Jim Mason bought his first snowblower since childhood this winter. “Up in Thunder Bay we always had one,” he recollected. Jim was raised in Fort William, which was later renamed Thunder Bay after amalgamation. “I always liked sports,” said Jim. He played basketball and was invited to try out for his hometown university team but an ankle injury sidelined that dream. But it led to another opportunity.
Jim always enjoyed reading non-fiction. He liked journalism but didn’t have a career in mind. He attended university at Lakehead. “A classmate, the incoming editor of the school paper, spotted my cast, asked how the injury occurred … and if I wanted to be the sports editor of The Argus next year.” That led to writing for Thunder Bay’s community weekly. From 1978-1981, he worked for Lakehead Living, starting as a part-time sportswriter and, after graduation, advancing quickly to editor at quite a young age.
Jim met Charlene up there. She was from Toronto but working for the provincial government in Thunder Bay. Charlene moved back to Toronto and Jim followed. Jim got a job with Metroland in Toronto but was laid off during the recession of 1982. “I was filling in at The Hockey News in Toronto, thanks to new editor Bob McKenzie (now of TSN), and got to cover the Maple Leafs during training camp,” he said. Another opportunity would arise.
During that temp job, Jim read an advertisement for an editor position with a “new newspaper northeast of Toronto”. It ended up being the Stouffville job, with the new Sun, that he would retain until retirement in 2016. He’d never been here. The population sign read 12,500. “Charlene and I drove to Stouffville, met some residents and merchants and soon realized this was a very good place. My end goal was in sports writing, but this was an undeniable opportunity to be involved in a start-up,” said Jim. “People were very inviting in Stouffville. Growing up in Northern Ontario, small towns were very small, but here, since growth was gradual, newcomers had a chance to be welcomed.”
Jim and Charlene bought the only new house that was for sale in Stouffville. It was located on Spring Street, just off Main, on the former Brierbush Hospital site. They were married in 1983 and celebrated their reception at the new house.
At the helm of a new job, Jim had less than two weeks to get the first edition of the newspaper out. “I phoned people from every community organization. People were so kind, open and welcoming. One of the first stories we did was about how Stouffville had been named for one of the friendliest towns in Ontario, and it was true,” said Jim.
Over the years in Jim’s long career, there were many memorable moments. Valentine’s Day weekend, 1987: the “Stouffville Royals” were in a friendly match against the CFTR Radio (now 680 News) team. Tom Rivers the morning host of CFTR liked to insult Stouffville, reported Bruce Stapley, with things like:
“The groundhog came out and saw his shadow today. That means six or more weeks of 1963 for Stouffville.”
Stouffville Royals had handily beaten the radio team the past year, while this year if CFTR wins, Rivers becomes Mayor for a day, but if Stouffville wins – Mason will take over the radio show for a day.
“Those were great times,” said Jim. “We won. I did take over the radio show. They were the biggest top 40 radio station in Toronto… We had so much fun and got lots of publicity for Stouffville. Everyone was talking about it.” Pre-Internet, Rivers always knew what the local newspaper was up to. It turned out that there was a “mole” that would deliver our paper to Rivers’ office whenever he was written about – it was a food delivery man, Mark Fockler. “I saw Rivers at the Markham Fairgrounds 10 years later. His wife said that Tom had saved all the clippings from these stories and had relished the rivalry, as well,” recounted Jim.
Small-town newspaper editors were often asked to act as a moderator for local debates and to emcee events. In 1988, Master of Ceremonies Jim Mason presided over a special banquet at the old Ninth Line Legion hall to honour Keith Acton’s return from Edmonton from a momentous Stanley Cup win. Keith was the second Stouffvillian to have his name inscribed on the cup.
