George Smith was born on August 23, 1926, in London, England, into a working class family of seven children. He married Jean Mary Boyes in 1957. Later, the Smiths were advised to move to either western Canada or Arizona because of their daughter's asthma: they chose Saskatchewan. A strong union supporter prior to his move to Canada, Smith had organized a local of the Transport Workers Union after a stint in the British army, which he had joined in March 1943 at the age of 16. In 1958, he started working at SaskPower and became a member of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union Local 9-649. He was particularly active around occupational health and safety issues. As a gas instrument technician, part of his responsibilities included repairing and calibrating gas meters. This involved replacing mercury in the meters. After discussions in the shop, the workers found out that they all had similar health problems, which were later associated with mercury poisoning.
As shop steward for the technicians, Smith was active in the struggle to clean up the work place. He was also active in the Regina and District Labour Council, first as treasurer in 1959-60 and later as president during the struggle against wage controls in Saskatchewan. He became famous for carrying a black coffin across Wascana Lake in the winter, signifying the end of free collective bargaining. Because of health problems Smith retired at the age of 53 to British Columbia, where he and his wife did relief work in lighthouses in the Queen Charlotte Islands, and later in Uculet and Prince Rupert.