SUZANNE MARIE JOSEPHINE BENOIT (NEE GOUTIER, DUBUC)
September 18, 1924 – Vermilion, AB
April 30, 2022 – Edmonton, AB
It is with a heavy heart and deep sadness that we announce the passing of our mother at the age of 97 on Saturday, April 30, 2022, at St. Joseph’s Auxiliary Hospital in Edmonton, AB. We will miss her dearly.
She was predeceased by her parents, Paul and Ellen Goutier; first husband, Edmond Dubuc; second husband, Yvon Benoit; brothers, Camille and Joseph Goutier; stepdaughter, Claudette Fowle; grandson, Jared Kulmatycki and step grandson, Jonathan Boissonneault.
Suzanne is survived by two sons, three daughters, a stepdaughter, 11 grandchildren, 15 step grandchildren, 8 great grandchildren, 39 step great grandchildren, four sisters and two brothers.
Suzanne grew up on a farm southeast of Vermilion, AB as the eldest of nine children in a French-speaking Catholic family. She attended the Woodvale community school nearby for elementary, then boarded at the convent in Vegreville, AB to attend junior and senior high school across the street at St. Martin’s School.
She took three years of nurses’ training at St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Vegreville and then worked as a Registered Nurse for 18 months at the hospitals in Wainwright and Vegreville. She put her nursing career on hold in 1949 to marry someone she met through church, Edmond Dubuc. Five years later, he tragically passed away, leaving her with two young children. A year later she remarried to a fellow widower, Yvon Benoit, who also had two young children. Yvon and Suzanne went on to have three more children and raise a his, hers and theirs blended family. They lived on a small farm southeast of Vegreville, AB where money was scarce, but they were self-sufficient with plenty of food. Yvon and Suzanne separated in 1976 after 21 years of marriage.
After the children were older, Suzanne reentered the nursing workforce, got her driver’s licence at age 48, and bought her first car. She worked at the Vegreville hospital for 11 years, then at the Alice Keith nursing home in Vermilion for eight years.
She retired from nursing in 1990 at the age of 66. This was the start of a new chapter in her life filled with dedicated community service, exciting new hobbies and exhilarating adventures.
Suzanne had always loved contributing to every community she lived in, but upon her retirement she was glad to have more time to volunteer with all of her many clubs and causes. Of special note was her long-time devotion of more than 60 years to the Catholic Women’s League, following in her mother’s footsteps who also was a long-serving member.
For the 35 years she lived in Vegreville, AB after nurses’ training, Suzanne belonged to the Vegreville chapter of Alberta Association of Registered Nurses, United Nurses of Alberta Cancer Society, St. Martin’s Parish Council, Catholic Women’s League, National Farmers’ Union and the Vegreville Farm Women’s Club.
For the 17 years she lived in Vermilion with her brother, Suzanne volunteered with the Caravan of Hope to El Salvador, Vermilion Horticulture Society, Vermilion Field Naturalist Society and the Vermilion Catholic Women’s League.
For the 20 years she lived in Fort Saskatchewan as a senior, Suzanne supported the Fort Saskatchewan Pioneer House, Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church, Catholic Women’s League and the Fort Saskatchewan Naturalist Society.
All her life Suzanne kept very busy with hobbies including the collection of coins, stamps, seashells, unique rocks, spoons, buttons and newspaper clippings. These clippings she regularly shared with her family so they could be informed on important topics – similar to the Facebook and Instagram posts of today. She was a crafter out of necessity, sewing clothes for herself and her family, and also knitting, crocheting, rug hooking and quilting. In her retirement she took on new hobbies including photography, family tree research, making heritage scrapbook albums and doing puzzles. From age 79 to 84, she became the oldest dancer in her clogging dancing troupe.
She lived through every era of technology that modern man has known. She grew up during the great depression with no electricity and no telephone, but at age 81 she learned how to use a computer. She was embarrassed to reveal that she omitted the accents when typing in French. Regrettably, she never did get the hang of using a cell phone.
As she neared retirement, she became passionate about a new hobby – birding. For 15 years from age 63 to 78, she toured extensively throughout North America and Central America, travelling to where the birds live. She drove her old brown Chevy van looking for birds down almost every back road and slough in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and eastern Canada. One time, she took her van – alone! – for a 33,000 km, three-month road trip in 1994 to Mexico and back.
She did birding everywhere, even in France, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Japan. She was thrilled to come across rare birds in unexpected places, like the curve-billed thresher she once saw in Barrhead, AB, when it should have been flying around in Central America where it normally lived.
