concern for it has been an outgrowth of the fascination with the canoe.

    JA: That was Bill Mason from a 1988 interview he gave to CBC’s Man Alive host, Roy Bonisteel.

    Here’s Bill’s wife, Joyce Mason…

    Joyce Mason (JM): Early on, they used to, his family, used to go to Grand Beach, which is on Lake Winnipeg. Oh, we both grew up in Manitoba, by the way, Bill and I. And his Dad would rent a canoe, but you know, money was short. So, it was just for a short time. And Bill was just a little guy, and he was captivated by the canoe, and he would even sit in the tied-up canoes that were for rental—he’d just sit there and enjoy the water lapping against the canoes. And, when he was 12 years old, he built a kayak. His family lived quite close to the Red River, and his folks allowed him to camp overnight on the Red River and to canoe. And that was his very first canoe.

    JA: Born in Winnipeg in 1929, Bill Mason began his career as a painter after receiving his diploma in Fine Arts from the University of Manitoba in 1951. In the next ten years, he not only became an artist whose talents were in great demand, but he also taught himself the techniques of film animation.

    During this time, his love for canoeing and camping sparked trips into the Manitoba wilderness, where he roamed alone with his sketching pad and camera, sometimes for months at a time. Wanting to share the beauty of some of the more remote wilderness spots with his family and friends, the young wilderness traveler taught himself the art of photography. He then produced a series of 35 mm slide sound presentations, which became popular with local service clubs and organizations.

    The turn in his career from commercial artist to live-action filmmaker started in 1958 when he was an actor-canoeist in Chris Chapman's film Quetico.

    Joyce tells us more…

    JM: In ’56, Christopher Chapman saw Bill’s slideshow, and he asked him if he would like to be the canoeist in a film that Christopher was making on Quetico Park. And Bill had already seen one of Christopher’s films, and he was fascinated with his skill with the camera. So, he realized that this could be a much easier way—well, maybe not easier, but a better way, in his mind—of showing the wilderness. And that was a lifelong friendship with Christopher, a very, very fine gentleman.

    JA: Mason was so impressed by Chapman's camera artistry that he welcomed the chance to produce a 20-minute promotional film for the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship Pioneer Camp entitled Wilderness Treasure, which he directed, filmed and edited himself.

    Joyce fills us in…

    JM: His very first film was just—I was going to say “shortly after we were married”—well, we were on our honeymoon still, in Manitoba, at Pioneer Camp. He lived there in the summers and became quite a skilled canoeist and also was very involved with the canoeing program for that camp. And they were interested in having a promo made about their camp and what it offered. And so he made his first film—it was a canoe trip—and it was called Wilderness Treasure. And that was in ’59.

    JA: In 1960, Bill went on to work as an animator for a Canadian film company based in the Ottawa area called Crawley films. Soon thereafter, he went to the National Film Board of Canada as an animator, working on film clips.

    The National Film Board of Canada is Canada's public film and digital media producer and distributor and is an agency of the Government of Canada. LAC stores over 25,000 NFB films in its vaults.

    While at the NFB, Mason soon began to realize a long-standing project to make Holling C. Holling’s children’s book Paddle to the Sea into a film. This film, which is one of the most popular NFB shorts, relates the story of a young boy who carves a wooden canoe called Paddle and sends it down the Great Lakes to the Atlantic.

    Once again, here’s Joyce Mason…

    JM: Well, he read the book Paddle to the Sea, when we were first married—and he was fascinated by this book. Of course, it had a little canoe in it. It was a great geography lesson. And he kept shooting small bits. And it was over five years that he lobbied the film board, and he finally got a budget to do the film Paddle to the Sea. Anyway, Bill kept going down there and trying to show it to people and show it—and finally got a budget. And then he continued to make it. And our son was in it. And he was just a little guy.

    JA: That little guy she mentions is Joyce’s and Bill’s son, Paul. We’ll be talking to him later on.

    Paddle to the Sea ’s instant success brought a series of freelance contracts with the National Film Board, and in the next twelve years he created many popular and critically acclaimed films. One of the films, the 1974 feature length Cry of the Wild, is among Canada's most successful features to date, grossing over one million dollars in its first week in New York City when it opened in 35 theatres, and $8-million in total during its run across the United States and throughout Canada.

