George Chesley Harris (1879-1954), businessman, politician, was born in Grand Bank, Newfoundland, on 14 July 1879, the eldest son of Mary (Forsey) and Samuel Harris, a Grand Bank vessel owner, captain and merchant. On 11 June 1904, Harris married Charlotte (Lottie) Pitts Pratt (1884-1954), an artist and music instructor. Lottie and George had one child who died shortly after birth. They were, however, very close to the children of George's sister, Eleanor (Harris) Carr. George C. Harris died on 28 Jan. 1954. Wife Lottie died in the same year, on 8 Sept. 1954.
Harris was educated at the Methodist Academy, Grand Bank. Following graduation, he attended Mount Allison Academy and Commercial College in Sackville, New Brunswick, where he completed commercial courses. After his return to Newfoundland, he joined his father's mercantile firm, Samuel Harris Ltd., and managed a branch of the business in Marystown. An interesting aside: In 1881, George's father, Samuel Harris, had taken his 70-ton schooner, named George C. Harris in honour of his son, to the Grand Banks fishery, a venture which led eventually to the establishment of the successful fishing enterprise.
In 1914, George became the managing director of Samuel Harris Export Company. The Harris family was the most active of the Grand Banks merchants investing in the construction of fishing schooners. Between 1910 and 1920 the following schooners, commonly called the fleet of the "Generals" were built for the Harris' enterprises: Dorothy Louise (Allendale, N.S., 1910), General Maude (Shelburne, N.S., 1917), Roberta Ray (Grand Bank, 1917), Carl Tibbo (Grand Bank, 1918), General Byng (Marystown, 1918), General Currie (Grand Bank, 1918), General Smuts (Shelburne 1918), General Allenby (Grand Bank, 1918), General Horne (Shelburne, 1919), General Jacobs (Shelburne, 1919), General Knox (Marystown, 1919), General Plummer (Allendale, 1919), General Ironsides (Grand Bank, 1920), General Trenchard (Allendale, 1920), General Rawlinson (Marystown, 1920).
Under the direction of George Harris, the company quickly expanded to other communities on the Burin Peninsula, Hermitage (South Coast) and Change Islands (Notre Dame Bay). While initially this expansion was a successful move for the company, poor market conditions and new fishing regulations by the government soon proved that the rapid expansion had been unwise. In 1923, the firm declared bankruptcy, then considered the largest bankruptcy in the Dominion of Newfoundland. The firm was taken over by a consortium of creditors, including the Bank of Nova Scotia, who renamed it the Samuel Harris Export Company and appointed George Harris' brother-in-law and former bank manager, Percival Carr, as its managing director. In the 1930s, it was restructured as the Grand Bank Fisheries.
With the help of his brother-in law, Percy Carr, George did not lose the Harris home. He worked in another company created by his father, Western Marine Insurance Company, and, in time, became its president. George attributed the loss of the family export company to the fishing regulations introduced by the Squires-Coaker coalition government, rather than to international economic conditions. As a result, he entered politics and was elected to the House of Assembly in 1923 as a supporter of John R. Bennett's opposition Liberal-Labour-Progressive party, which - despite its name - represented a coalition of conservative and dissident interests. The following year, Albert E. Hickman, George's cousin, became prime minister of Newfoundland and George switched parties in order to support Hickman. Following political defeat in the 1924 election, Harris became a strong supporter of Confederation and acted as the chief returning officer (1949, 1953) for the federal riding of Burin-Burgeo. He also served on the boards of the local Methodist church and the Grand Bank hospital.
Wife Charlotte (Lottie) Pitts Pratt (1884-1954), an artist and music instructor, was the daughter of a Methodist minister, the Rev. John Pratt. Her brother, Edwin J. Pratt (1882-1964) became a renowned Canadian poet, professor and critic. Nephew, John Christopher Pratt (1935- ) is a painter and printmaker with an international reputation.
Lottie's family moved to various communities in Newfoundland due to her father's career in the ministry. She received her early education at St. John's (where she had musical training), Fortune and Bay Roberts. After Lottie married George, she taught piano and voice lessons in Grand Bank and sang in the Methodist choir and community concerts. Aside from music, Lottie was also an accomplished artist and gave many of her watercolour paintings to friends. Throughout her married life Lottie was involved with her church and charitable organizations. She hosted card games and tea parties to raise money for such organizations as the Frazer Guild and the Woman's Patriotic Association.
In 1908, four years following their marriage, Samuel Harris built a house for the couple as a wedding gift. A three-storeyed Queen Anne style dwelling, the Harris House became a Registered Heritage Structure in May 1993 and received a Sothcott Award for restoration in 1996.