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John Sibbald McKay was born and brought up in Dumbarton, the eldest son of Sarah Jane (nee Smith) and James McKay, a ship's joiner. He studied at The Glasgow School of Art from until 1908 -1911 initially as a day student under Bourdon and McGibbon before switching to evening classes. He was apprenticed to Alexander Cochrane Denny from 1906 remaining as assistant with the practice, which by 1911 had become Denny & Blain. From 1913 to 1915 he was an assistant with Andrew Granger Heiton in Perth. During WW1 he served with the Royal Engineers and was confirmed in the Gazette as a 2nd Lieutenant on 13 July 1918. After the war ended he returned to architectural practice and in 1920 he took a position as assistant with John Burnet Son & Dick where he remained for two years. In 1922 he was taken into partnership by Andrew Granger Heiton when Heiton's ill-health was making it increasing difficult for him to produce drawings for clients. McKay was admitted ARIBA under the war exemption scheme on 11 June 1923, his proposers being Charles Gourlay, Alexander Nisbet Paterson and William John Blain. Buildings he worked on with this practice include Kirkcaldy Museum, Art Gallery and Public Library and also Kirkcaldy War memorial in the grounds of Balsusney House After his partner Heiton, died in June 1927, McKay continued with the practice. As well as being an Associate of the RIBA, he was a Fellow of the Dundee Institute of Architects around 1930. McKay left the architectural profession in 1932 to train for the ministry and from 1934 was the minister of Galashiels Congregational Church. He died on 5 September 1938, survived by his widow Nessie Stirling. John S McKay is commemorated on The Glasgow School of Art's First World War Roll of Honour.
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