John George Shiels was born February 17, 1885 near Brussells, Ontario. John was the eldest of two children of Thomas and Rachel (Brigham) Shiels. Tom and Rachel farmed in the area where John was born and they moved to Parry Sound, Ontario in 1891. In 1898, Tom walked west in search of new land and ended up in Killarney, Manitoba. Once Tom was settled, the remainder of the family followed. While living in Killarney, Tom worked on a farm and then for the Railway and John ran a dray service. Tom went west again in 1902 and took a homestead north of Stoughton, Sask. John rode the train from Killarney with the stock and his mother and sister Lottie followed on the next train. John filed a homestead for himself half a mile from his father’s. He lived at home and worked his own land until he was married.
On December 11, 1912 John married Pearl Gerry. Pearl was the fourth oldest of Harry and Ann Gerry. Pearl was born July 12, 1895. The following is an excerpt from the paper:
“A very pretty wedding was solemnized at the home of Mr & Mrs Harry Gerry on December 11, when their daughter Pearl was united in the holy bonds of matrimony to Mr John Shiels of Windthorst. Rev Mr. Curly officiated. The wedding took place in the presence of relatives and intimate friends of the conducting parties. The bride was charmingly gowned in brown silk, trimmed with ball trimming and ivory lace. The bridesmaid, Miss Lottie Shiels was also becomingly dressed in brown silk. The groom’s present to the bride was a handsome fur trimmed coat. A sumptuous wedding dinner was provided by Mrs. Gerry. In the evening, over one hundred friends met in the Hillhurst school and the time was spent tripping the light fantastic. All enjoyed themselves and departed wishing the young couple all kinds of good wishes. Mr. and Mrs. Shiels will be at home to friends after January fifteenth.”
John and Pearl moved into a little house on their own homestead. John and Pearl’s first child a daughter, Charlotte (Lottie) was born February 9, 1914 and she died six weeks later on March 20, 1914. Later that year in November they had a set of twins named Tom and Henry that died at birth.
On October 24, 1915 Olive was born. Olive was quite sick as a baby. She had Whooping cough at six months old. In the spring of 1916, John and Pearl sold their homestead and moved south‑west of Stoughton to the Keel Bennett farm. There was a real bad cyclone the summer of 1916. On October 8, 1917 Ken was born. In the spring of 1918 the family moved north of Stoughton to the Melrose School district. Doris was born there on November 22, 1918. In 1919 a flu epidemic went around and John did chores for his neighbours, the Fowlies. Then John and his family moved into Stoughton and drove a livery team for Bill Cornell. As the flu was quite bad, John was kept busy driving the Doctor. Finally John, Pearl, and Doris got the flu but somehow Ken and Olive didn’t. One of their neighbours, Mrs. Cameron, brought homemade soup in a ten pound honey pail.
In the spring of 1920 the family moved north of town to Bill Cornell’s farm. This farm was only 1 ½ miles south of John’s parents farm. Right in the middle of threshing time, on October 20, 1920 Howard was born. Olive recalls that she tried to run under a separator belt and sure caught heck from Joe Fowlie as he ran the separator. In the spring of 1922 the family moved 1 ½ miles west to the Parson farm. This farm is very near to what now is highway #47. Nellie O’Conner was a young girl from the district and she worked for John and Pearl. On May 21, 1922 another son George was born. On September 10, 1924 Ethel was born. In December 1924 the family moved five miles south west of Stoughton to the Dan Bowen farm. Dan’s wife had died and he wanted John to look after the stock for the winter. In the spring John rented Charlie Sprigs’ farm 1 ½ miles south. In the spring of 1926 the family moved three miles west to the Herb Dickey farm. They had one crop and moved 3 miles farther west to the O’Brien farm.
Olive, Ken, and Doris went to the O’Brien school and another son, Cliff was born May 14, 1927. A neighbour, Mrs. Shauf came to help and she made bread but John didn’t like it as she had not put in salt. In the fall of 1927 they moved to Gallegar farm for the winter.
On January 19, 1928 John’s father Tom had a stroke at his farm at Corning, Sask. He lived for nine days and John made numerous trips back and forth with the team and cutter. It was a very cold winter with lots of snow. John, Pearl and baby Cliff went to the funeral and the other kids stayed with neighbours. Olive went to stay with her Grandmother for company & stayed a month. John took Doris up next & brought Olive home.
In May 1928 they moved to the Chamberlain farm seven miles south‑west of Stoughton. They remained there for five years. The children went to Walton school. The children also went to the Baptist Sunday School and church at the school. There were dances and Christmas concerts also held at the school. On March 1, 1932 Mel was born.
In December 1932 John had an appendix attack and was rushed by train to Weyburn. He returned home on January 8, 1933 and 16 days later his wife Pearl died at the age of 37. Pearl was eight months pregnant and developed toxemia (kidney poisoning). Pearl felt sick on Friday and spent all day Saturday in bed. By Sunday, she was in a Comma and when the Doctor arrived on Monday morning by Bombardier, she was already too far gone to save her. As the youngest child was only 10 months old, things were pretty rough. The following was printed in the Stoughton paper:
“Stoughton residents were shocked on Tuesday to learn of the untimely end of Pearl, beloved wife of John Shiels, who expired that morning. The news was somewhat of a surprise as Mrs Shiels had been in Stoughton the previous Friday shopping, seemingly in good health. On Saturday, she was confined to bed with a form of flu which had settled in her back. Careful nursing and medical advise proved futile and on Tuesday morning, she entered the silent valley of rest. The deceased was widely known throughout the district where she was raised, schooled and married. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Gerry who lived many years eight miles north of town. About 20 years ago, she was united in wedlock to John Shiels, also of the north district. Their union was blessed with 8 children ranging from Olive, 17 years to a 10 month old baby who survive with father to mourn. The sympathy of the district goes out to Jack in his sorrow. To him, she was not only a wife, but a helpmate and companion, accompanying him on most trips to work or town. The funeral is announced for this Thursday after noon with service at Grace United Church at 2 PM.”