    Bill went on to make 18 films with the National Film Board of Canada.

    During this time filmmaking, could Bill find time for painting? How did he fit both in?

    JM: Well, he was freelance all that time. And, of course, when you freelance and when you’re working on one film and another one comes up and somebody talks to you, you don’t turn it down. So there was just not much time left for painting. There was some. And, also, he was writing some books during that time, too. So there wasn’t a lot of time for painting. But they did squeeze out a few times to just go off, and he did—every now and then, he’d have short bursts—but it takes a while to get settled to paint. I mean, you can’t just sit down and paint. Becky, can you comment on that?

    Becky Mason (BM): Yeah, Dad generally went on canoe trips, many canoe trips. And he went with friends that loved canoeing. And they didn’t have much patience for sitting around waiting hours for him to paint en plein air. So Dad stored up the memories. He was a phenomenal photographer also of stills, 35 mm, and he’d bring them back to his studio, and he’d relive all his beautiful memories of the land and the places he’d been.

    We have so many beautiful paintings of campsites that he was hanging out in, and he would do— most of his body of work was done in his studio—and his studio was just so picturesque. It was in our first house, the first house where we lived, at Meech Lake. He had it outside the back, and he’d just paint there. So he had short bursts, as my mom said, of painting. He would set everything aside, and he would paint a body of work. And then he would close that off, and he’d do his filmmaking. But the filmmaking generally did take priority, through most of his working career as a freelancer, because of the time constraints of pitching movies to the film board, and then they’d accept it, and then he’d have to make the movies, because the budget was there. And they wouldn’t wait for him to make the movies. So that was a cool part of the whole creative process.

    JA: That was Bill Mason’s and Joyce’s daughter, Becky. Becky teaches paddling skills at Meech Lake, in Chelsea, Quebec. As well as being an ambassador for all things canoeing, Becky is also a Paddle Canada instructor-trainer and a Patron of Paddle Canada.

    She is also a visual artist with exhibitions spanning the last 30+ years in public and commercial galleries.

    Quote from CBC interview

    (Voice speaking quietly in background and sound of door closing)

    Roy Bonisteel (RB): If it can ever be said of Bill Mason that he’s settled down, it would be here in this log house on the shore of Meech Lake, near Ottawa. But the wanderlust is still there. And the urge to explore and create is stronger than ever.

    (Sounds of birds, water, and background voices)

    BMC: And the nice thing is, you see, when I got into filming and using Paul as my partner, and then later on, Becky and Joyce, that was including them in my work, and so that was a real luxury, having them with me on those trips. But most of my creating is by myself.

    You know, it’s crazy, ’cause, here I am, you know, an artist, and yet I find it very difficult to sit still. I am a kind of person that can’t possibly look at a mountain without wanting to stand on the top of it. (RB laughs) And, you know, I’ll set up camp, and I’ll say, “Well, I’m going to paint here for a few days.” But the river’s got a corner, and around the corner, I can see a cliff face, and I say, “What’s around that corner?”

    RB: Now you sort of have to be really part of the action, don’t you?

    BMC: Yeah, I can’t explain it.

    RB: Or create the action, maybe.

    BMC: I can’t explain it. I guess it’s, well, I think I’m both. You know, I curse it sometimes, and…

    RB: Why?

    BMC: Because I love to create so much, that I’m happiest when I am creating something. But I’m constantly fighting that urge to move on. And I wish that I could conquer that urge to move on, and I can’t help it. And you know, my friend will phone me up, and say, “Hey, we’re going up to the Ottawa to run some big rapids,” and I say, “Well, I was going to go painting today. Well, okay, I can go painting tomorrow,” and I’ll go. So I would say that it cuts into my output.

    Film was different, because when you accept the commission to make a film, you’re accepting a big responsibility. It’s enormous amount of money involved, and it’s somebody else’s money, and you have responsibility.

    And it has something to do with why I’ve left film. Because I reached the point, I said, “Do I really want to keep living this intensively through the film medium?” And I decided, no. I’ve done what I want to do. Painting, it’s just me, and I can grab my paints anytime I want and head out.

