Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthMay 15, 1891
Place of BirthStirling
Marital StatusMarried
Next of KinWife: Florence Rose Dempster, Keewatin, Ontario
Trade / CallingMillwright
Service Details
Regimental Number1038031
Service Record Link to Service Record
BattalionCanadian Forestry Corp
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchSoldier Biographies
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Address at EnlistmentKeewatin
Date of EnlistmentAugust 19, 1916
Age at Enlistment25
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathAugust 15, 1936
Age at Death45
Buried AtDryden Cemetery, Dryden, Ontario

Dempster, William McLay

William McLay Dempster was one of two sons of William and Margaret Dempster of Stirling, Scotland to enlist from Keewatin during the war.

William and his brother Robert had come to Canada in 1912, settling Keewatin where their uncle James and his wife Ann lived. All the men worked for the Lake of the Woods Milling Company in Keewatin, William as a machinist.

Robert had enlisted in the spring of 1916 with the region’s 94th infantry battalion, and when the 238th Battalion, looking for recruits for the Canadian Forestry Corp, passed through town in the summer of 1916 William signed attestation papers with them along with a dozen or so other local men including another of William’s uncles, James McLay of Keewatin. William was married by then to Florence Rose, who’d come to Canada in 1913 and they had an infant daughter, Jeannie, born in January of 1916.

The 238th was one of four battalions raised in Canada specifically for the Forestry Corp, which was created when the British government determined it made more sense to harvest timber and make lumber in England, Scotland and France rather than ship it from Canada and elsewhere.

The corp would eventually number of 35,000 officers and men divided into 150 companies of several hundred each along with administrative and support units.

While the men primarily cut trees and built sawmills to make the lumber needed for duck boards,dugouts, trench and tunnel shoring and buildings, they were also used as labour units near the front lines when needed and to help evacuate wounded.

The 238th sailed for England in September 1916 and William Dempster spent most of 1917 and part of 1918 working in Scotland with the 9th and 110th companies. In June of  1918 he was transferred to the 13th Company for duty in France. The unit’s war diary notes their first assignment in July 1918 was to build a compound for German prisoners of war.

William returned from the war in April of 1919, and he and Florence lived briefly in Winnipeg where twin daughters Daisy and Lilly were born, before settling in Dryden. The 1921 census records the family – William, Florence, Jean, Daisy and Lilly – as living on King Street, Dryden. William and Florence would have three more children, two sons and another daughter.

William died Aug. 15, 1936 and is buried in the Dryden cemetery.

by Bob Stewart


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