In Memory of Ronald Mason

Gallery Owner Dead at 76
The Telegram

Ronald Mason passed away suddenly of a heart attack in Toronto Western Hospital on January 28. He was 76. He is survived by his children Robert, Lisa, Moya, Danny and their mother Mary as well as seven grandchildren.

During the Second World War, Mason delivered telegrams to various embassies in Ottawa, where his father was an attache for the United States government. According to the death notice which appeared in the Telegram on Feb. 5, over the years Mason was a baker, a traveling sales representative and a realtor in Florida. He worked on the construction of Expo '67 in Montreal and, after its completion, oversaw the art curation at the Canadian Pavilion.

He also worked on oil rigs off Newfoundland and in Africa as a baker, chef, chief steward and camp boss. He ended his work life in Toronto as a landscaper and garden designer, skills he learned when his parents retired to a fruit farm in Fruitland, Ont. This apparent jack of all trades spent many years in this province, coming to St. John's in 1968 and staying until 1991. "He came back to visit in 1995 for the last time," his daughter Moya said via email. "He was planning on moving back a couple of years ago, but he had a terrible fall and broke his neck. It was too difficult for him to make such a big move after that. He really loved Newfoundland. He would always say that it was God's Country, and that being here on a nice day was the best one could ask for."

His children describe Mason as a singular fearless brave man who surrounded them with great books, music, artwork and conversation. "I guess what I liked most about my father was that he was accepting of people," says Moya. "He treated everyone the same: rich, poor, young, old. He taught us the value of a handshake and the importance of a smile. He taught us not to judge people by their appearance. It would be a different world if everyone was like him."

According to Moya, her father came here because Peter Bell, who was then curator of the art gallery in the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre, offered him a job when they met at Expo '67 in Montreal. Mason was responsible for framing art and hanging the exhibitions. The family lived in a rented house on Mount Scio Road and Moya loved it there. She remembers people such as Gerry Squires, Stewart Montgomerie, Frank LaPointe, Don Wright, Christopher Pratt, Jacob Kennedy and Ron Pumphrey dropping in to visit. When talk show host Pumphrey had a famous psychic on his program her father paid to have all his children's fortunes told. Then Memorial University president Lord Taylor became a close family friend and was also her father's champion, getting him better pay and more of a budget to work with.

In 1973, Mason started his own art gallery. Its first location was Water Street West, at the foot of Patrick Street. He later moved to a building next to the War Memorial. Artists whose work Mason carried included David Blackwood, Scott Goudie, Reginald Shepherd, and Ben Hansen, whom Moya describes as one of her father's favourite people. The major backbones of Mason's business were a series of old Newfoundland photographs and framing.

"My father always had good English biscuits and tea and coffee for his many visitors," says Moya. "Tourists also were frequent customers, asking my father to crate and ship their purchases to locations around the world. Sometimes my father would rent out a banquet room at the Holiday Inn for an exhibition. I was the one that took the money and worked the Chargex credit card machine. I remember the night of the big Sid Butt exhibition, when every single painting sold in less than twenty minutes. He could have sold one hundred more."

Moya remembers Johnny MacKninck, an artist and draft dodger from Michigan appearing at the gallery one day. Her father began to buy some of his art and invited him to eat and shower at the family home. MacKninck left when U.S. president Jimmy Carter pardoned Vietnam War draft dodgers.

Mason appeared on CJON's televison show "Store Loft" with host John Nolan and was a guest of Shirley Newhook on CBC's Coffee Break.

Within a week of Mason's death Moya and her husband Louis had a website where anyone who wanted could write or leave a message ( Among those who emailed was Peter Bell who said although he hadn't seen Mason for many years he was not a person one forgets "He had a broad, capacious battery of virtues rarely found in one individual. In the years we worked together I never once experienced anger in him (and I'm not an easy person to work with!). He was no angel, but he would probably put most of them to shame. Undoubtedly his contribution to the art gallery made its remarkable progress possible."