“A friend of mine, Dave Wood, who owned a local restaurant (The Greens) in Stouffville cooked up the idea for the event. Keith’s former coach from the Peterborough Petes came back as the keynote speaker; Roger Neilson was fantastic. Roger kept calling me with many questions about Stouffville – I couldn’t answer many of them,” said Jim. “So, Roger started his speech with ‘Jim Mason is the most boring guy in Canada – he doesn’t know where the local pool hall, hotel or anything is located’.” After the event, they searched for Roger for a photo, but he had already left. “I found him on the side of the road across the street with his dog, changing clothes back to jeans. But he quickly changed back and did a great front-page photo shoot with Keith. What a guy.”
Municipal memories? There were two farewell roasts for Mayor Wayne Emmerson “who retired from the same job twice.”
“The roasters thought – hadn’t we already done this? It was like Groundhog Day,” said Jim.
A landfill site on Hwy. 48 south of Ballantrae, and the chemicals deposited in it, were province-wide news in the 1980s. Ironically, the Bob Rae government proposed a landfill site for locations across Stouffville and Markham 10 years later. After loud protests, the plan was dumped.
In 1989, one of Canada’s cutest babies was found in Stouffville. Jaclyn Mason, the 2.5-year-old daughter of Jim and Charlene Mason, was selected as one of 12 babies out of 18,000 by Johnson & Johnson in the 3rd annual photo contest. The 12 winners were featured in the annual J & J calendar and received a $10,000 post-secondary scholarship. The winning photo was taken by Jim in the Eldred King Woodlands near Ballantrae. “Charlene came up with the catchy title – the sky is falling,” Jim recalled.
Jaclyn was the firstborn of three kids. A chip off the old block, in 1997, Jaclyn won a Provincial Young Authors Award. In Grade 4 at St. Mark’s School, she had been hand-picked by her teacher to submit a 3,000-word story and won. She later graduated from OCAD University and then Seneca in interior design and has moved back here. Jaclyn and husband Tyler have a son, Finnegan, who turns two next month. “We go back to the spot of the baby photoshoot every Thanksgiving.”
As for Jim and Charlene’s other children, Ryan also graduated from OCAD and Centennial College. He works in the design department at GM, and Jenny their youngest lives in Calgary. Jenny works for Environics Analytics. She went to Ryerson for her B.A. in Geographic Analysis and her Masters in Spatial Analysis. “We’re really proud of all three of them,” said Jim.
One comical event occurred when Jim was covering a Town Council meeting in 1990. Council held a Planning meeting in the Stouffville Arena lounge in order to improve accessibility. However, the acoustics were so bad that no one could hear the garbled words of a speaker. Councillor Ron Robb asked to make a motion – and was passed hand lotion. ‘No,’ he said, ‘a motion that meetings are not held here anymore.’ Council turned to the press and asked if they can hear anything. Jim Mason and Tracy Kibble look at each other and shrugged, not having heard a thing.
In 2000, Metroland bought the former Uxbridge Group. Three years later, the Stouffville Sun and Stouffville Tribune officially merged to become the Sun-Tribune.¬¬ From 2000-06, Jim was editor of both Stouffville papers and the Markham Economist & Sun. “Those made for long days,” he said. “Another adventure.”
The Stouffville papers won a wall full of plaques and trophies in provincial, national and North American competitions. Mason received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal, business person of the year award from the local chamber of commerce and a Melvin Jones Fellowship from the Stouffville Lions Club.
But it’s friends that are most cherished. “It is very cool to walk down Main Street and see so many people you know,” said Mason, who was honoured at a sold-out roast at the Legion hall when he retired.
“Journalists see people on their best days and worst days,” he said.
Election nights, festivals and sports championships are tops for Mason. Tragedies, death and criminal cases are the flipside.
For the past three-plus years, Mason has worked as communications director of the 22-team Ontario Junior Hockey League and tour manager for the Jason Wilson Band – highlighted by a 13-night Maritime trek in 2017.
His community involvement includes the Terry Fox Run, Spirit Jr. A Hockey Club, Emergency Care Fund, Stouffville Cares refugee support group and St. James Presbyterian Church.
Thirty-eight years later, Jim writes a sports column for OTR – just like he did when he started out in the business during the 1970s. Much like his recent purchase of a snowblower, things have circled back to his youth.