Manitoba

Story of late residential school survivor will live on at Manitoba Museum

Residential school survivor and advocate Raymond Mason died on Sunday at the age of 75. In the last year of his life, he received an honourary doctorate from Queen's University and signed an agreement with the Manitoba Museum to put his memoir on display.

Raymond Mason died on Sunday at age of 75

Raymond Mason, who passed away on Sunday, was an advocate for survivors of Canada's residential school system. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

The last year of Raymond Mason's life included two remarkable milestones for the 75-year-old residential school survivor. 

In October, he received an honourary doctorate from Queen's University for his work advocating for other survivors, including his involvement in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and the Federal Indian Day School class action.

Then on Feb. 22, he signed an agreement with the Manitoba Museum to display his memoir, which was published by McGill-Queen's University Press in October 2020. 

Mason passed away Sunday morning.

"He spent decades of unpaid time fighting for his fellow survivors to find justice and find recognition from governments and churches," said Kyle Mason, Raymond's son.

"And though he never got a lot of media attention, he was always present for these different fights for justice the last 30 years."

WATCH | Story of late residential school survivor will live on at Manitoba Museum:

Story of late residential school survivor will live on at Manitoba Museum

2 months ago
Duration 2:32
Raymond Mason, who passed away on Sunday, was an advocate for survivors of Canada's residential school system. morning. "He spent decades of unpaid time fighting for his fellow survivors to find justice and find recognition from governments and churches," said Kyle Mason, Raymond's son.

Kyle's father was also a big fan of the Winnipeg Jets, and one of the last things they did together, along with Kyle's eight-year-old son, was attend a Winnipeg Jets game, with tickets provided by executive chairman Mark Chipman.

"He knew and I knew it was probably going to be the last time this would ever happen, but we just we spent the evening just having a lot of fun watching the Jets. And they happened to win that game. It's not their greatest season, but they won that game."

Mason received an honourary doctorate from Queen's University in October. (Submitted by Kyle Mason)

Residential schools

Raymond Mason, from Peguis First Nation, was one of the first people to campaign for compensation for former residential school survivors back in the 1980s.

At the age of six, he was taken from Peguis to a residential school in Birtle, north of Virden. He was later taken to facilities in Dauphin and Portage la Prairie. 

He experienced beatings and sexual abuse at the hands of the staff at the schools, which he detailed as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"I can remember the principal grabbing a hold of me by the hand and he stripped me and he started whacking me with a long-webbed strap," he said in an interview with CBC News in 2015.

"He was setting an example, if you do this, this is 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 strappings, it's literally beatings."

While Raymond Mason would open up about his experiences later in life, he rarely spoke about it in conversations with his loved ones.

"He experienced a lot of heartache, a lot of trauma, a lot of really evil things at these institutions that deeply affected him," Kyle said.

"He spent many years of his life being a very angry man that struggled with substances and alcohol."

After years of therapy and working on himself, Raymond Mason was able to rebuild his life, repairing relationships, and advocating for others who had gone through similar trauma.

"The second half of his life was very different than the first half. He was able to do a lot of healing."

Memoir on display

Raymond and Kyle went to sign the agreement with the Manitoba Museum during his last trip to Winnipeg. They met with chief executive officer Dorota Blumczynska, who showed them the spot where it will be displayed.

"He had a big smile on his face, and I said, "Dad. It's not very often that somebody gets a book published of their life, of their life work and then it gets displayed in the museum,'" Kyle said.

"And he's like, 'That's right. That's true.' And so I know that experience, along with getting his honorary doctorate, were very special moments for him this past year." 

One of the last things Raymond Mason did with his son Kyle Mason, along with Kyle's son Elijah, was attend a Winnipeg Jets game. (Submitted by Kyle Mason)

Mason was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis late in his life.

The last night that he was awake before he passed away, Kyle and his father watched the Jets play against the Boston Bruins. 

"He got to spend his last night and day surrounded by people who loved him and watching the Jets, which is something he loved a lot."

Raymond Mason's memoir, Spirit of the Grassroots People, will be on display at the University of Manitoba in the coming months. 

CBC News has reached out to the Manitoba Museum to confirm when it will be open to the public.

Manitoba Museum chief executive officer Dorota Blumczynska showed Raymond Mason where his memoir will be displayed. (Submitted by Kyle Mason)

With files from Cameron MacLean and Meaghan Ketcheson

now