To make things even worse on March 6, 1933 their house caught fire and burned to the ground and they lost almost everything. Ken was working at the neighbour’s and everyone else was at home. John was still feeling quite sick from his appendix attack. He had said it was a beautiful day and they needed a load of straw for the barn. Howard and Dorie had just got back with the straw for the barn when Howard noticed the smoke. It had started as a chimney fire and quickly spread to the rest of the house. They got all the kids down to the barn and got all they could out of the house. They hitched the team onto the cutter and loaded up the kids and went to the neighbours where Ken was. When Ken asked his dad where he was going John replied “anywhere they will take us.” Within an hour, other neighbours had all come to see if they could help. Olive stayed with Mel as he was just a baby, and the other kids were farmed out for the night wherever there was a bed.
The following is an excerpt from the Stoughton paper on this fire:
“House fire March 6, 1933. Jack Shiels had the misfortune to lose his household goods on Monday last when his home was burned to the ground. Overheated stove pipes started the blaze and in a few minutes, the building was a mass of flames. As the fire started in the afternoon, everyone got out safely. The house was on the J. Chamberlain farm. This fire came to Jack following the death recently of his wife.”
The next day, they got some furniture from the neighbours and the Red Cross and then started all over again on the Lukin farm. In the spring of 1933 they moved north‑west to the Anderson farm. In the fall they moved back to the Lukin farm, right on highway # 47. People hauling caul from Estevan would often stop overnight. It was very cold that winter and the temperature one night was 62 below zero.
Most men would give up with such bad luck but John only tried harder. When Pearl died and again when the house burnt down, people offered to take some of the kids but John refused to split up his family.
In the spring of 1936 they moved east of Walton School to the Nolan farm. The kids all had german measles that year. It affected Ken’s eyes but he got over them the best. Howard and George were the worst. Howard was very sick and nearly died.
George was sick later with ringworm on his head. The doctor removed his hair and the top layer of skin but it didn’t help. John finally got some medicine from the barber, Jimmy Hills, and it cured the problem. The Great Depression was very bad where they were. Many stories are told of the sand storms and the army worm. During a sand storm, the sand would blow right through the walls and you would have to set the plates upside down on the table until you were ready to eat so they would not get full of sand. Army worms were also very bad and they would literally go right over buildings and all as they made their pass across your land. As a result, in July 1937, John and Ken went to Manitoba to locate feed for the stock and a place to live. They settled three miles east of Bede on the Tom Baker farm.
Doris had married Gar Blackwell and they drove the rest of the children down by car. This farm was only 1/2 mile from Sam Gould. Sam and his family were really good neighbours. In 1941 Olive married Allan Gannon and moved away from home. Also that year Howard and George joined the Army and went overseas in World War II. This left John, Ken, Ethel, Cliff and Mel at home.
In 1942, John and his family moved two miles east of Napinka and bought a farm. In 1945 he sold the farm to Hector McInness and moved north of Napinka to the Johnny Holland farm. John started doing carpentry work with his friend Jack Quinn part‑time and gave up farming in 1947 to work full‑time with Jack. John moved into Napinka and lived upstairs in the old Sheppard house. Then he moved into a house on front street next to the livery stable. He shared half of this house with his son George and family.
John bought his own little house in 1954 and retired in 1955 when he got the old age pension. This house was on front street near Green’s Garage. John lived the rest of his life in that house. In his retirement, one of his joys was keeping his old Model “A” Ford running and he always carried a roll of wire to “tie it together if needed”. In February 1975 he celebrated his 90th Birthday and the family had a big party for him. John died seven months later on September 11, 1975.
John George Shiels will always be well remembered for helping people and his courage. He would never give up, no matter how hard things might have been. John enjoyed playing the fiddle and still played when he was in his eighties. He also enjoyed his garden and even though he could not see too well and the rows got a little crooked, he grew a lovely garden right up to the year he died.
Many stories can be told of John and Pearls’ children as they were growing up. The kids always had fun and at the same time, they knew right from wrong. They learned responsibility at an early age and with the help and support of their father after their mother had died, they learned this very quickly. After Pearl had died, the girls had to do all the cooking. One day they decided to have rice for supper. They also decided to make a little extra so they could have rice pudding later. The old rice was well known to expanding much more than we have today and soon they had every pot in the house full. When John came in and saw their problem, he said “never mind girls, I like rice!” That was simply the way he was and why everyone loved him so much.
They always knew how to make the best of a difficult situation. A funny story is told about the time their house burnt down. Olive was making bread and although it was still in the pans, it was one of the few things taken outside. In all the excitement, an old pig came along and ate the bread dough. Of course the bread continued to rise in the pig’s stomach and the pig died. The boys kidded Olive for weeks that it was sure a good thing the house caught fire so they wouldn’t have died from eating that bread!
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