Life is a series of experiences, moments and decisions. It is often when a life comes to an end, you have the bittersweet opportunity to reflect on how unique and purposeful the journey truly was. One such story is the life of Ray Gauthier, a former WID ditch rider, who passed away last year.


Ray was a farm kid from Ouelletteville, AB. Raised by a single mom and his French-speaking grandparents, he took on many roles and responsibilities at a young age to help the family. As any farmer can attest, a new skill is learned every day, usually through trial and error. Ray was a self-taught master of all trades, including painting.


One winter day, Ray unknowingly met his wife, Donna, on a community skating rink in Cluny. A few years later he enrolled in a painting class at the Banff Centre for the Arts. Also enrolled in this same class was Donna from Cluny. Their mutual love for painting and music drew them together, and they married in 1962. That same year, Ray was hired as a ditch rider for the WID.


They started their new life with very little, as Ray was 22 and Donna was just 18. The WID position provided housing and the Gauthiers resided at the Gleichen Crowfoot headquarters in one of two small houses built in 1905. The property also included a few acres of farmland and space for animals. The young couple was overjoyed at this opportunity.





Ray with fellow WID ditch riders

Ray loved his job and worked hard all four seasons. Serving farmers with irrigated water, maintaining canals and pipelines, working on infrastructure projects and repairing machinery in the shop, the hours were irregular and there was always a new challenge to tackle. Every day provided a new story to tell.


Donna was often the operator, receiving calls for Ray at home from farmers in need of his help. Calls regularly would end with coffee and some fresh baking to take home. Many times, Donna joined Ray on weekend or evening calls, and before long, clients and colleagues became life-long friends. Ray enjoyed playing the guitar and would gladly entertain at gatherings.


The Gauthiers loved their community and living at headquarters. They tended a large garden, farmed a field of oats, and had a small herd of dairy cows that allowed them to sell some cream to Foothills Creamery. Their three children were involved in 4H, raising calves and participating in competitions. A central spot, the school bus would stop at their house and many farm kids would ride and keep their horses in their yard.


Ray’s job provided the Gauthier’s with a wonderful life. Retiring in 1992, they moved to Strathmore and Ray continued working with his hands as a finishing carpenter and house builder. He built a house for his family in town and to this day, Donna admires Ray’s beautiful handiwork displayed throughout the home.


Ray finally put down his tools and retired from carpentry in 2002. He experienced several health setbacks, including a successful battle against colon cancer.


Last June, Ray had a debilitating stroke, forcing his family to make the difficult decision to move him into an assisted care facility. With little mobility and unable to speak, Ray’s life dramatically changed.


Donna was fortunate to be able to visit him regularly. His condition seemed hopeless, but she didn’t give up. One day she decided to play some of Ray’s favorite western songs. She sang to him, and to her surprise, he started to hum along. Before long he was singing too. Then on one visit, she brought painting supplies. She painted while they sang together in his room. During this time, he was able to add some paint strokes of his own. As difficult as the final months were of Ray’s life, Donna cherishes the sweet moments where their story came full-circle 58 years later, just being together painting and singing.


Raymond James Gauthier passed away on December 6, 2020, at the age of 83.

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