George Brooks (on the left in photo) lived a long, multi-faceted and adventurous life, as a renowned story-teller, a singer and a soldier. He served in three major wars: the Civil War; the Spanish-American War; and the First World War. In fact, he enlisted in the First World War at age 73, thus becoming Canada’s oldest soldier. Apparently, when he signed up, he told the recruiter he was “just” 40 years old!
Brooks was born into slavery on a Kentucky farm a few years before the American Civil War began. It is believed the Union army apprehended him, putting him to work as a servant for General Ulysses Grant. It is also alleged that he witnessed General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Virginia. After the war, Brooks, who had an amazing soprano voice, joined the
Fisk Jubilee Singers of Nashville. (Founded in 1871, the Singers are an African-American a cappella ensemble, consisting of students at Fisk University. The Singers continue to perform as a touring ensemble to this day.) In 1873, as a member of the choir, Brooks sang for Queen Victoria. He also worked for American showman and politician P.T. Barnum.
In 1911, Brooks left the United States and settled in Manitoba, where he took up farming northwest of Portage la Prairie. During the First World War, he joined the 27 th (Winnipeg) Battalion, an infantry division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In 1918, Brooks was hospitalized for an illness and then sent home when the army discovered his real, rather advanced, age! Brooks spent the rest of his long life in Winnipeg. During his last years, spent at Deer Lodge Hospital, he regaled visitors with stories about his remarkable life. He died at there in 1948, at age 103 years.
(Source: Manitoba Historical Society, CBC News)