July 30, 1943 - March 18, 2024

Miles John Dempster, 80, survived by his loving companion Colette Fortin, son Alec, and daughter Marina, and beloved grandchildren (Paloma, Lucian and Eliseo) passed away peacefully in the company of dear friends and family at La Maison St. Raphaël in Montreal after a three year cancer journey.

“Il laisse dans mon coeur et mon âme, une empreinte indélébile.” [He leaves, on my heart and on my soul, an indelible imprint.] - Colette

Miles was born in Witney, England, 1943, son of Diana Evelyn Taylor and Fergie Lee Dempster, and younger brother of Laila (Honey) Dempster. His father was a senior officer in the British Secret Intelligence Service posted overseas. Miles had fond memories of early childhood in Cataluña and attended boarding school in England from the age of nine. He saw his parents on vacation in various parts of the world such as Vietnam and Australia. All this contributed to what he called a ‘drifting un-anchored experience’ in which he was able to understand the culture of each port of call but not feel ‘stuck’ with any of them exclusively.

His exposure to music began as a child in Spain where he learned to sing the habaneras he would often sing with his sister and father. At school he led with guitar to form a skiffle band playing the songs of Lonnie Donegan to the raucous enthusiasm of all the students. That decided his lifelong dedication to the guitar. There was also exposure to Bach on the organ at mass and classical music listening sessions in his headmaster’s study. Before university he spent a year studying classical and flamenco guitar in Madrid, including master classes with Andrés Segovia in Santiago de Compostela.

Despite his eagerness to pursue music, there was pressure for Miles to become ‘a captain of industry’ which meant studying Economics at Cambridge University where he was fortunate to have met some of his best lifelong friends, and developed natural intellect that served him in a variety of positions at Formica in London, the Comisión Federal de Electricidad in Mexico City, The Hospital for Sick Children and Ontario Hydro in Toronto, and Info Zero Un/Voxco in Montreal that he helped establish with his dear friend Louis.

In spite of his academic pursuits and bread and butter work the guitar was always at hand. While at Cambridge, Miles performed a solo candle light concert at Kettle’s Yard, and on holiday in Ibiza with his parents, serenaded Francoise, whom he married and moved with to Mexico City where Marina and Alec were born. These would be several felicitous and colourful years of family expansion and enduring friendships.

In 1975, upon moving to Canada from Mexico, lured by a guitar recording contract, Miles attended the Toronto International Guitar festival and found himself picking up a lute for the first time at luthier Colin Everett’s booth. Seeing how agile he was on the instrument, Colin, a fellow eccentric Brit, simply told him to hold on to it. That gesture of generosity, and asking Colin out for a beer after, spawned a lifelong friendship (and the nick name ‘Molson’). Three years later, at Guitar ’78, Miles was performing on the lute and giving master classes to novices like his dear friend Bruno. In a 1977 concert review in the Ottawa Citizen he was said to have “exhibited an enviable display of technical and emotional control” and was described as “one of the few who has successfully made the transition to lute”, and that he could have only accomplished this through "an iron integrity allied to his natural talent”.

Miles was a sensitive and attentive accompanist on guitar, as will testify those who attended concerts he organized with Catalan singer María Teresa Rifa performing repertoire in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Catalan. Musical arrangements were constructed with the same energy and care devoted to developing his own software program called Score Conversions designed to make translations between different types of early music tablature. He published a number of works and was also sought out by early music academics who contracted him to work on their research projects.

As a father, Miles was all love and encouragement. His children benefited from spontaneous camping trips, culinary adventures, and the musical mentors he chose for them. The gift of the past years was a reminder that time is not to be taken for granted. His presence became increasingly powerful and joyful through daily conversation that touched on the levity and the gravity of whatever might be at hand.

While impossible to summarize the life of a Renaissance man such as Miles, consisting of many countries, transitions and curiosities, suffice it to say he was a master of ‘presence’. The natural atmosphere of ritual and celebration with which he imbued daily life was evident in the sharpening of cooking knives, the pleasure in tending the wood stove or restoring the old-glass windows of the beautiful home that he inhabited in Marbleton in the Eastern townships with Colette whom he called his ‘rock’ for a euphoric decade, before moving back to Montreal. Their home, wherever it was, was harmonious and full of light, art and music.

As much as he was nourished by music and connection, he also treasured his solitude and silence, the interstitial, and the spaces in between notes. His description of perfect happiness were moments that did not rely on what he called “rationalization”. In his own words, rather “the unconditional love which I have for my children, grandchildren and closest friends; the love that I receive from my family and companions; the sensations when in contact with nature such as the breeze on my face; walking barefoot on the seashore with the moist sand squidqing between my toes etc; sensations that unite the self to the eternal universe”.

All those who knew Miles, have been inspired by the courage and attitude he chose in the face of challenge. As his dear friend Alec Grant said, “he remained the same Miles we knew and loved in our youth; in charge of the agenda, enthusiastic and always seeing the Main Point, quick to see the funny side and that attending even the most ordinary things!” He will be greatly missed, but would want us to look on the bright side of life and death, and likely quip something along the lines of, “Va te faire cuire un oeuf!”


Our family would like to thank, from the bottom of our hearts, the multicultural community of joyful, compassionate and devoted staff at La Maison St. Raphael who tickled his sense of humour, and sang and joked with him in a Spanish, French and English. In spite of diminished physical capabilities Miles continued to bring light, laughter and song to those around him in his last three months.

We would also like to thank the excellent home care services of NOVA and of the CLC Côte-des-Neiges, a period most tenderly documented here: 'Vers une belle mort/La Presse'.

Photo: Martin Chamberlain - La Presse


If you would like to share any condolences or recollections, or wish to make a donation in Miles’ name for La Maison St. Raphaël please click here:


Memorials in his honour are beginning to come together; a possible concert in the chapel of l’Église Saint Jean-Baptiste de Montréal; and Miles expressed a wish for his ashes to be scattered at the foot of one of his favourite trees, “a beech”, on the property of his cherished friends Carole and Mario.

Please reach out if you would like to be present for either or both events:

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