Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthAugust 8, 1887
Place of BirthStirling
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinJohn Dempster: Father Keewatin, Ontario
Trade / CallingPlasterer
ReligionRoman Catholic
Service Details
Regimental Number661
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion8th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Address at EnlistmentKeewatin, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentAugust 12, 1914
Age at Enlistment27
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathNovember 7, 1946
Age at Death59
Buried AtForest Lawn Cemetery, Burnaby, British Columbia

Dempster, Thomas

Thomas Dempster was one of four brothers, the sons of John and Catherine 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.

Thomas and his father arrived first, in April 1907 and were joined in late July by Catherine and the rest of the family: sons William; Thomas’ twin brother Andrew; Daniel; John and James; and daughters Julia and Mary.

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 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.

Eventually 44 local men would make the trip by rail to the Valcartier, Quebec training camp where Canada’s 1st Division was being formed.

Like most of the Kenora men, Thomas Dempster was assigned to the 8th Battalion (Winnipeg Rifles) which was formed from militia units from Winnipeg, rural Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.

The battalion sailed for England with the First Division convoy in early October and Thomas landed in England Oct. 18, 1914.

Hospitalized for four days in November 1914 for inflamed tonsils, Thomas Dempster otherwise remained healthy during the winter training on Salisbury Plain and was with the 8th Battalion when it landed in France in February 1915. He fought with the 8th battalion during the battles of 1915, including being slightly gassed in April at Ypres where gas first used during the war.

During the fighting of 1916 Thomas Dempster was detached from the battalion on several occasions, first for three months with a support company and later to work with a YMCA officer. He also had two 10-day leaves to take him away from the front lines, in October of 1915 and in December of 1916.

And his medical record notes that at one point, due to a mouth infection from the rigors of living in trenches, he had 15 of his teeth extracted.

He fought with the 8th Battalion at Vimy Ridge, but his front line service ended five months later during the battle for Hill 70.

He was severely wounded on Aug. 16, 1917, the second day of the 10-day battle when he suffered gunshot wounds and was hit by shrapnel in both legs, the shrapnel shattering his right femur.

He was just one of several Kenora men killed or severely wounded during the Hill 70 battle which claimed a a total of 9,198 Canadians killed, wounded or missing, nearly as many as Vimy Ridge. ┬áThe 8th Battalion was especially hard hit – 77 men killed, 244 wounded and 69 missing in the first days of the battle.

Initially treated at a field hospital he was quickly transferred to England where he underwent several surgeries and a year long recovery period, his recovery hindered by the fact he fell at one point, re-breaking his right leg.

During his recovery he met and married Jeanie Porteus Pringle of Glasgow in the summer of 1918.

Thomas Dempster was invalided home in Sept. 1918, his medical file noting he now required an orthopedic shoe with a 1-inch lift to compensate for a shortened right leg. Jeanie followed in May 1919, and after Thomas’ formal discharge from service on June 4, 1919, the couple settled in Keewatin where Thomas returned to work at the flour mill.

The 1921 census lists the family as living on Front Street, with a daughter, Catherine, born in 1920. Thomas and Jeanie’s family would eventually include a son, Adam, and three more daughters.

Thomas’ father, John, died in 1926, and his mother, his sister Mary and brother Andrew who was an invalid due to his war wounds sold their Keewatin house and moved west to Vancouver, B.C. in 1927. Julia, the older of the two sister and her husband James Hemphill, also a war veteran, had moved there in 1926. Over the years most of the Dempster brothers and sisters moved west too, settling near each other in Vancouver’s East Side.

Thomas, who had to quit work at the flour mill in 1939 due to poor health, joined the rest of the family in Vancouver that year.

Thomas Dempster passed away Nov. 7, 1946, in Vancouver from a heart attack after two weeks in hospital due to hypertension problems.

His mother Catherine Dempster died in 1948 and her body was returned to Kenora for burial with her husband.

Jeanie Dempster passed away Feb. 23, 1973. Both Thomas and Jeanie are interred at Forest Lawn Park in Vancouver.

Thomas Dempster is commemorated on the Town of Keewatin Plaque and the Lake of the Woods Milling Company Plaque.

by Bob Stewart