|Date of Birth||January 4, 1896|
|Place of Birth||Stirling|
|Next of Kin||Father: John Dempster, Keewatin, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Labourer|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Address at Enlistment||Keewatin, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||August 12, 1915|
|Age at Enlistment||19|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||April 26, 1972|
|Age at Death||76|
|Buried At||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Burnaby, British Columbia|
John Kane Dempster was one of four brothers, the sons of John and Catherine (Kane) Dempster, to volunteer for service during the war.
John and Catherine brought their family to Canada in 1907 from Glasgow, Scotland where John was a baker. He’d found employment for himself and his older sons at the Lake of the Woods Milling Company in Keewatin where they settled.
The family included John (1861) and Catherine (1861); sons William (1894), Thomas (1887), his twin brother Andrew (1887), Daniel (1888), John (1896) and James (1903); and daughters Julia (1890) and Mary (1897).
By the 1911 census the family was well settled in the community, although Daniel had died in 1909 at the age of 11. The census records they were living in a house on Nelson Street and John, Thomas and William were employed at the flour mill. Andrew worked at a sash factory and John at a sawmill. James, the youngest boy was still in school. Julia and Mary were also living at home.
When war was declared in August of 1914 Thomas was among the first group of local men to enlist, joining eight other Keewatin men to sign up with the 98th Regiment in Kenora to be part of Canada’s First Contingent.
The following summer John, who was working at the flour mill by that time, also enlisted. Brothers William and Andrew would enlist in 1916.
John joined the 52nd Battalion on Aug. 12, 1915 during the battalion’s summer recruiting drive. Authorized in Dec. of 1914, the battalion was one of three to be formed from Northwestern Ontario volunteers during the war. The 52nd was based in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), and began filling its ranks in mid-March 1915 when its senior officers were named and Manitoba Militia District No. 10 directed recruiting depots throughout Northwestern Ontario to begin assigning men to the new battalion. Recruiters in Kenora were directed to raise up to 100 volunteers from the town and surrounding area for the new battalion. Dryden was also to provide up to 100 men and Fort Frances 110.
The battalion trained at Gresley Park near Port Arthur from May through October 1915, then travelled by train to St. John, New Brunswick for the ocean voyage to England, sailing aboard the California on Nov. 23, 1915. After further training in England the battalion arrived in France in February of 1916, joining the newly formed 9th Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division.
The battalion was involved in light fighting during its first few months in the trenches, but in June received its baptism by fire when the Germans launched a major attack on allied lines in the Ypres area.
Designated the Battle of Mt. Sorrel, the attack and the Canadian counter attack to retake the front line trenches lasted 10 days and resulted in over 8,000 Canadian casualties, including 3,000 killed. The 52nd Battalion was especially hard hit, losing its commanding officer, a company commander, a number of junior officers and three company sergeants. John Kane Dempster was among the wounded. Struck by three bullets in the chest and back, he was treated in hospital for 10 days, then transferred to one of the army’s convalescence depots. He rejoined his battalion on July 1.
His wounds at Mt. Sorrel were the only ones he received requiring hospital treatment during the war although he was with the battalion through some of heaviest fighting including Vimy Ridge, Hill 70 and Passchendaele. He returned to the UK in February of 1919 and in March he sent a postcard to his mother from Falkirk, Scotland.
John returned to Canada in July of 1919 and was formally discharged from the army on July 31. He made his home in Rossport, near Winnipeg, where his sister Julia and her husband lived, and in 1926 married Philomena Creran in Winnipeg. Born in Scotland in 1903, she had come to Canada in 1904 with her family.
In 1932 John and Philomena and their family moved to Vancouver, British Columbia where John’s mother, brother Andrew and sister Mary lived, and John took a job with the City of Vancouver as a labourer where he worked until his retirement in 1960.
John passed away April 26, 1972 from a bronchial infection. His wife Philomena died in 1978. Both are interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Burnaby, British Columbia.
John’s service is commemorated on the Town of Keewatin Plaque and the Lake of the Woods Milling Company Plaque.
by Bob Stewart
Grave marker photos courtesy of Mike Melen.
Postcard and photos of John provided by his grandson Shawn Dempster. First photo below: John is on the right, Charles Fisher on the left.