Emerson Dempster visited a lot of cemeteries while on his “dream trip” to France, Belgium and the Netherlands, but only one of them contained a grave he had been looking forward to visiting for more than 10 years.
The New Glasgow resident recently returned from an 11-day tour that visited locations related to the first and second world wars, and got the chance to visit the grave of his great-uncle Gordon McKay of Thorburn.
“I was very anxious. It’s like you have a very, very important appointment and you think you’re going to be late,” Dempster said, recalling wondering if his taxi driver was going the wrong way. He visited the Monchy British Cemetery in France with a man from Newfoundland whom he met on the trip. The stop was a quick one, taking place early in the morning before the travellers left for their next destination. Dempster said it was really emotional, adding that he was the first in his family to visit the grave of McKay, who died in the First World War.
Dempster has plenty of other stories to tell from his trip — making friends with other travellers on the tour, one of whom has relatives in New Glasgow; meeting a man whose parents live in Pictou County; and seeing Princess Anne during a Remembrance Day service at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium, to name a few.
There was no questioning where Dempster is from while he was on the tour, handing out Canadian flag pins to everyone he met.
He also gave away a bright red Canada sweater to Royal Canadian Legion Branch 005 in the Netherlands, which takes part in ceremonies remembering Canadian contributions in the Second World War. Dempster said the legion has a signed Olympic Sidney Crosby sweater hanging on its wall and serves Moosehead beer.
He spoke of the reception Canadians received everywhere they went, adding that someone he met at the legion described why Canadians are treated so well there.
“He was telling me the connection is because when … the Canadian Army was coming through, whatever was in their backpack, they gave, whether it was a chocolate bar, a piece of bread, a potato, anything because they had nothing.”
Another highlight for Dempster was visiting Vimy Ridge, which he said was bigger than he imagined.
“To stand beside Mother Canada and the expression they’ve carved into the statue is just astounding.”
Dempster said the trip far exceeded his expectations.
“You learn so much, so it’d be good to do it twice so you could remember more of it.”
Emerson Dempster is shown at the grave of his great-uncle Gordon McKay on his left, and McKay’s friend Luiet Leeds on the right. Dempster was the first in his family to visit the grave in Monchy British Cemetery in France. (Submitted)