    JA: What sort of technique did Bill employ for his painting?

    Becky shares some details with us…

    BM: My dad loved the idea of oil painting, and he started out with a very thick impasto paint on canvas, traditional. That’s where he came from, that’s where his roots were, the Manitoba School of Art.

    And then he branched out into a very interesting technique that was rarely thought of: applying a thin coating of oil paint on very smooth paper. So, he’d premix the paint on a palette, very thickly. And then he would scoop up one swathe of very thick oil paint on his palette knife, all in different layers. And then he’d wipe it (laughs)—actually, he would smear it over his white, beautiful paper, that was very smooth in tooth, and he would create an incredible painting.

    And we were amazed. And a lot of people are quite amazed and quite puzzled how he created his paintings. So what I did was I put this explanation, because he actually took me aside and said, “I’d like to have somebody know how I did this technique.” So I wrote an explanation on my site under the Bill Mason heading, and I explained the whole technique of how he created these beautiful gems of paintings. And his frustration as an artist. He always wanted to do better. And we’re going “These paintings are beautiful, Dad,” but he said, “No, I want to get them larger.”

    But his most successful works were—in his opinion and many others’—were about three inches by four inches. And they’re just beauties, because you can see the work, and it’s so immediate. Because he really did layer all that paint on one little palette brush or palette knife, and he applied it to the paper in one swipe. And you can imagine how many “off” paintings he had, because he experimented a lot and he was a perfectionist in anything he did. He was a perfectionist in the craft of filmmaking. He was a perfectionist as an artist. So we have beautiful paintings of the land he travelled in, and they’re just gems.

    JA: Did your dad ever exhibit his paintings?

    BM: Dad’s career was an interesting one in the painting sense. He didn’t have very many shows. He had a show in Enoch Turner Schoolhouse. My mom can correct the pronunciation of that.

    JM: Yeah, that’s. Yup.

    BM: Dad really wanted a show of his smaller works. So he secured an exhibition with the Ottawa City Hall. And just before the show happened, he was diagnosed as having cancer, and it was terminal. And he didn’t have much time to live.

    So he decided to cancel that show, and he wanted to focus on painting. And, also, he took his last trip down the Nahanni, a river that is in the Northwest Territories, and he went with family and friends, and he decided to spend his time with us.

    And it was a bittersweet decision, because he’d never had a show. And we were going to have it together. I’m an artist also, a watercolour painter and acrylic painter, and Dad and I were going to have this co-show, but, unfortunately, he became ill, and he had to bow out. So it broke our hearts that he didn’t have that opportunity, but Dad was always amazing, and he actually made it an amazing time. He spent time with us, and he talked about his art, and he created an incredible body of work with the time he had left.


    JA: To talk about what sort of material we have here at LAC pertaining to Bill Mason, here’s LAC archivist Jill Delaney.

    Jill Delaney (JD): We actually have a pretty comprehensive collection of documents related to Bill Mason’s career and his life. We have most of his films, through the NFB. We have most of those films—we’re missing a couple. And we have several interviews with Mason and documentaries about him and his work in other collections, like the CBC.

    But a lot of what we have came in more recently, through the family, and especially through Joyce Mason. So those documents really supplement the films that we have, because there are a lot of documents related to his actual filmmaking and his work as an artist. So, we actually have another—we have about six series in the Bill Mason fond. And there’s a small audiovisual series in that. So, that includes some outtakes and a few documentary shorts and some other footage that was taken by Mason. And it also includes one of his earliest films, which is called Wilderness Treasure, that he made for the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship organization. So that’s one of his first, kind of, wilderness films that he made. And we also have a video cassette of his very first film, which was an animated film that he made in the 1950s, called Tabernacle. And it’s all, it was all done through sets that were hand-built by Bill Mason in a spare room at his parents’ house. So we have… it’s only a VHS cassette, but we do have a version of that very early film.

    And the other material that we have became his kind of supporting his career as a filmmaker. There’s more than 4,000 photographs, and those are largely colour slides. And they were taken either by Mason or by a member of his film crew or maybe somebody in his family, for almost all of his films. So they are either scouting or location shots or film stills that were made to document the actual making of the films.

