John Shiels was born on July 8, 1826 in Lanarkshire, Scotland, near the town of Biggar. He was the fourth child of Thomas Shiels and Barbara Jean Cranston Shiels. He got some of his education at the parish school until he was 11 years old. All the education he received after that was at college of hard knocks. He was placed on a farm called Hard Scrabble, but he never complained. Before he was 20, he was promoted to farm foreman at a very good wage for that time.
At the age of 21, he and his brother George decided to come to Canada. They left Glasgow, Scotland on the first of June and it was the middle of September when they arrived in Quebec. They sailed on the good ship Morton. They were shipwrecked off the coast of Newfoundland. A sharp squall sprung up and before the sailors could reef the sails, it took two of the masts off and the sailors with them. They had to cast anchor for repairs and it was nearly three weeks before they set sail again. To make matters worse, smallpox broke out on the ship and 11 people died. John had smallpox but he pulled through.
They arrived at Whitby, Ont on Oct 1 and as John had been sick, he could not do hard work. A friend of his, Mr. Andrew Archibald, got him a job without hard work. Archibald was a bricklayer and a stonemason. John stayed with him for two years. Then John came with Archibald to his farm on Huron tract near Harpurhey. He worked for him on his farm and in the spring of 1853, John’s brother George came up from Whitby. Archibald advised the two men to go north to Grey or Morris township.
So one day early in May they went north. There were lots of places they could get something to drink but the Coombs place was the last place to eat. John was a good cook and George was a good shot, so they faired well. The first settler they called on was Jim Douglas and they got a good feed of potatoes and venison. The two men really appreciated it and always had a good word for Mrs. Douglas.
They came to the McNiel shanty and slept well. The next day they cut their names at the east corner stakes of lots 19 and 20 on the 14th concession and the same on the 15th. They built a shanty on the line between lot 19 and 20 on the 14th concession. When that was done, they commenced to slash the trees down. Neither of them were experts with an axe but they soon were. Then the two men went out to harvest. John decided to take lot 19 and George took lot 20 on both. George traded lot 20 on the 14th to James McNair. George settled on lot 20 on the 15th and John on lot 19 of the 14th concession.
James McNair’s parents and two sisters came to stay with him and John fell in love with James’ sister Janet. John and Janet were married on Jan 29, 1857. John walked to Clinton to get the license. Janet, accompanied by John’s brother George, walked 18 miles through the brush to the wedding at Harpurhey (now Seaforth). They were married by Rev Barr. They walked home the next day and started their lives together.
Lot 19 was an extra stony far and for some reason Mrs. Shiels took great delight in collecting coloured rocks from the fields. These rocks were piled on both sides of the house steps and nearly all pictures of the Shiels family are centred around these rocks. Mrs. Shiels, as a young woman, worked side by side with her husband in clearing the bush from their farm.
John and Janet had nine children, six boys and three girls. The children were Tom, Jane, Barbara Ann, James, Janet, John, Jack, Robert and William. The first son Tom was born on Dec 9, 1857. Jane was born April 1, 1859; and Barbara Ann on Jan 29, 1861. A second son, James was born Dec 29, 1862. Janet was April 14, 1865 and she died 14 months later on Jul 4, 1866. John was born May 13, 1868 and tragedy struck again when he died 3 months later on May 26, 1868. Another son named Jack was born Aug 2, 1869; then came Robert on Feb 28 1871; and the youngest child William on July 15, 1875.
John and Janet lived on their farm for nearly 20 years before John finally got a deed for the land in 1872. John started with a shanty and then built a log house when he was married. This house was replaced by a comfortable brick residence in 1895. The buildings were standing until 1970. They had a good farm of 100 acres. They had about 20 maple trees along the lane from the 14th concession road. These trees were used for canning maple syrup. They had a small orchard with a half a dozen kinds of apple trees. It was really too cold for others. There were a number of wild berries as well. The farmers of this time tried to be shelf sufficient. They traded eggs to the store for flour. They seldom ate beef as there were no refrigerators. They would get together with neighbours to kill a beef and share the meat. They ate primarily eggs, pork and cheese.
