He was born and died in Hamilton, Ontario. Lewis was nicknamedRapid Ray for his speed on the track. While excelling in the 100, 200, 400 and 800 metre distances in high school, Lewis was subjected to racism from coaches, teachers and the public. Despite this, he captured seventeen national championships (including a record four in one day) while a student at Hamilton's Central Collegiate.
Two years later he won a silver medal in the mile relay (4×440 yards) at the British Empire Games (later the Commonwealth Games). In the 440 yards competition he was eliminated in the semi-finals. Narrowly missing the cut for Canada's 1936 Olympic team, he ran for two more years before retiring after a bout of pain from shin splints (shin splints had caused Lewis problems in the latter portion of his running career). He received greater recognition later in his life, including the Order of Canada in 2001. In 2002, Canadian author John Cooper wrote his biography, Rapid Ray: The Story of Ray Lewis. The children's book chronicled his youth in Hamilton, as well as his training for the Olympics. A Hamilton school named in his honour, Ray Lewis Elementary, opened in 2005 and was occasionally visited by his widow Vivienne.