    JA: Does LAC hold any of his artworks? Any painting or sketches?

    JD: The other work that we have is about 750 sketches, drawings, and paintings made by Bill Mason. So this is maybe a bit less well known, but Mason was a very talented artist. In fact, he started out as an artist. And he was very prolific throughout his life as an artist. So we have some early artwork made by Bill when he was still at art school, back in Winnipeg. We have some early commercial artwork that he did when he worked as a commercial artist, also in Winnipeg. We have the artwork that he made for the film Tabernacle. We have some sketchbooks that he used when he would go out canoeing into the wilderness. He would take sketchbooks with him. And we have some cartoons that are quite fun, that he created for family members or friends. So we have all of that.

    One of the most exciting things that we have now, I think, are the 33 storyboards that he created for various films that he worked on, includingBlake and The Song of the Bowhead Whale [ In Search of the Bowhead Whale], as well as for his instructional canoeing films that were all done under the series Path of the Paddle. And also for a few unrealized films. So there’s over 2,100 individual sketches in the storyboard. So those are really exciting, because we can kind of—using those storyboards, we can reconstruct how he was thinking about the film at the beginning and see how he organized it visually. So those are super-exciting to have.

    And we also have some textual records. We don’t have a lot, because Mason himself was a very visual thinker. But we do have a few film scripts, a few book drafts, and a few research notes that Mason made mostly when he was starting to do the films on wolves in the 1970s. So there’s some research notes around wolves. There’s also a bit of correspondence regarding the making of his films. And the most interesting part for me in some ways of those textual records are the fan mail. So, there’s quite a few letters and artwork, mostly related to—they’re mostly letters from children who would send him, as part of a class project, I guess, who would send him a letter or a drawing after watching one of his films, for example, Paddle to the Sea. So those are a lot of fun to read as well. And, then, I think the last thing we have is we have the nomination certificate for his 1968 Academy Award nomination for Paddle to the Sea. So that’s a kind of a brief summary of what we’ve got now.

    JA: Jill, tell us more about his Academy Award nomination. What does this look like?

    JD: It’s actually a plaque. It’s just a plaque with the letter, the official letter, from the Academy Award mounted onto it, so… But he actually received two Academy Award nominations. He received that one for Paddle to the Sea, and then the second one he received was for his film Blake, which is a film that he shot about his colleague and close friend who also worked for the National Film Board and who was a pilot, and... So it’s this hilarious little film if you have a chance to watch it, of Blake kind of taking off on these little adventures across Canada in this very small plane. So, he actually received an Academy nomination for that as a short film.

    JA: Many of Bill’s 19 films received nominations for nearly 70 different international awards and were recognized with five Canadian Film Awards, four Golden Sheaf Awards, three British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards (BAFTA) and, like Jill mentioned, two Academy Award nominations.

    Almost all of Bill Mason’s films are available free for viewing on the National Film Board website. Just go to and search for “Bill Mason.”

    Did Bill Mason have a relationship with Library and Archives Canada? How did LAC come to acquire this collection?

    JD: Not that I know of. As far as I know, everything came through Joyce, basically. So, Joyce Mason gave us a few of his films on and off over the years. But, really, how we ended up getting the bulk of this collection that didn’t come in through the NFB, was through Ken Buck, who was a very good friend of Bill Mason’s and his cinematographer for many years. Ken actually ended up contacting me on behalf of the family in about maybe 2008, I want to say, 2006 or 2008. They were concerned about the thousands of photographs that they still had at the house, and so that was kind of the initial reason for contacting the archives.

