TODAY NOBODY seems to know much about Bill Shearer; he seems to be remembered among dog drivers as an eccentric who liked hairy dogs. Yet his career in Siberian sleddogs spanned twenty-five of the most crucial years of Seppala Siberian history and, in his day, his reputation as a racing driver was massive. That he is so little-known today seems unfair. Certainly Seppala strain as we know it today would have suffered greatly without his contribution.
SHEARER ACQUIRED his first Siberians in 1930, placing himself firmly
in the ranks of the pioneers of Seppala sleddogs. His first
dogs came from the Poland Spring kennel. He was a steady
customer of the Wheeler kennel, purchasing PETER OF SEPPALA
(Smokey of S. x Nanna), IVAN OF SEPPALA (Kingeak of S. II x
Pearl of S. II), OCHKI OF SEPPALA (Peter of S. x Vixen of S.
II) and N'YA N'YA OF SEPPALA (Kingeak of S. II x Pearl of S.
II) at least, and possibly others.
Interestingly enough, Shearer also bought two pups from the 1932 DUKE x TANTA OF ALYESKA mating out of Chinook Kennels -- YUKON and SITKA OF FOXSTAND. Although he bred at least one litter from SITKA, apparently he did not like what he got, because later the Duke/Tanta lineage was entirely eliminated from his breeding programme.
It was not until 1938 that Shearer acquired the bitch that would become the firm foundation of his successful breeding programme. An unregistered female, SIGRID III OF FOXSTAND (sired by CHENUK out of MOLINKA -- both Poland Spring dogs), was purchased from Charles Belford, who did not want to sell the bitch but finally did so when the offered price reached the amount of one year's college tuition ("Sonny" Belford was in vet school at the time).
In 1940 SIGRID III OF FOXSTAND was bred to VANKA OF SEPPALA II, Millie
Turner's leader from the Wheeler kennel. This mighty mating produced
FOXSTAND'S SHANGO, FOXSTAND'S ROMBO, FOXSTAND'S JAVA, FOXSTAND'S
SUKEY and FOXSTAND'S COLLEEN. These five dogs became the true
foundation of subsequent Foxstand breeding, along with the progeny of
N'YA N'YA OF SEPPALA and TAMARA OF SEPPALA.
The Second World War saw Army service both for Shearer and for most of his dogs. Breeding was suspended for awhile, but the late 1940s saw an outpouring of fine stock that was crucial to later development in Seppala strain. The mating in 1947 of JEUAHNEE OF COLD RIVER, another Millie Turner dog from pure Wheeler stock (sired by SAPSUK OF SEPPALA out of SKY OF SEPPALA), to FOXSTAND'S SUKEY produced the leader that would become Shearer's mainstay -- FOXSTAND'S SHAMUS (as well as the important brood bitch FOXSTAND'S SHERRY). SHAMUS was a long-coated piebald and a steady, dependable leader in any weather or situation.
Both SHANGO and SHAMUS were titans of the era of the single lead dog, before the racheting-up of competitive levels in the 1960s that resulted in the present-day situation of double-leaders and sixteen to twenty-two dog open-class racing teams. Bill Shearer stood five feet ten inches tall and weighed two hundred pounds. His usual team size was nine or eleven dogs. Typical races of his day ran for three days at twenty or thirty miles each day. Under parameters like these, races were won at ten to fifteen miles an hour over "hill-and-dale" courses, not because the dogs of that era were inferior but because the concept and implementation of dogsled racing were different then. In many locales (eastern Canada, for example) and individual races, team size was not unlimited, but often restricted to seven or nine dogs. A two-hundred-pound driver could not compensate for his own weight or lack of athletic condition by driving a sixteen or eighteen dog team. Sleds tended to be larger and heavier. Steel runner shoes were the usual thing. Dog harnesses were heavier and less efficient in design than today. Ganglines and tuglines were shorter, so that teams were more closely-hitched with less running room for each dog. Moreover, the "numbers game" of breeding two hundred and fifty pups to get twenty-five good racing dogs had not yet taken hold.
