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Lyall Sheilds the horse whisperer

Sheilds was Sooke’s beloved blacksmith
Lyall Sheilds converses with his horse in the Sooke Hills. Lyall was a third-generation Sheilds. His grandfather James settled up the Sooke River on Crown land in 1883. (Contributed - Sooke Region Museum)

Elida Peers | Sooke News Mirror

Those who have a long connection to Sooke’s history tend to get a warm and fuzzy feeling when they think of Lyall Sheilds, Sooke’s beloved blacksmith.

But few of us had seen this photo of Lyall and his horse, taken in the days before he was going to serve in the First World War.

Lyall was a third-generation Sheilds. His grandfather James settled up the Sooke River on Crown land in 1883.

Lyall’s mother was Louise Charters, and he was born in the 1890s, not long before his father was lost at sea on a sealing expedition.

As a son of these pioneer families, he spent many years blacksmithing, shoeing horses and forging ingenious items like the door hinges on Sooke Community Hall and the camber wheeled tricycle used to patrol the water pipeline.

Beyond his craftwork, his patriotic nature led him to community activities, such as helping to establish the Sooke branch of the Royal Canadian Legion in 1926 and the establishment of All Sooke Day in 1934.

Lyall married Lizzie Treloar, and the couple made their home in the centre of Sooke, where they raised son Will and daughters Helen (Michelsen/Gibson) and Elaine (McGee). The family name is commemorated by the block-long Sheilds Road in downtown Sooke and by the naming of Sheilds Lake in the Sooke Hills.

Sheilds Lake, high up in the hills, might have been the inspiration for this photo. Packhorses were used by the folk that went up there. The hills were used for hunting and fishing, and even smokehouses were built there at one point. Eventually, the Alpine Club of Canada built a lodge there. The route upward meant contending with many deep gullies, frequently traversed on fallen logs.

How to train a horse to tread along a narrow log where one misstep would mean plunging to break bones in the black waters below – this was the challenge undertaken by Lyall, whose natural skill and patience as a “horse whisperer” is demonstrated here. There is no record of any of his horses coming to grief.

The Sooke Region Museum is indebted to an Otter Point resident, Lyall’s nephew Jack Wormald, a descendant of the Sheilds/Charters line, for the image, and to another relative, Bert Sheilds of Lake Cowichan who shared this information as well.



Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum. Email