    And, from there, I started asking the family about other documents that they might have. And so the collection kind of grew from there to include some of the bits of audiovisual and the textual records and the artwork. And as well, I think, because of those conversations, they also ended up contacting the Museum of Science and Tech and giving them about 150 different items of Bill Mason’s camera equipment and film equipment. And they also donated different artifacts to the Canadian Museum of History. So some costumes and some props from some of the films went there. So…

    JA: Apart from the items at LAC, and the items Jill mentioned that are at the Science and Tech and History museums in Ottawa, the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario, has Bill Mason’s 16-foot red Prospector canoe on display. It arrived at the Mason home on Meech Lake, north of Ottawa, from the builder in Fredericton, New Brunswick, in the spring of 1973. From that moment, the canoe was used in all of Bill Mason’s projects, including his instructional films on canoeing, his books, and his documentaries Path of the Paddle and Song of the Paddle, and his last epic film, Waterwalker. It was also frequently used on Bill’s month-long solo trips on the north shore of Lake Superior, on family trips in Algonquin Park, and on trips down the Pukaskwa River, north of Lake Superior. It was donated by the family to the Canadian Canoe Museum in 1999.

    Once again, Jill Delaney…

    JD: It was, I have to say, the whole process was such a—okay, this is an overused term, sometimes— but it was a real privilege to go to Joyce Mason’s house when she was still living up on Meech Lake, because it was full of things related to Bill Mason and his career. And, the first couple of times I went up there, actually, they still had many, many of his canoes outside the house, including I think, the Prospector. So that was pretty exciting.

    And, then, in the upstairs of the houses, where Mason had his studio, and it was just full of all sorts of wonderful things, including one of the little carvings that he used for Paddle in Paddle to the Sea. And I loved that film when I was a kid. And, so, that was one of those moments that was really great. Joyce was really open and interested in discussing how things could work, and Becky was involved as well, Paul not as much. But I ended up talking with Becky several times about what we might be interested in and that’s kind of how it grew from being just a donation of the photographs to a donation of a lot of different material that I think will really be of interest to researchers over the years. So…

    Quote from CBC interview

    RB: You’ve been in both mediums, Bill. How do you feel about film versus painting?

    BMC: I think, in film, I sensed a way of reaching a very large audience with my passion for canoeing and the land. And what we were talking about before, the concern for the land. So, I think that it’s the—I have a message that I want to get out. With painting, what do you do? You make a painting. The most satisfying thing in life is to make a painting. It’s so simple; it’s so direct. There are no technicians; there’s no director, no lab work or anything. And I just do it and stick a frame around it; and that’s it. So, it’s the sheer simplicity of it. It’s just when I’m satisfied with the painting [that] the painting’s done. But, when you sell a painting, it’s gone, and maybe one individual’s enjoying it. If you’re lucky enough to get it into a national gallery or something like that, then it can be seen for… by a very wide audience.

    And I think that having had a filming career, I am now doubly happy to go back to painting, because I got it off my chest. With the completion of Waterwalker, I thought, well, that’s not dealing with individual pollution problems; it’s what’s wrong with us as human beings. And that’s my message. Now I go back, and I’ll like to spend the rest of my life showing the viewer just how spectacularly beautiful and exciting the natural world is.

    RB: And this is where you get your sense of accomplishment now.

    BMC: Yeah. That’s right. And, you know, I often say to people, “Heck, I’m not leaving something that I didn’t like.” I loved making film. But I was going from something I loved to do to something that I longed to return to. And to experiment with these textures and try to capture that feeling of the land in paint rather than in film.

    (Canoe sounds…..)

    JA: What was Bill’s relationship with nature and the outdoors? Did he have concerns for the environment as a whole?

    Once again, here’s Joyce Mason…

    JM: Oh yes, oh yes. I think that was his whole reason for showing his slides, for getting into film… Because, at the very beginning, well, he always had a great compassion for creation. He had a great—a very strong faith and believed that we had a responsibility to care for the environment and that we should be aware of its place in our life and that we have a responsibility, and he always—he was very, very keen on that. Always. That was his main focus. And that was his reason for sharing all these beautiful places and things.

    And he wrote a final letter in August, because there was a great number of people that wrote to him, sharing the influence of his films and contacting him. And so he wrote a letter that he felt badly, because he was very, very good about replying to people with all their different questions. But, anyway, at the bottom of this letter, and I’m just going to quote it, and it’s in Fire in the Bones, the last page—I mean page 269—he says, “My obsession has been to share the wonder and infinite beauty of the world God has created and to help people develop appreciation and concern for it.” And his passion for nature was fueled by love for the land.