And if she wasn’t looking for birds, then she was looking at nature and history. At age 68, she took a train tour to Churchill, MN and saw a Harris sparrow, snow bunting, bearded seal and artifacts of the pre-Dorset peoples from 950 BC. At age 72, she took a tour to the mountain jungles of the Andes mountains at Quito, Ecuador, the world’s second highest capital city. Here she suffered from a bout of altitude sickness, added 367 new species to her life list of birds like the colourful squirrel cuckoo and choco toucan, and just missed a 5.7 earthquake the day after she departed. At age 76, she saw Greenland and the Northwest Passage from the deck of a Yugoslavian-built icebreaker ship and saw massive icebergs, polar bears, officers’ graves from the ill-fated Franklin expedition in 1848, the arctic sorrel plant with edible leaves and a partial solar eclipse. Several years later at age 78, she circumnavigated Iceland on a Russian-built research vessel with daily expeditions to shore on a zodiac where she saw the arctic fox, puffins, golden plover, harlequin ducks and a view of the world’s most northern volcano at Jan Mayen, Norway.
In her travels for birding, she saw so many beautiful sights like the lush flowers and alpine meadows at the treeline in the Rocky Mountains; the wedding tree in Florida; the view from the summit of Volcan Irazu in Costa Rica, which erupted eight days later. She was also excited to see many wonderful mammals like the grizzly bear just north of Banff, AB; opossum near Bedford, PA; manatee in Crystal River, Florida; hognose skunk in Wilcox, AZ; gray fox in Sheffield, TX; Alaska fur seal in Monterey, CA; and black tail prairie dog at Wind Cave, South Dakota.
She was very thankful to have had the chance to see so much of this world, and especially the birds. By the end of her birding adventures, she had seen 15% of all the world’s birds, an astounding 1,453 different species.
She encouraged others to try birding and she did indeed inspire many family and friends to start this hobby. She said in a speech to the Vermilion Auxiliary Hospital committee, “Birding is so easy – you can do it at any age, at any time, from anywhere. All you need is a pair of binoculars and a field guide.”
Her love of birds and learning new things about nature never waned; but her ability to locate birds by hearing them sing diminished with age, as did her ability to drive and travel to find the birds in the wild. Over time, she suffered from profound hearing loss. Her hearing aids were not helpful in birding as they could not pick up the high tones of bird song.
However, Suzanne, was a “survivor,” as she often called herself and she “managed somehow.” At age 76, she merely switched her focus to loving and learning more about plants and nature in her own backyard.
She joined the Fort Saskatchewan Naturalist Society and quickly became president. The Society successfully lobbied local government and industry to protect a 13-hectare parcel of remnant prairie inside the City. This parcel, named the “The Fort Saskatchewan Prairie,” was the Capital region’s last remaining piece of untouched and uncultivated land since the era of the dinosaurs. The Prairie joined only a half dozen other pieces of similar virgin land scattered throughout Alberta.
In 2009, the Premier of Alberta and the Mayor of Fort Saskatchewan proclaimed that Suzanne was an Official Ambassador of the City. They wanted to acknowledge the time and effort Suzanne had contributed to preserving the City’s natural landscape and attracting so many students, scientists and other visitors to tour the Prairie. She was fond of telling the tour groups of elementary students that more than 50 different native plants grow in the Prairie, including some rare flowers.
In 2010, Suzanne won a $10,000 award and the title of “Hometown Hero” for Fort Saskatchewan, AB. Earth Day Canada’s national competition selected 10 citizens, including Suzanne, from across Canada who have made a stand for the environment in their community. The award acknowledged Suzanne’s significant environmental accomplishment of preserving a parcel of remnant virgin prairie. She not only worked to protect the area, but also to restore it. Suzanne organized community projects like garbage pickups, tree planting events, lobbying for informational signage and fencing to protect the area, planting native species, lots of weeding and helping to document the species in the area.
In 2012, the Mayor of Fort Saskatchewan officially opened the “Suzanne Benoit Trail” in the City’s protected park named Fort Saskatchewan Prairie. In the dedication ceremony, the mayor spoke of Suzanne’s dedication, love, hard work and passion for the preservation of this small virgin prairie oasis.
Until she gave up her car in 2011 at age 87, she spent many hours at the Prairie: weeding, preventing the poplars from encroaching into the grasslands, hauling buckets of water, collecting seeds, planting native seedlings to restore a patch to all native plants, leading nature tours, and encouraging other volunteers to care for the Prairie. Even after she could no longer drive, she got rides with friends to continue tending to the Prairie.
She was passionate in preserving native plants, knowing that the most common wildflower might hold the cure someday for a deadly disease. In her submission in 2010 for the Hometown Hero competition, she wrote, “Flowers give hope, returning each spring as they do. Flowers give courage. Flowers heal. Flowers are harbingers of joy. Long before the gentle Christ came to earth, flowers were part of every religion, used as symbols to express faith.”
Suzanne will be remembered for the many passions in her life, her thirst for knowledge and the loving acts of service she gave her family and many friends. We are extremely proud of our mom.
A mass of Christian burial will be held at Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church in Fort Saskatchewan, AB at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, July 8, 2022. Interment of her cremated ashes and graveside prayers will be held the same day at 3 p.m. at Riverside Cemetery in Vegreville, AB.
Condolences, memories, and photos may be shared and viewed at www.serenity.ca. Memorial tributes may be made to the Alzheimer Society Alberta & Northwest Territories.
Serenity Funeral Service ~ Fort Saskatchewan ~ 780~998~1422