The new brick residence was a two storey house with three layers of brick thick. It had a gable roof. There was no plumbing, no electrical and no furnace. The house was heated by a base burner stove burning coal. This stove was located in the corner of the sitting room. The brick house had seven bedrooms, five upstairs and two downstairs. The main floor also had a parlour, sitting room, pantry, kitchen, porch, and summer kitchen.
On Oct 31, 1883 the oldest son, Tom married Miss Rachel Ann Brigham. They resided in Brussels, Ont for about eight years. On Feb 17, 1885 a son John George was born. Tom, Rachel and John George move to Parry Sound in 1891. On Feb 28, 1893 a daughter Lottie Jane was born. To see the full history for Tom and Rachel, select it from the drop down menu under John.
In 1907, John and Janet celebrated their 50th wedding Anniversary. Although no special party celebrations were held over the golden wedding Anniversary, a pair of easy chairs were presented to the worthy couple by the community along with other gifts.
On Feb 5, 1908 John died at the age of 81. John was a member of the Presbyterian Church and in politics he loyally supported the Liberal principles. The following is a withdrawal from his obituary:
“The closing out of this life was not unexpected as John had been confined to bed for over a month and a complication of ailments, which with his age, forbade a prolongation of his life. Mr. Shiels was a quiet man, but was well read and highly esteemed by all who knew him. Rev D.B. McRae, Pastor, conducted an appropriate service at the home and at Cranbrook Cemetery. Pallbearers were Neil D., James D. and James D. McNair, John McNab, Jacon Zeigler and L. Steiss. The long concourse of old friends followed to the place of burial. Thus passes away another link between the pioneer days of Grey township and the present and removes a man of integrity, industry, modesty and high moral standards whose life might be worthily emulated.”
John’s wife, Janet was a native of Aryshire, Scotland and came to this new land in her young womanhood to stay with her brother James McNair. She married John and delivered nine of his children. She worked very hard along side of John on their farm. Janet died on May 2, 1917 at the age of 84.
John and Janet had three daughters, Jane, Barbara Ann, and Janet. Janet died when she was only 14 months old. Jane remained on the farm with her brothers James, Robert, and Jack. It is rumoured that she was disappointed in love at early age. Barbara Ann was quite and very kind. Both girls were very good cooks. Barbara Ann died on Dec 12, 1934 at the age of 73. Jane died on Aug 7, 1937 at the age of 78.
The family farm was transferred to James and Robert in 1906 due to John’s failing health. As the oldest son, Tom had moved away, James and Robert were next in line. James was the second oldest son. He had a lame left leg as it was shorter than the right. James was his mother’s favourite. James was short tempered and hard to get along with. He seldom smiled. It is rumoured that James had taken Rachel Ann Brigham to a dance and had turned his horse loose to graze. After the dance, James could not catch his horse with his lame leg and Tom took Rachel home. Tom and Rachel were married soon after and mother was not too pleased with Tom. James lived all his life on the farm and died on Jan 29, 1935 at the age of 72.
After James’ death, the deed for the land was transferred from James and Robert to Robert and Jack in 1937. Robert and Jack were two comedians in the family. They were very well liked. They remained bachelors all their lives and were known as the candy men to the children of Cranbrook. This was because each Christmas they bought candy for the children and took it to the school.
In Jack’s younger years, he was a handy man and bricklayer in the surrounding areas. After James death, he helped Robert run the family farm. Robert died on Feb 3, 1950 at the age of 69. The deed to the land was transferred to Martin McDonald, the same year. Martin was a life long friend of both Jack and Robert. Jack took sick in 1954 and spent the last six months of his life in the hospital at Wingham. He died there Aug 7, 1954 at the age of 75.
The youngest child, William married Miss Mary McKenzie on June 25, 1901. Mary was born June 25, 1870 in Ont. They had one son James, born Feb 11, 1903 before moving to British Columbia. To see the detailed history for William and Mary, select it from the drop down menu under John.
To follow the descendants of John Shiels and Janet McNair Shiels, please use the menu on the left or use the following links.