Gavin Chamberlain – The Stone Mason’s Heritage

Durham Cathedral in England not only inspired the design of Christ Church Cathedral by J.C.M. Keats, it also led to Gavin himself. His parents met at the Durham College and the rest is history. 

Gavin was raised in Northern England in the Lake District where natural stone structures fill the rural landscape. Farmers build dry stone walls rather than fences. 

“From an early age I was helping to repair walls where a section fell down and needed to be rebuilt,” says Gavin. “Gapping they call it.” 

Gavin went to university to study history, which always fascinated him. He held several jobs after he graduated, but always seemed to find his way back to his original passion.

“I’d always loved doing dry stone walls, so given my love of history, restoration masonry just made sense to me.” 

However, he didn’t get really serious about masonry until he moved to Canada twelve years ago.

“I’d always worked with dry stone masonry back in England, but only part time,” he said. “When I moved to Golden BC, I started working with a stone mason company who were building high end lodges on the ski hills in Golden where I learned much of my trade.”

Today, Gavin leads a highly skilled team of stone masons who are tackling some of the most challenging heritage restoration projects in the city of Victoria. When asked what some of his favourite projects are, he said, “Christ Church Cathedral for sure. It’s one of the most impressive buildings in Victoria, the capital of BC. Buildings have grown up around it, but it’s still very iconic.”

For Gavin, having the opportunity to work on the cathedral with his team is an honour and a privilege. 

“A cathedral is an ultimate goal, it’s the top of the mountain for a stone mason.”

He recounted some fascinating history to explain why that was so.  

In medieval times, most people were tied to the land and they couldn’t go very far. Stone masons however, were in high demand and needed to be able to move around because they were the only ones who could build cathedrals and castles. Indeed, the stone mason’s craft was so highly esteemed, they were the only non-aristocracy who were not required to bow to the king and queen.

Among masons, the secrets of how to design and build brilliant structures were a closely guarded secret that only Master Masons knew. As you trained as an apprentice you became privy to this coveted knowledge. They also created the first trade guild, and Freemasons were born from it. 

Freemasons attracted lawyers, doctors and business people who saw the power of having an association of interested parties. To this day, stone mason’s in attendance in a Freemasons meeting are called “active masons” while everyone else is called a “theoretical mason”. Even the most senior member of the Freemasons views a stone mason with some respect. 

Gavin’s passion for his craft, made evident in his lively recounting of the stone mason’s history, permeates every stone structure he and his team work on. They strive for, and attain, excellence.