SHIELS, ANDREW, blacksmith, poet, and magistrate; b. 12 March 1793 in the parish of Oxnam, Roxburghshire, Scotland; d. 5 Nov. 1879 at Dartmouth, N.S.
After emigrating to Nova Scotia in 1818, Andrew Shiels worked as a blacksmith at Halifax. A decade later he moved across the harbour to Dartmouth, where he owned a farm, and continued his trade at Ellenvale Tavern. By 1834 he had set up a carding mill at Ellenvale, named for his wife, Ellen, who died in 1846. Shiels later married Isabella Blair; he was the father of a large family, but most of his children died young.
A supporter of Joseph Howe, Andrew Shiels was appointed a justice of the peace for Halifax County on 20 Nov. 1848 in the commission appointed by the Reformers after the winning of responsible government. In 1857 the Court of Quarter Sessions appointed Andrew Shiels a stipendiary magistrate, and in 1860 he became a member of the commission for the relief of insolvent debtors in Halifax County.
Shiels is remembered as a colourful local character who wrapped himself in a long plaid cloak in cold weather, as a man of strong opinions active in the affairs of the community, and as a respected magistrate. At the time of his death the Presbyterian Witness said, “He was a fast friend and an implacable enemy.” During the greater part of his life he belonged to the Presbyterian Church, but after a misunderstanding with members of the local presbytery he joined the Methodists.
Largely self-educated, Shiels read widely and had an excellent memory. He was influenced by the history, tales, and imagery of his native border country and by the poetry of Robert Burns. His popular verse appeared frequently in the Halifax newspapers for 50 years over the pseudonyms “Albyn” and “the Bard of Ellenvale.” The witch of the Westcot; a tale of Nova-Scotia, in three cantos was an ambitious work. An historical tale in verse, it was based on the Indian massacre at Dartmouth in 1751, and in the preface he remarked on his difficulty in adapting his border vernacular to the English spoken in Nova Scotia. He also commented on the colony’s apathy towards poetry, which be believed to be due to pioneering conditions. His most significant poems were those devoted to nature and those where he attempted to draw upon the history and imagery of his adopted country. He was also strong in satire.
Following is a list of some of the writings of Andrew Shiels [Albyn]: Dupes & demagogues: a souvenir (Halifax, 1879); Eye to the ermine: a dream (Halifax, 1871); John Walker’s courtship: a legend of Lauderdale (Halifax, 1877); Letter to Eliza (Halifax, 1869); My mother: in memorium (Halifax, 1868); The preface, a poem of the period (Halifax, 1876); Retribution: a literary contribution to the Nova Scotia Department of the Philadelphia Exhibition (Halifax, 1875); Rusticating in reality: a Pierian paraphrase (Halifax, 1873); Sabbath in Dartmouth (Halifax, 1870); The witch of the Westcot; a tale of Nova-Scotia, in three cantos; and other waste leaves of literature (Halifax, 1831). “To the late Honourable Simon Bradstreet Robie,” Sun (Halifax), 7 Jan. 1858.
Woodlawn Cemetery, Dartmouth, N.S., Shiels family tombstones. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 6 Nov. 1879, 8 April 1885. Presbyterian Witness (Halifax), 8 Nov. 1879. M. J. Katzmann (Mrs William Lawson), History of the townships of Dartmouth, Preston and Lawrencetown; Halifax County, N.S., ed. Harry Piers (Halifax, 1893), 101–2. J. P. Martin, The story of Dartmouth (Dartmouth, N.S., 1957).