In 1942 the Shearer kennel had provided foundation stock for Gatineau Kennels of
C. S. MacLean and J. D. McFaul, selling BAYOU OF FOXSTAND (bred by
Joe Booth, not by Shearer), FOXSTAND'S SAINT and FOXSTAND'S SKIVAR
II. In 1948 the outstanding brood bitch FOXSTAND'S GEORGIA was
produced (FOXSTAND'S SUGGEN x FOXSTAND'S COLLEEN); she was sold to
Charles Belford, who then sold her to McFaul where she became crucial
to main trunk Seppala breeding. Next McFaul acquired FOXSTAND'S
SUNDAY from Shearer. Then in 1950, when the Wheeler kennel was sold
to MacLean and McFaul, KINGEAK OF SEPPALA III, KEGSTED OF SEPPALA
III, OCHKI OF SEPPALA III, NICK OF SEPPALA II, BORIS OF SEPPALA II,
TSAR OF SEPPALA II and TAMARA OF SEPPALA were all resold to Shearer.
In 1946 a litter of pure Seppala stock was bred by Capt. W. R.
Commins of Manitowaning, ON, sired by CHARNEY OF SEPPALA, a handsome
black and white Wheeler male, out of a long-coated smokey grey
Wheeler female, DINA OF SEPPALA. Two of the progeny went to Austin
Moorcroft (Huskie-Haven Kennels) of Sapawe, ON; the piebald male,
POLARIS OF SAPAWE, was resold to Shearer. When Keith and Jean Bryar
purchased a number of Seppala males from McFaul in the 1950s but
could not persuade him to sell them a brood bitch, it was to Shearer
that they turned. FOXSTAND'S RUMBA (by POLARIS OF SAPAWE out of
FOXSTAND'S FUZZY NELLY) became the foundation female for the Bryar
bloodline. FOXSTAND'S SUNDAY (born 12 August 1948), sold to McFaul,
was also a POLARIS son, out of FOXSTAND'S SUKEY. SUNDAY and RUMBA
became crucial to the continuation of Seppala strain in the late
1950s. Three unregistered dogs, MINKA, MAJIC, and ZOAR, out of a
mismating of N'YA N'YA OF SEPPALA (possibly by POLARIS OF SAPAWE)
were sold to Charlie Belford around 1949 and turned out to be the
cornerstone of his racing success in the 1950s.
The regular exchange of broodstock among the major Seppala kennels (Wheeler, Turner, Shearer, Belfords, McFaul, Bryar, Gagnon, McDougall) produced a strong main trunk of Seppala lineage that was carried forward from 1930 through the mid-1960s entirely free of and separate from the show breeding of Chinook Kennels and its successors. Bill Shearer was central to that exchange of stock, both acquiring and furnishing stock from and to the other majors. By the end of the century that strong network of pure Seppala breeding had broken down, resulting in the indiscriminate admixture of Seeley-derived stock with Seppala lineage and threatening the final loss of the Leonhard Seppala heritage that Wheeler, Belford, Shearer and McFaul so carefully preserved.
William L. Shearer III was a successful businessman, president of the Paine
Furniture Company of Boston, MA, the great-grandson of the company's
founder. He seems to have been an equally good kennel businessman,
neither afraid to pay a premium price to obtain the broodstock he
wanted nor reluctant to get a good return for stock he sold. He told
Time Magazine's interviewer that he sold around twenty dogs a
year and, counting prize money, generally broke even on his
In his day Shearer was an active and respected racer. In 1949 he won the prestigious Ottawa Dog Derby with a total time of eight hours forty minutes forty-seven seconds for the ninety-mile, three-day event, narrowly winning over the Québec hounds of Wilf Lepine, who contested the result, claiming he had been delayed by a snow plow on the race course. The following year Shearer won the Ste. Agathe des Monts race. His wife Connie Shearer was also an active participant in sleddog sport.
In 1956 Shearer closed Foxstand Kennels after a career spanning a quarter of a century. His contribution to the development of Seppala lineage and thus, to that of the Seppala Siberian Sleddog, was absolutely crucial. It is strange that today he is so little remembered or regarded.