Mason was also known for including passages from Christian sermons in his films. He was born in 1929 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and graduated from the University of Manitoba School of Art in 1951. He developed and refined canoeing strokes and river-running techniques, especially for complex whitewater situations.
In his review of James Raffan's 1996 biography of Mason, Michael Peake refers to Mason as "the patron saint of canoeing." To many Canadian and American Paddlers and Canoeists growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, his series of instructional films were the introduction to technique and the canoeing experience. In many ways, Bill, Joyce, Paul and Becky Mason were the "faces" of Canadian Canoeing in the '70s. Mason's good friend, filmmaker Blake James, also frequently appeared in his films.
Although he used a variety of Chestnut models in his films, including the "Pal", his favourite boat was a red "Fort" Chestnut Prospector, a 16 foot canvas covered wood canoe that he claimed was the most versatile design ever manufactured, in spite of the popularity of more durable and modern construction techniques and materials. After his death, this canoe was donated to theCanadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario, where it is on display. His wife, Joyce, and children, Paul and Becky, frequently travelled with him and contributed to his later books and films, and have continued his life work and environmentalism.
Mason won several honours, including being featured on a Canadian postage stamp in 1998. After his death, a warden at Nahanni National Park Reserve informally started calling the dramatic rock spire, in the midst of Virginia Falls, "Mason's Rock". This usage appears to have become widespread, although it has not yet been made official. His films can be viewed for free on the internet through the website of the National Film Board of Canada.
Mason canoed all of his adult life, ranging widely over the wilderness areas of Canada and the United States. Called "wilderness artist," in one book about him, Mason left a legacy that includes books, films and artwork on canoeing and wild nature. His son Paul Mason is also a canoeist and artist. Mason died of cancer in 1988.