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People > Scots of Windsor Today > June & John Dey

People: Scots of Windsor Today

June & John Dey:

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Original members of the Windsor branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, June and John Dey first came to Windsor in 1957 with their two-year-old daughter, Elspeth. The young couple had only been married for three years when they decided to leave their home in Bonnybridge, Scotland (near Falkirk) and start anew.

When John Dey was allowed a week's vacation from his job at the fire department, he and his wife decided to go to the seaside. Unfortunately, terrible winds and rain ruined their vacation. "We said, 'this weather would make you think of emigrating!'" June recalled with a chuckle. It was the thing to do at the time: young people were leaving Scotland in droves. In Glasgow, they had to wait in long lines to acquire the necessary paperwork for emigration. "We were young, we didn't think of the consequences," June added. Instead they thought of the exciting new opportunities that were waiting for them on the other side of the ocean.

June and John had several cousins who had already left Scotland, so it made sense for the couple to settle among the other Deys in the Windsor area. June still remembers her first impression of the area: "It was pretty boring compared with back home," she said of the landscape. But she changed her mind when John's cousin (with whom they were staying with while they searched for a place of their own) drove them to the Lake Erie shore. To see with her own eyes something she had learned about in her geography classes as a schoolgirl was a magnificent feeling for June. "It was a big deal," she said of the trip.

Unfortunately, June and John had chosen to immigrate at a poor time. Canada was in the midst of a recession, and it was difficult for John to find work. At thirty-two, he was too years too old to join the Windsor Fire Department, so he was forced to fall back on the trade he had picked up in Scotland. He had been a fitter (machinist) in the Bonnybridge factories before becoming a fireman, and specialized in using machine tools to make or modify metal parts. Although this was a highly-specialized trade, there was little work for a machinist in an area choked with recession.

Times were difficult for the Dey family, who stayed with some cousins in Windsor while they looked for a place of their own. John was no stranger to adversity, however; he had been drafted at the age of eighteen to fight in the Second World War, and had served with the Royal British Navy in the blistering heat of South Africa and India. He ended up taking a job as an unskilled worker on the assembly line at General Motors, but when the factory made cutbacks he was laid off because of his low seniority. Not having worked long enough to be eligible for employment insurance, and unable to find another job, John struggled to provide for his family. "Money ran out pretty fast," June admitted.

Despite their early hardships, the Dey family rebounded and settled into their new lives in Windsor. John ended up with a good job as a machinist at Hiram Walker and remained with them until his retirement, and he and June added two more children (Ruth and Ian) to their family. "We appreciated things I think more when we did get them, having gone through that," June said of the blessings that came from their struggles. In time the family became "quite Canadian," with June and John getting citizenship in 1970.

Despite their thorough assimilation, June and John never lost touch with their Scottish homeland. "You're still Scottish, you never lose that," June said with an impassioned tone. "But we are [also] Canadian." June spent more than twenty-three years away before returning to her home town in 1980, where she enjoyed a welcome reunion with relatives. Three years later, June was in Scotland again for the somber occasion of her father's funeral. Nine years passed before June visited her homeland again (in 1992, she shared a trip home with her husband and youngest daughter, Ruth). When June showed the village in which she had been born (a rural farming community called Torphichen) to her daughter, the young woman examined her surroundings and then sighed with relief. "Oh, Mum, I'm glad you emigrated!" she moaned.

The oldest Dey child, Elspeth, who had been born in Scotland, has since returned to her native country as well, and although Ian has not yet visited, he does have the Dey family crest tattooed on his arm.

June and John maintained a close tie to their heritage over the decades through their involvement in Scottish country dance. In 1965, some of their friends began gathering together to dance and encouraged the Deys to join them. "Once we got into it, it became our passion," June said of her immediate addiction to country dancing; John too was a natural at picking up the steps and the tunes. The Deys and their friends kept meeting on a regular basis at different locations until they finally settled in Mackenzie Hall in the early 1990s. This small core group became the nucleus of what was to become the Windsor branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. As the years passed, the group eventually attracted so many members that June and John decided to become certified Scottish country dance teachers so that their group could become an official branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society in Edinburgh. In the summer of 1980, they Deys attended a two-week course at Brock University in St. Catherine's where they were instructed in all the pedagogical techniques necessary for the most effective teaching of Scottish country dance. At the end of the course, dance instructors from the society's headquarters in Edinburgh visited the would-be teachers to deliver examinations. June and John returned to Windsor as certified dance instructors, and the next year their group obtained official branch status with the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society.

