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The Romantic Choice: A Saskatoon Couple’s Decision to Pass Away Together, Embracing Love and Music | Breaking:


It’s fitting that Ralph Johnstone and Laura Bach’s romance unfolded like the lyrics to a rock and roll song, perhaps a power ballad.

They were introduced by Bach’s ex-husband, a keyboard player who knew Johnstone through HEL Music Supplies Ltd. on Broadway Avenue, the store Johnstone ran.

“It was love at first sight,” said Bach’s daughter, Johnna Burlingham. The couple were “joined at the hip” from then on.

Johnstone worked at the store and the couple met for coffee at Broadway Roastery.

He eventually sold HEL and the couple settled into a comfortable retirement, concentrating on projects they enjoyed.

“They were both very interested in gardening and I know my mom always liked to renovate the furniture, she would just sand the dressers very patiently,” Burlingham said.

“It was a real passion for them to be able to share those hobbies together.”

SEE | The family celebrates the life of Sask. Couple who used MAID to die together:

The family celebrates the life of one of the first couples in Saskatchewan to use medical assistance in dying at the same time.

The family of a Saskatoon couple who used medical assistance in dying (MAID) shares their story. The couple is believed to be one of the first couples in Saskatchewan to use the program at the same time. Friends and family gather to celebrate the lives of Ralph Johnstone and Laura Bach.

However, over the past decade, his health began to deteriorate. Both battled chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an inflammatory lung disease that makes breathing difficult.

Bach also had other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, which caused him chronic pain, caused dietary restrictions and reduced his quality of life.

Then last fall, Johnstone was diagnosed with lung cancer. Shortly after, he and Bach decided to apply for the medical assistance in dying (MAID) program. They wanted to die together…

“As soon as they felt it was the right thing for them, it was a comfort,” Burlingham said.

“I don’t think either person can see themselves without the other.”

Both were accepted into the program. Ralph, 77, and Laura, 67, died in each other’s arms on August 8.

Die with dignity

holding hands
The couple’s health deteriorated in recent years. (Submitted by Erin Legg)

Ralph Johnstone was reunited with his children in the fall of 2022, shortly after his cancer diagnosis.

“He asked me if I had ever heard of MAID. I didn’t know what the acronym meant, but when we started talking about it I said, ‘yeah, I know,'” said Johnstone’s daughter, Erin Legg.

“He said this is what we have decided to do when we get to the end.”

Legg said she and her siblings accepted the choice.

“I think the term ‘dying with dignity’ is something special. There’s something special about that,” he said.

“When you think about a loved one suffering from a pretty serious cancer, you want them to maintain that dignity.”

Burlingham said she and her brother also accepted their mother’s choice. At the time, Johnstone was his wife’s primary caregiver.

“He had had health problems over the years and I think COPD was what really affected his quality of life,” he said.

“They were both very active and extremely independent, and it made sense that they were given the opportunity to be in control until the last day.”

Legg said he found out about the Aug. 8 date about a week in advance. He said the last week was a memorable and meaningful rush of visits with family and friends.

“It was like a living funeral, you know?” “I know you had many wonderful conversations with many of your loved ones,” she said.

Jessie Johnstone cuts her father’s hair on his last day. (Submitted by Erin Legg)

The couple’s children and grandchildren gathered at the house on the chosen morning: a Tuesday, the first sunny day after the long August weekend. The procedure was scheduled for five in the afternoon.

Jessie Johnstone bathed her father, cut his hair and made him breakfast. They shared stories in the yard.

Legg said his dad dressed in his “Canadian tuxedo,” a denim-on-denim combo.

“Laura had a beautiful skirt and yes, very flowy,” Burlingham said.

“My mom always loved flowy, bohemian clothing and wanted to make sure her makeup was just the way she wanted it.”

The couple said goodbye to the family and then headed to the bedroom they shared.

“My dad was telling stories. He just kept talking. We could hear him outside. We were outside in the backyard and we could hear him just talking,” Legg said.

“I was entertaining the doctors.”

A key figure

A month after the procedure, some of Johnstone’s friends sat down to reminisce about Johnstone and HEL’s impact on the local music scene.

Gord Haddock, the “H” of HEL, remembers meeting Johnstone around 1972.

Haddock’s brother-in-law played in a band and they had a manager who managed their money. It was Johnstone. Haddock wanted to check on him and make sure he was in good shape.

“We hit it off right away,” he said. “We had a common interest in rock and roll and decided to get together and do something.”

Bruce Wilkinson, Ralph Johnstone and Gord Haddock at HEL Music Supplies (Submitted by Gord Haddock)

They created a booking agency and a management company and settled into a space on the second floor of Broadway, the first of three locations they used in the then quiet commercial district. Working with bands, they quickly realized that musicians couldn’t get a good deal on equipment.

“We decided to start bringing in some music equipment. We gave them music equipment at discount prices. They, of course, loved it,” he said.

Bruce Wilkinson met Johnstone as a customer and later began working at the store. He had studied engineering at university.

“I didn’t want to be an engineer in the engineering world. I wanted to do something a little different,” he said.

“It turned out that Ralph needed help.”

Wilkinson worked there for 13 years, during the store’s pre-Internet heyday. Musicians and music fans gathered at the place.

“I think it was a unique moment, because the music store was kind of a focal point where people hung out, got advice and learned,” he said.

Wilkinson and Haddock said the Broadway of the 1970s and 1980s was a far cry from the trendy shopping district it is today.

“We used to do things like put huge stacks of Altec speakers on the sidewalk and play rock and roll. I mean, things you’d never see today, the police would be there in about 30 seconds,” Haddock said.

Ralph Johnstone met Laura Bach when he ran HEL Music, a fixture on the Broadway musical scene. (Submitted by Erin Legg)

Guitarist and technician Doug Scarrow also met Johnstone in the late 1970s. He said Johnstone’s impact on the Saskatoon music scene cannot be underestimated.

“He gave so many musicians a chance…extended credit and good deals. You don’t forget those things,” he said.

“He basically trained people to make sure his word was good. A lot of young people really learned from that and rose to the occasion, because they didn’t want to let him down.”

A celebration of the couple’s life is scheduled for September 18 at Friends.

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