When Becky Mason paddles, she’s rarely on an even keel. She kneels against the side of her canvas canoe so it heels over so far the smallest ripples threaten to slip over her gunwale.
That’s why she paddles early in the morning, when the biggest obstacle is the mist that obscures her view of the Gatineau Hills north of Ottawa. She’s no stranger to whitewater, mind you. Now 42 years old, she guided for Black Feather for seven years in the 1980s on rivers like the South Nahanni in the Northwest Territories and the Petawawa in Ontario, but she prefers calm water where she can concentrate on just one thing.
Becky Mason: Keeping a fine balance
She isn’t so lucky for the rest of the day. As an artist, canoe instructor, filmmaker and environmental activist she’s off in many directions once she lands, and it shows when you speak with her and try to follow the path of unfailingly cheerful conversation as she jumps from one topic to the next.
In summer she seems happiest to talk about her flatwater solo canoe courses, which were the basis for her instructional video Classic Solo Canoeing in 2000. Having the late canoe icon Bill Mason as a father and first instructor provides her with a lot of credibility in canoe circles and she draws students from as far away as England and Italy.
“There are a lot of ways to paddle, but I focus on the strokes that will move a tandem canoe through the water with finesse. Soloing is not about brute force,” she explains, stressing that the key to efficient paddling is held gently in the grip hand.
Artist and activist
The graceful strokes don’t stop once she climbs out of the canoe. Mason is a watercolour artist by trade and shares a studio in Chelsea, Quebec, with fellow artist Reid McLachlan, her husband and canoe partner, whenever Mason agrees to paddle with another person.
Mason says it’s the places her canoe has taken her that inspire not just her painting, but also her work as a spokesperson for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. Her activism on behalf of conservation and wild spaces is another thing she inherited from her father.
She recalls asking her father why he wrote so many letters to governments, urging them to create parks or stop dams. He told her he believed that governments knew that for every person who wrote a letter, there were 100 who wanted to write but never got around to it.
“It was an eye opener for me,” says Mason. Now she takes satisfaction in thinking that whatever small ripples she makes in official circles can have a far-reaching effect. As she knows from the water that eventually soaks her pants during her morning paddles, a lot of little ripples can add up to something.
Canoeist, artist and activist Becky Mason maintains a fine balance. | Feature photo: Reid McLachlan