    JA: Bill’s often been called a “wilderness artist.” We asked Joyce if she could define that term for us…

    JM: Well, he—all his paintings, all his sketches, except for his cartoons—even those, incorporated the wilderness. He was more comfortable in the wilderness. Of course, during his training, he did portraits and models, but he painted and sketched—he was more at home in the wilderness. Perhaps Becky could mention that too ’cause she went on some painting trips with him.

    BM: I consider my dad a wilderness artist, because his love of the wilderness was key to his being, actually. It started very early, and it just continued into his life. He just wanted to capture the beauty of the land. And we went on a few sketching trips. One of them was down the Petawawa River. And I just remember sketching with Dad, and watching the water roll down the river and being by gorgeous black, blue, and just beautiful sunsets, and we captured it all. And I think his whole being was he wanted to capture the beauty of the land in his art.

    JA: The Bill Mason Centre was created by the Ottawa-Carleton School Board in 1989. It is a 72-acre outdoor classroom providing an opportunity for students to explore, experience, appreciate and learn about natural science in a beautiful natural outdoor setting. Students of all grades participate and explore the onsite ecological systems found in the outdoor classroom.

    As well, there is the Bill Mason Scholarship Fund, which is an annual scholarship of $1,000 to assist with the college or university education of tomorrow’s environmental stewards. The fund is managed by Paddle Canada.

    Quote from CBC interview

    (Canoe sounds…..)

    RB: Now that you’ve done it all, Bill, I mean to say, indulged yourself by doing the things you enjoy, I get the feeling that the bottom line with you is your strong feeling about the land.

    BMC: Yeah, I think that that is where. Yeah. I would have to say that I’m on the verge of fanaticism, I feel so strongly about it. And now that I’ve left film, I’m not making films anymore, I do use the films and excerpts from them in talking to people. And, you know, there’s a power in that too, because the film is done and it goes, and it’s seen widely, but when you go as an individual, you can say anything you want. And you can feel your audience; you can feel them reacting. And, hopefully, you can bring them along to really get to care about it. And, then, the next thing I do, very hard, is I push environmental organizations because I honestly believe there is no hope without them.


    JA: Cartoonist, canoeist and little kid in the bow of the canoe in the four “Path of the Paddle” films and book, Paul Mason continued on to a career as a canoe instructor and wilderness guide, and competed in the open canoe Whitewater Freestyle championships, winning a bronze medal in 1993. Paul is also the co-author of the book Thrill of the Paddle: The Art of Whitewater Canoeing, published in 1999.

    We asked him if he thought his dad’s message to the public still resonated today…

    Paul Mason (PM): So, it’s interesting that, in 2021, people are still referencing works that Dad did, whether that was Waterwalker, the film, or the Path of the Paddle book or the Song of the Paddle book. I still get occasional notes from people or comments that they’ve had the copy of the book and they took it on the river, and that’s what taught them, you know, the skills to get down and… you know, that was a while ago. So it’s interesting that that resource has—in terms of the book—that resource has really remained timeless.

    And Waterwalker is still affecting people the way I imagine that Dad had hoped it would in, you know, opening their eyes and kind of changing—really changing—their values, you know. As in, I talked with somebody and they’d watched the film and then they’d, you know, taken a different path in their life than they were going to.

    You know, I’ve come across people that have said that they’ve changed their kind of viewpoint on the wilderness, and sometimes that resulted in changing the fields that they were planning on working in, you know—sometimes dramatically and sometimes subtly. As in “dramatically,” I mean like changing the occupation that they were pursuing, sometimes more subtly in changing their perception of the wilderness. But it is just surprising that, you know, a fair bit of time’s passed and that’s still the case.

    JA: Besides your dad’s Chestnut Prospector canoe at the Canoe museum in Peterborough, where are all the other ones located?

    Here Paul and Becky Mason.

    PM: Well, Becky could address exactly where they are because a lot of them are right outside her back door. And I have one sitting in the rafters of the back porch. So, some of them are spread around a little bit, but we do have some of them stored, and I guess Becky could address which ones are in which museum. Becky?

