When you think of a modern-day renaissance man, Ray Hepting is not a name to overlook.
Welder, angler, painter, sculptor, photographer, gold miner; Hepting is a man that can wear many hats of his choosing and flourish in any profession he desires.
Born small-town Saskatchewan, Hepting enlisted himself into the Army at the young age of 16 where he served five years for his country. After his years in the military, Hepting heard that Prince George was looking for skilled trades workers so he quickly got his ticket, moved west and started work as a welder. Getting comfortable in his new position an accident at work left him out of commission for over two years.
“At one of the shops, a sheet of steel fell on me and broke both of my legs tore my knee apart,” he said.
After recovery, Hepting switched to another welding company in Prince George. However, the town was experiencing a slump in the lumber industry which affected many companies around the area. Worried about sustaining full-time employment, Hepting found out about a job opportunity in Kitimat.
“When [Prince George] went to poops, I went to the local employment centre and found out that Kitimat was looking for workers.”
Packing up his two kids, his wife and his dog, Hepting moved to Kitimat with the hopes of obtaining secured employment that will allow him to provide for his family.
“I had a job set with Alcan but I found out Eurocan was paying a buck an hour more so I also applied and got hired within an hour of applying and worked there for 15 years,” he said.
Always having a love for fishing, Hepting would putt around Kitimat in his boat or rented charters, catching salmon and showing his tricks to the trait to friends and colleagues from Eurocan.
“The guys would feel bad if I took them out and they didn’t help pay for the gas so they started chipping in after a while.”
Hepting quickly realized the high demand for fishing charters in Kitimat at jumped on the opportunity.
“I was catching fish pretty regularly so I told myself, you know what I’m gonna start chartering.”
Starting his new business venture during his days off at Eurocan, Hepting only charged people $200 which just covered the bare minimum of his expenses, but as demand increased each year, so did the pay.
“I went through three boats, four sets of diesel engines, and I bought a 23-footer [boat] which lasted a while,” he said. “When I finished Chartering I was making about $1500 a trip, which also isn’t much but we made it work.”
Hepting would also take photos and videos of his days out at sea for his own keepsake.
With many stories about catching sharks and other sea creatures during his chartering experiences, he emphasized how the ocean has given him many stressful encounters.
“I remember once coming down the corner at Hopkins Point with a heck of a storm blowing and I had both of my motors revved as high as they can go, but we were sitting still and the waves were probably about seven feet high with sets of three hitting us. So we had to sit out there for a bit until the storm calmed down,” he said. “That was probably one of my most harrowing experiences.”
As chartering only took place in the spring and summertime, Hepting began another business during the winter months where he sold the photographs he took over the years chartering; around the same time, he also started drawing and sold acrylic paintings to locals in the area.
Through the grace of the owners at MSTAR Hotel, Hepting got the opportunity to exhibit and sell his work in a storefront next to the hotel for free.
“The first time selling from a storefront I had to pay a couple of hundred bucks, but the next time I did the pictures I got the space for free because [MSTAR Hotel] wanted to have people in the stores, he said. “I moved around from shop to shop a bit but they were really generous with me.”
“I painted and sold enough pictures to buy the materials to build my 32-footer [boat],” he said, “but I quit painting because I could paint faster than I could sell and I just couldn’t handle the clutter anymore.”
Putting down the paintbrush, Hepting felt he had too much spare time on his hands, so he would explore around Dease Lake finding jade and quartz and took up carving.
“I sold some carvings. One-piece I sold for $1,200 but I didn’t like the dust and it started to affect my health.”
In 2002, Hepting ‘retired’ from his many running businesses and started gold mining for fun where he would camp in forest sites for days on end, meeting new people, showing them his dig sites and splitting the profits.
“It wasn’t for making money it was just a fun thing,” he said. “I remember one time getting one nugget though that was about three-eights of an inch and I thought we were gonna make a killing but that was the only one we ever got.”
Hepting now resides in the Kitimat Trailer Court with his wife, Ellen. Never giving up on his passions, Hepting is still driving boats with friends or private companies and will continue to do so until every fish in the sea has been caught.