‘Keep Your Mind Active’: How a 93-year-old WWII veteran found a new passion for design
A 93-year-old World War II veteran is making waves at his retirement home because of his creative flair.
About five years ago, Bert Masson started transforming old cardboard boxes into complex models of buildings and ships.
“It was something to do, really. A hobby,” Masson said.
Among his designs are the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly, the Eiffel Tower, a replica of the Queen Victoria Estates where he lives, and a model of the ship he sailed during his time in the Navy called the SS Queens Park.
Model by Bert Masson of Queen Victoria Estates. (Stefanie Davis/CTV News)
Each large design takes him around two months to build, sometimes working for days at a time.
“First I have to gather cardboard boxes and try to get some big enough for you to get a clear piece out of,” he explained. “Then you just cut it into whatever shapes you need and glue them together.”
He uses plaster to help bend the cardboard into the required shapes.
“It’s quite difficult to fold the cardboard. You can bend it one way, but the other way it’s pretty hard to bend it and make a curve,” he said. “I use a bit of plaster to make it round.”
The first drawing he created was a small castle from his imagination. Each build got bigger and more complex from there.
His latest and greatest piece is the Eiffel Tower, which was made from wood instead of cardboard. There’s even a moving elevator inside.
Vivian Sawyer, a cleaner at the Queen Victoria Estates for 22 years, has seen Masson build some of her designs from scratch.
“He has a lot of patience to do that,” she said. “It’s a nice pastime for him. It gives him something to do other than sit in the room. I think a lot of older people should find something like this to do. It keeps the mind active.
She said other residents of Queen Victoria Estates were fascinated by the replicas and their intricate detail.
Replicas are not Masson’s first creation. He said he used to work on construction projects in his youth. He also built his own house.
SS QUEENS PARK
One of Masson’s favorite designs is his replica of the SS Queens Park.
“I joined her around June 10, 1943,” he said. After some trials of the ship, he sailed there until 1947. He was 15 when he joined her.
“I was in Sydney, Australia when the Japanese surrendered,” he explained.
He said the camaraderie aboard the ship is something he will always remember, and maybe that’s why he wanted to recreate it.
“You were always with other men,” he explained. “You lived with them on the boat and you had to get along with everyone or it’s a long way to go.”
Years ago, he also built a 13.5-foot-long version of Queens Park out of metal, complete with a remote control so he could put it in water.
Bert Masson’s SS Queens Park replica (Stefanie Davis/CTV News)
He said many museums had taken an interest in it, but told him it was too big for their displays.
“It was always too big or too long,” he explained. “I thought if I built a little one, when I go, maybe someone from these museums would get it.”
A FAMILY PROJECT
Although Hassan is in charge of his constructions, he seeks ideas and help from his family.
He says it’s a way to connect with his kids.
“It was my daughter who said, it would be nice to build the [Saskatchewan] Cardboard Legislative Building,” he said. “So, I did.”
His wooden Eiffel Tower is his second favorite because of the time he spent with his son working on it.
“My son, he and I bought some pine lumber and sawed it on the table saw, all those little ribs,” he said. “He kind of ran the table saw and he helped me a lot on that one.”
For the replica of his own building, Queen Victoria Estates, he had to brave the winter Saskatchewan temperatures to get out and check the building to make sure no detail was missing.
“It was quite difficult,” he said. “It was cold enough to go look and see everywhere someone had a balcony or whatever.”
Masson said he thought he was done with the big designs because he was running out of space in his suite. He would continue to create stained glass, which he sold at craft sales held at the Queen Victoria Estates.
As for the future of his models, he says he doesn’t expect them to go too far.
“I said to myself one day, ‘What am I going to do with all these things? Just trample them and crush them?'” Masson said with a laugh.
“That’s about all you can do with cardboard things. Nobody wants it. So I’m just thinking about crushing them, after all that work.”