MASON, JOHN JAMES, accountant, militia officer, masonic administrator, publisher, editor, and politician; b. 4 Feb. 1842 in Kilsby, England, son of John James Mason, a surgeon, and Susanna Sophia Stokes; m. 15 June 1869 Jessie Thompson Birrell in London, Ont., and they had four daughters and one son; d. 15 June 1903 in Hamilton, Ont.
John James Mason’s father abandoned his practice in Kilsby the year after John’s birth to serve as a ship’s doctor. In 1849 he sent his family to Philadelphia and a year later they all moved to Brantford, Upper Canada. In October 1855, at the age of 13, John started as a junior clerk with an auctioneer in Hamilton, where he remained for ten years. In 1865 he went to the Hamilton Spectator as a reporter, but his stay was short. Later in 1865 or in 1866 he bought an accounting and assignee practice.
In the accounting practices of the 1860s auditing was of relatively little importance, although Mason had some good appointments. He was, for example, auditor of the City of Hamilton (from 1866 to 1877) and of the Great Western Railway. Of greater value to him were his work as an assignee (a trustee in bankruptcies), a sort of practice that was, however, extremely variable, and his treasurership of the Grant-Lottridge Brewing Company, which provided a modest but steady income.
During his early years in Hamilton, Mason became actively involved in the militia. He joined the 13th Battalion Volunteer Militia Light Infantry as a private when the unit was organized in 1862; five years later he was gazetted lieutenant. (He would become an honorary major in 1881.) An excellent shot with a small-bore rifle, he had joined the Victoria Rifle Club upon its formation in 1863. As its secretary he participated in the formation of the Ontario and Dominion rifle associations later in the decade. In 1874 he went to Wimbledon (London), England, as part of the Canadian shooting team.
Membership in the masonic order was considered essential to any ambitious young man in Ontario. Mason had joined the Lodge of Strict Observance No.27 in Hamilton in 1867 and he rose rapidly, becoming master of the lodge by 1870. By 1871 he had become editor and proprietor of the masonic monthly journal, the Craftsman and Canadian Masonic Record (Hamilton). In 1873–74 he was deputy grand master of the Hamilton District, one of fifteen districts constituting the Grand Lodge of Canada. Appointed acting grand secretary (chief administrative officer) of the Grand Lodge in August 1874, he was responsible for keeping membership and accounting records, handling cash and investments, preparing reports, and implementing policy. In the following year he was reappointed and he would continue in the office until his death. After his appointment in 1874 he had sold his interest in his accounting practice to his partner, Ralph Leeming Gunn, though he kept the audit work, to which he added the secretary-treasurership of the newly formed Anglican diocese of Niagara in 1875.
In 1877 Mason was ready to enter politics. He ran successfully as alderman in Ward 3 and retained his seat until he was elected mayor. His first term, which began on 1 Jan. 1884, brought a totally unprepared Mason face to face with the grim realities of being poor, sick, or without work in Hamilton in the winter. The practice then was for the mayor to distribute the city’s poor relief and charity personally. When he started on his task, Mason was appalled by what he saw. He attempted, at the first council meeting of the year, to communicate some part of his shocking experience to the aldermen and to analyse the causes of the poverty he had seen. His statements, however, were interpreted as an attack on the federal Conservative government’s National Policy, which many saw as a factor in the city’s economic health. Mason experienced considerable difficulty in explaining his intentions. By the next winter he was ready to rationalize municipal relief work. He got the various charitable societies to coordinate their efforts, with his office acting as a central registry, to ensure that no cases of real want went unanswered and that no one cheated. Further, he established a register of those seeking work and offered to act as an intermediary between the unemployed and prospective employers. Mason served two years as mayor. He must have been busy, for he continued with his masonic work and in 1884–85 he held the presidency of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario [see Samuel Bickerton Harman*]. He then returned as alderman of Ward 3, a position he held until 1890. He finished off his municipal career by serving on the Board of Education until the year before he died; he was its chairman in 1897.
By the early 1890s Mason’s competence and steady Reform politics had come to the notice of the provincial government of Oliver Mowat. Named to the Ontario fees commission in 1894, he was made head of an inquiry into the province’s toll-roads the following year. (He had done a similar study for Wentworth County in 1886.) Unfortunately, no one knows what Mason found or recommended in his report on the province’s roads for it was not printed and the original has been lost.
Besides this official involvement, Mason remained active in both military and masonic circles. In 1897, by which time he had become paymaster of the 13th Battalion, he was captain (non-shooting) of the Canadian rifle team that competed in Bisley, England. While there, and in his role as a prominent freemason, he presented the Grand Lodge’s loyal address to Queen Victoria on the occasion of her diamond jubilee. At its annual meeting in 1900 the Grand Lodge made Mason an honorary past grand master, a rare distinction, in recognition of his contributions. During his years as grand secretary the lodge nearly doubled its membership and annual revenues. In failing health, Mason could not attend the annual meeting in 1902 and his old partner, R. L. Gunn, undertook some of his duties as grand secretary. In the fall Mason seemed to rally but he succumbed again in January 1903. He died on 15 June of consumption.
[Information on John James Mason was provided by R. E. Davies, grand secretary of the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Prov. of Ontario, Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons (Hamilton, Ont.) and Colwyn G. Beynon, former curator of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Heritage Museum. Both individuals searched their archives for material that I found highly relevant but would never have discovered on my own.
Several excerpts from Mason’s presidential address of 1884 are quoted in chapter 22 of my study A sum of yesterdays, being a history of the first one hundred years of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario (Toronto, 1984). p.c.]
AO, RG 22, ser.205, no.5770. HPL, Clipping file, Hamilton biog., J. J. Mason (including letter from Marjorie Wong to Mrs Frank Rice, 1973). Hamilton Herald, 15 June 1903. Hamilton Spectator, 18 April, 25 Nov. 1884; 15 June 1903. London Free Press, 16 June 1869. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). Directory, Ont., 1871: 447. “Evolution of the Canadian marksmanship tradition,” Dominion of Canada Rifle Assoc., 1868–1982: one hundredth annual prize meeting, Connaught Ranges, Ottawa, August 6–15 ([Ottawa, 1982]; copy in possession of the author, obtained from the association), 9–12. Grand Lodge of Canada in the Prov. of Ontario, Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons, Proc. of especial communications, also the annual communication (Hamilton), 1903: 57–59. Peter Hanlon, “Moral order and the influence of social Christianity in an industrial city, 1890–1899: a social profile of the Protestant lay leaders of three Hamilton churches” (ma thesis, McMaster Univ., Hamilton, 1984). Whence come we? Freemasonry in Ontario, 1764–1980, ed. Wallace McLeod et al. (Hamilton, 1980).