The last year of Raymond Mason’s life featured two notable milestones for the 75-year-old residential school survivor.
In October, he received an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University for his work advocating for fellow survivors, including his participation in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and the Federal Indian Day Schools class action lawsuit.
Then, on February 22, he signed an agreement with the Manitoba Museum to exhibit his memoirs, which were published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in October 2020.
Mason died Sunday morning.
“He spent decades of unpaid time fighting for his fellow survivors to get justice and recognition from governments and churches,” said Kyle Mason, Raymond’s son.
“And although he never got a lot of media attention, he was always there for these various fights for justice over the last 30 years.”
WATCH | The story of a residential school survivor will live on at the Manitoba Museum:
Kyle’s father was also a huge Winnipeg Jets fan, and one of the last things they and Kyle’s eight-year-old son did together was attend a Winnipeg Jets game, with tickets provided by Executive Chairman Mark Chipman.
“He knew and I knew that would probably be the last time that would happen, but we just had fun watching the Jets all night. And they won that game. It’s not their best season, but they won this game.”
Indian Residential Schools
Raymond Mason of Peguis First Nation was an early campaigner for compensation for former residential school survivors in the 1980s.
At the age of six he was taken from Peguis to a boarding school at Birtle, north of Virden. He was then taken to facilities in Dauphin and Portage la Prairie.
He suffered beatings and sexual abuse by school staff, which he detailed as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“I remember the principal grabbed me by the hand, stripped me naked, and started beating me with a long canvas strap,” he said in a 2015 interview with CBC News.
“He was setting an example, if you do that, that’s what’s going to happen to you. And all the other boys were watching. You learn pretty quickly after you get those kind of beatings – not strapping, it’s literally beatings .”
While Raymond Mason opened up about his experiences later in life, he rarely talked about them in conversations with those closest to him.
“He’s been through a lot of heartache, a lot of trauma, a lot of really bad things at these institutions that have affected him deeply,” Kyle said.
“He spent many years of his life being a very angry man who struggled with substances and alcohol.”
After years of therapy and working on himself, Raymond Mason was able to rebuild his life, repair relationships and stand up for others who had experienced similar trauma.
“The second half of his life was very different from the first. He was able to do a lot of healing.”
Raymond and Kyle went to sign the agreement with the Manitoba Museum during his last trip to Winnipeg. They met with general manager Dorota Blumczynska, who showed them where it will be displayed.
“He had a big smile on his face, and I said, ‘Dad. It’s not very often that someone publishes a book about their life, about their work, and then it goes on display in the museum,” Kyle said.
“And he’s like, ‘It’s true. It’s true.’ And so I know that experience, as well as getting his honorary doctorate, were very special moments for him last year.”
Mason was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis late in life.
The last night he was awake before his death, Kyle and his father watched the Jets play against the Boston Bruins.
“He spent his last night and his last day surrounded by people who loved him and watched the Jets, which he really enjoyed.”
Memoirs of Raymond Mason, Basic people’s mindwill be on display at the University of Manitoba in the coming months.
CBC News has contacted the Manitoba Museum to confirm when it will be open to the public.