For the Deys, dancing has been a lot more to them than a pastime over the decades; aside from helping them stay in touch with their Scottish roots, country dancing has also introduced them to some dear friends they otherwise never would have met. They spent many years traveling to Scottish country dance workshops all over southwestern Ontario, and have met wonderful people everywhere they've been. Friends from neighbouring branches in Detroit, Niagara, Hamilton, London and elsewhere attend events hosted by the Windsor branch, and are always eager to return the hospitality they are shown. John was a particularly avid supporter of the Hamilton branch.

The music adds another plus for June. "You can't sit still when you listen to the music."

Even though she's advancing in years and has had two new knees, June is still teaching Scottish country dancing at Mackenzie Hall. While she begrudgingly insists that her recent surgeries have hampered the quality of her dancing, she is adamant that she'll be dancing as long as she possibly can. "I think if I had to give this up I would just go downhill," she said. "It keeps me young."

John passed away in August 2007 at the age of eighty-two, leaving three grown children (Elspeth, Ruth, and Ian) and five grandchildren (Sarah, Meaghan, Evan, Ken, and Sean) to his legacy. Virtually everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him had been touched by his warm, genuine nature. "John was ... one of the first people to make me feel welcome when I would come from Ann Arbor to dance in Windsor," said Catherine Graham. Tom and Vyvyan Dunlap shared similar memories: "Whenever we come from Indiana to visit our Canadian friends, John always met us with a warm smile and greeting which helped us to feel at home." Derek and Jean Vallintine said that they would "always remember the twinkle in John's eyes as he spoke and what a kind and special person he was." And longtime friend Bill Smith noted that "if you were lucky enough to have John as a friend then you had a true friend for life."

Friends and family also remembered John's fondness for Robert Burns, who inspired him to dabble in creative writing later in life. John became a regular member of the Church Writers Group and read his work at gatherings with the Live Poets Society. His granddaughter Sarah McKenzie described him as "a renaissance man in modern times," citing his natural abilities in singing, dancing, playing piano, and writing. Meaghan McKenzie also shared her touching memories of her grandfather with friends and family at John's memorial service. Her eulogy highlighted the best of John's character, bringing the man to life again in the memories of the heart:

"They say to dance as if no one is watching and to sing as if no one is listening. That, however, was impossible when it came to my Grampy," Meaghan began. "He had the most charming accent I've ever heard. Anything he said sounded sweet and smooth. Just listening to him speak about anything and everything could calm and comfort me. The best were the long car rides from Hamilton to Windsor. Grandma and Grampy would pop in a tape of Scottish tunes and my sister and I would sing along like we knew what all those funny words meant. I always thought it was the brown cow, and thankfully I was taught many years ago about the 'broon coo.'

"But nothing compares to the way he moved on the dance floor. From the days of Scottish country 'wrestling,' to the more reformed Scottish county dancing, he was unmatched. He was a poet on and off the dance floor. I remember my sis and I getting a lesson in the living room from Grandma and Grampy. Surely though for those dancers out there you know four is not a complete set, so our stuffed animals filled in. He made us feel like we were the best dancers in the world even though our lines were crooked and the only thing we could do properly was a curtsey.

"It would be impossible to, in mere minutes, sum up how great a man my Grampy was. In fact, I believe that if we all had the chance to share our memories of him it would surely run longer than the blessed eighty-two years Grampy was with us. He changed each and every heart he came across. Let us take a lesson from him then and enjoy the simple things: the undying love of family and friends, the beauty of a blooming flower, toe- tapping music, a great dance or two, and smiles from all the memories we've been so lucky to earn.

"Here's to the heath, the hill and the heather,
The bonnet, the plaid, the kilt and the feather!"

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