Fire in the Bones: Bill Mason and the Canadian Canoeing Tradition


300 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-00-255395-3
DDC 797.1'22'092




Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is professor emerita of English and Canadian studies at
Concordia University, and the author of Kurlek, Margaret Laurence: The
Long Journey Home, and As Though Life Mattered: Leo Kennedy’s Story.


Bill Mason (d.1959) was one of Canada’s most prolific and successful
filmmakers. He made 18 films with the National Film Board (Paddle to the
Sea, his first great film and probably his best-known, depicts the
adventures of a carved wooden Indian in a canoe, which follows
meltwaters from Nipigon on Lake Superior all the way to the Atlantic
Ocean); won 60-odd honors, including two American Academy Award
nominations and two British Academy Awards; and forged what his
biographer calls “a gilded international reputation as a sensitive
creator, canoeist, and voice of wilderness preservation.” He was also
an unrecognized painter and may have died, as Raffan puts it, as a
frustrated artist near the end of one career and at the start of

James Raffan, a professor of outdoor and experiential education at
Queen’s University, is an experienced editor and writer, and a
well-known speaker on canoeing and conservation issues. In Fire in the
Bones, he re-creates Mason’s life with passion and attention to
detail. The point of view, which can be poetic or comic, helps us to see
Mason’s wilderness world as he himself saw and loved it.

This intimate portrait of a remarkable Canadian is shaped with
admiration, patient research, and the love of wilderness that James
Raffan shares with his subject. It deserves a place in public libraries.


Raffan, James., “Fire in the Bones: Bill Mason and the Canadian Canoeing Tradition,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 13, 2024,