    BM: Yeah, my dad had this addiction of canoe collection. I think everyone of our family, except my mom, maybe, has this addiction also. So, with that in mind, the canoes were a very important part of my dad’s career. He filmed them. He loved them. He pictured them in action. So our first donation was to the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough. That was his Chestnut Prospector. And they have it proudly on display in this gorgeous setting. And the whole public, anybody in the world, can go visit his canoe, which is pretty special. And it has all the dings in it, running those rapids. And they have Waterwalker playing behind it. So it really feels like you’re there.

    Another donation was to the Museum of History, the Chestnut Pal. And that was a really special canoe for my dad. It went on a lot of his solo trips. He loved that canoe. He loved all his canoes. And all of them were red, except maybe for two, maybe. Or maybe more. But he loved the colour red because it shimmered on 16 mm film. There’s nothing like the film recording the colour red out in the wilderness, it seems. So, yeah, we have a lot of red canoes, and I have them stored right now. I built a new canoe shed to house Dad’s canoes. We’re going to be donating them to various museums, but we are proceeding slowly at that so that they’re all very happy. We take them out for a spin every once in a while ’cause canoes do get quite lonely if they don’t get into the water.

    The enthusiasm continues on. We have two grandchildren, and one is just obsessed about canoeing, and she takes her grandpa’s canoes out on Meech Lake and various locales. So it’s quite a beautiful circle.

    JA: Becky, any final thoughts?

    BM: We’re going to be donating some more things to the National Archives. One of those things is going to be key to the collection because it’s an incredible cross-reference: it is all my mom’s diaries. And the reason the archives actually initially decided to collect us is because we actually kept everything cohesively. We didn’t throw anything out. So it’s actually a time capsule of a time in the 1970s, 1980s, and earlier, of somebody’s life that was an artist, a filmmaker. And it’s just fascinating for the public to—yes, it was important that Dad works were collected, but it’s also an amazing opportunity to look in and see how somebody created films in the 1970s.

    JA: If you'd like to learn more about Bill Mason’s collection here at Library and Archives Canada, please visit us online at On the episode page for this podcast, you will find a number of links related to the Bill and his family.

    Thank you for being with us. I'm Josée Arnold, your host. You've been listening to “Discover Library and Archives Canada—where Canadian history, literature and culture await you.” A special thank-you to our guests today, Joyce, Becky and Paul Mason, as well as LAC Archivist Jill Delaney. Special thanks also to Isabel Larocque for her contributions to this episode.

    This episode was produced and engineered by David Knox.

    If you liked this episode, you are invited to subscribe to the podcast. You can do it through the RSS feed located on our website, Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you get your podcasts.

    If you're interested in listening to the French equivalent of our podcast, you can find French versions of all our episodes on our website, Apple Podcasts and Google Play. Simply search for “Découvrez Bibliothèque et Archives Canada.”

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    RB: You live so close to Ottawa, here. Do you consider yourself a political person at all?

    BMC: Like, well, I tell you Roy, I’m going to make a confession. I would not be here if you didn’t ask me to be here. I mean what are all these people doing here, like, why aren’t they out in their canoes? I mean I can’t believe it, you know, their 21-gun salute, I mean, what a waste of time!

    RB: Well, you know…

    BMC: All those waters! You know, look at back here, all that water going under the bridge over there?

    RB: Yeah…

    BMC: We’d be out playing on that, or I’d be up north of here on the Dumoine or something.

    RB: Well, listen, no, no, this—they’re here celebrating a very patriotic event, and this is the Parliament buildings. They come here to be patriotic. And they look at the flag, you know.

    BMC: Well, first of all, there’s the first mistake you’ve got right there, you’ve got a maple leaf on it. (RB laughs) I told them, you know, there should be a canoe on it! I mean the canoe is right across the whole country.

    RB: Yeah…

    BMC: Maple, they haven’t got any maple, red maples out west!

    RB: That’s right. That’s right.

    BMC: I mean it’s—but they wouldn’t listen. (RB laughs) They wouldn’t listen.

Host: Josée Arnold, Manager, Corporate Communications and Linguistic Services, Communications Branch

Guest: Joyce Mason

Guest: Becky Mason

Guest: Paul Mason

Guest: Jill Delaney, Lead Archivist, Photography, Specialized Media, Archives Branch


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