George Shiels was born in the family home at East Mains, Coulter, Lanarkshire, Scotland, on October 18, 1828. He was educated at the school on the estate of the Duke of Buccleuch until he reached the age of eleven. He then went to work on the Thomas Anderson farm as a choreboy. His brother John was employed there. George was soon promoted to plowman, a task at which he became highly skilled. He also became an expert checker player. Tradition says that he engaged the world champion in a contest which lasted thirty hours. After playing five games, George had won two of the five games and was only a teenager at the time. Time was taken out for food and sleep.
George is reported to have stated later that the defeat was the best thing that could have happened to him, as his later life as a farmer was highly satisfying to him. George left the Anderson farm for a job in a greenhouse at higher wages. He stayed there until 1850 when he and his brother John decided to emigrate to Canada.
The brothers left Glasgow about June 15, 1850 on the good ship Morton. The voyage almost ended in a shipwreck off the coast of Newfoundland. A squall came up suddenly and carried off two of the masts and two sailors with them. Repairs took two weeks and during that time, smallpox broke out on the ship. Eleven people died and John was very ill with it. He was still quite weak when they landed in Canada. They stopped at Whitby where a friend, Andrew Archibald, got John an easy job. George got a job as a teamster for a sawmill. He said later that he had never seen such a sensible team of horses as those he drove there.
George remained at Whitby for two years and then came on to Toronto where John had gone earlier. The two brothers then travelled west to Andrew Archibald’s farm on lot 5 Concession 5 Tuckersmith Township, southeast of the present Seaforth. At that time the land in Ontario south of the boundary of Elma, Grey, Morris, Wawanosh and Ashfield townships was Canada Company land. The land above that line was Crown land. Settlers on Canada Company land could not obtain a deed for their land until they had it completely paid for. On Crown land, one could get a deed subject to a mortgage as soon as the land was opened for settlement by the Government. A settler could register a “patent” and this gave one a right to live on the land until deeds were available in 1865.
George and John went through this procedure. The land records differ with family tradition in regard to the ownership of the four farms the brothers took. A patent given at Goderich on August 31, 1854 has George’s signature as owner of lots 19 and 20 on concession 14.
His first name is crossed out and John’s signature is above it. Another land record has George selling lot 19 concession 15 to Alexander Campbell for 7 shillings sixpence an acre with a down payment of 25 pounds. Lot 20 concession 14 is said to have been traded to James McNair for lot 27 concession 16 and cash to boot. George is said to have cleared the pine timber from lot 27, made money on the lumber and then sold the lot as a cleared farm. George obtained the deed to lot 20 concession 15 in 1865 subject to a $400.00 mortgage. He and John obtained lot 16 concession 15 from Alexander Campbell and sold it to their brother Thomas when he arrived in Ontario from Illinois in 1860.
To resume the narrative, Andrew Archibald advised the brothers to go north to the Crown land in Grey or Morris township. They set out north travelling to the present location of Walton and they decided to turn east into Grey. The last place they could get a meal was at the Combs’ house. (It is interesting to note that two of George’s sons later married daughters of the Combs family). They travelled east along the line of the 15th concession, stopping at the Jim Douglas farm as it was the last farm. They got a good feed of potatoes and venison. George always had a good word for Mrs. Douglas because of that good meal.
After that they lived off the land. George was a good shot with the old musket they had and John was a competent cook. They continued east along the 15th concession crossing the Beauchamp creek on a log. They met Lauchlin & Hugh McNeil on the way. Hugh had taken lot 16 concession 14, and Lauchlin had lots 17 and 18 on the same concession. George and John slept in Hugh’s shanty on lot 16 that night and the next day cut their names on the stakes on lots 19 & 20 concession 14 and lots 19 & 20 concession 15. They put up a shanty on the line between lots 19 & 20 concession 14 and began to slash down the trees to clear the land for farming.
In the summer the two brothers worked on the construction of the Huron Road (now provincial road #8) to provide cash for the necessities in the winter. They worked together in the winter to clear their own land. This type of life continued until 1857 when both brothers were married. George married Susannah Wortley on September 4, 1857, a daughter of Benjamin and Mary Wortley, who had come from England. They were married by a Rev. James Findlay, in Fullarton Township, Perth County. The ceremony was witnessed by a brother and sister of the bride, John and Elizabeth Wortley. Apparently neither witness could read or write at the time as their names were written in by the minister and they made their “mark” below. Rev. Findlay must have been an itinerant minister as the Fullarton township records do not show any churches in the township in 1851 or 1861.
George and Susannah lived in a log house on their farm until a two storey house was built by George and his sons in the 1880’s. Susannah’s brother and sister, John and Caroline Wortley, lived with them until 1863 when John married Agnes Robertson and took the west half of lot 18 concession 15 as his homestead.
Family tradition says that George had one pig when their first child was a baby. The pig was kept in a log pen and George heard the pig squealing one night. He went out with his axe to investigate as he did not have a gun at the time. He found a bear in the pen after his pig. Susannah arrived at the scene in time to witness George killing the bear with his axe. Apparently no bear was going to get his pig!
The original school building was erected in 1864 at the instigation of George Shiels. He helped organize the district and served on the board for many years. The land did not belong to the school board until 1873, when trustees George Shiels, James McNair and Alexander Stewart, purchased the 1/2 acre where the school was located from James Fulton for fifty dollars. Of course there was no self interest on George’s part, but his children only had 100 yards to walk to school! George bought the old building for six dollars and sold it at a profit. The new school was a frame building that cost six hundred and forty-seven dollars to build. George’s brother Thomas dug the well and lined it with brick. In 1914 the building was covered with yellow brick and subsequent to that a furnace was put in and running water was provided. Many of the Shiels family served on the board, including George Jr, Thomas, John, James and Jack. James McNair and Angus Carmichael also served on the board. When the Grey Township schools were consolidated in 1965 the school was sold and is now occupied as a residence.
Family tradition says that George had a driving horse called “Rose”. She was unmanageable to the point that only the men of the family could handle her. In 1887, Susannah was kicked by a cow and seriously injured. The nearest Doctor was nine miles away in Brussels. One of Susannah’ sons hitched Rose to the buggy and took the whip to her. She made Brussels in one hour and the trip back with the two men in the same time.
That was a notable feat on the dirt roads. Susannah died in 1889 at 51 years of age, having never recovered from her injuries. George died on January 19, 1906 at 77 years of age. Both are buried in Brussels cemetery.
George and Susannah had eleven children: Barbara (1859); Jane (1860); Thomas (1862); Susannah (1864); Robert (1867); Mary (1869); George (1871); Jemima (1874); Ellen (1877); William John (1880) and David (1883).
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