wanderer turned klondike king

Penniless prizefight promoter, King of the Klondike, war hero and international spy — the story of Joseph Whiteside Boyle truly is stranger…

Penniless prizefight promoter, King of the Klondike, war hero and international spy — the story of Joseph Whiteside Boyle truly is stranger than fiction.

Boyle was born in Toronto in 1867, to a father who bred and trained racehorses but did not want his young son following in his footsteps.

Spurned and seeking adventure at age 17, Boyle left home to sail the Far East for three years leaving his family with nothing more than a note reading: “I’ve gone to sea. Don’t worry about me, Joe.”

On the high seas he’s credited with using a knife to save the life of a shipmate being menaced by a shark.

Years of rambling later, Boyle and his travelling partner, prizefighter Frank Slavin, turned up to seek their fortunes in the Klondike in 1897. The pair showed up with a small amount of money — some say 25 cents, others say $25.

It’s rumoured they worked as bouncers at Klondike gambling halls.

After watching other stampeders work their fingers to the bone panning for gold, Boyle decided there must be a better way — something faster and larger.

So he set to work amassing tracts of land along the Klondike’s gold-bearing creeks and, in 1904, he formed the Canadian Klondike Mining Company.

A few years later, Boyle had massive dredging equipment pulling the yellow metal from the land. He also dabbled in timber, water, electric power and Canada’s pastime, hockey.

In 1905, Boyle led the Dawson City Nuggets on their extraordinary charge for the Stanley Cup against the Ottawa Silver Seven.

Although the fledgling team lost 26-2 — the most lopsided defeat in the history of the cup — Boyle and his team went down in Canadian hockey history.

When the First World War began in 1914, he shifted his attention from the gold fields to the battlefields. Boyle wanted to do his part in the war but at 47 was too old to fight on the frontlines, so he formed and financed a machine gun unit of 50 willing men from Dawson.

The company, known as the Boyle Battery, was shipped to England where it joined the Eaton Motor Machine Gun Brigade, which suffered heavy loses in France. 

Later, every officer and 24 of the men were decorated for gallantry, and Boyle earned a honorary spot in the Canadian Militia.

The MacBride Museum is fortunate to possess photographs and insignia from Boyle’s unit in its collection. But that’s not where Boyle’s story ends. He went on to live at least two more lives and become hailed as the Saviour of Romania.

In 1917, he was sent to Russia and Romania to sort out the countries’ jumbled transportation systems. There, he’s credited with easing the movement of more than 500 tonnes of supplies into Romania, and saving the Romanians and the Russian Army from starvation.

He’s also credited with brokering the first Peace Treaty of the First World War between the two countries.

He was hailed as a national hero in Romania after rescuing the country’s crown jewels, saving 50 aristocrats and government officials from a Bolshevik attack and organizing post-war relief efforts. He was also a close confidant and rumoured lover of Queen Marie of Romania.

Boyle died and was buried in England in 1923. His gravestone was engraved with the words: “A man with the heart of a Viking and the simple faith of a child.”

Throughout the 1930s, British newspapers reported that a Woman in Black, rumoured to be Queen Marie, placed flowers on his grave each year. After 1938, when Queen Marie died, the figure was seen no more.

Fifty years later, Boyle’s body was repatriated to Woodstock, Ontario.

This column is provided by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Each week it will explore a different morsel of Yukon’s modern history. For more information, or to comment on anything in this column e-mail lchalykoff@macbridemuseum.com.

Just Posted

The Yukon has confirmed 33 active COVID-19 cases on June 15. (file photo)
A new study has discovered beaver castoreum on a 6,000-year-old Yukon atlatl-throwing dart. Photo courtesy of Yukon Government.
Beaver casotreum residue found on 6,000-year-old atlatl throwing dart

The discovery of beaver castoreum on a throwing dart could be the first instance where its use has been identified in an ancient archaeological context

The Yukon’s current outbreak of COVID-19 is driven by close contact between people at gatherings, such as graduation parties. (Black Press file)
Yukon logs 21 active cases as COVID-19 spreads through graduation parties

Anyone who attended a graduation party is being asked to monitor themselves for symptoms.

Yukon RCMP and other emergency responders were on the scene of a collision at Robert Service Way and the Alaska Highway on June 12. (Black Press file)
June 12 collision sends several to hospital

The intersection at Robert Service Way and the Alaska Highway was closed… Continue reading

The sun sets over Iqaluit on Oct. 26, 2020. Nunavut’s chief public health officer says two COVID-19 cases at Iqaluit’s middle school came from household transmission and the risk to other students is low. (Emma Tranter/Canadian Press)
Iqaluit school’s contacts and classmates cleared after two COVID-19 cases

With an outbreak ongoing in Iqaluit, the Aqsarniit middle school has split students into two groups

An extended range impact weapon is a “less lethal” option that fires sponge or silicon-tipped rounds, according to RCMP. (File photo)
Whitehorse RCMP under investigation for use of “less lethal” projectile weapon during arrest

Police used the weapon to subdue a hatchet-wielding woman on June 4

Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino holds a press conference in Ottawa on Nov. 12, 2020. The federal government is announcing that Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their names on passports and other government documents.
Indigenous people can now reclaim traditional names on their passports and other ID

The move comes in response to a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015

Teslin Lake is one of two bodies of water the Yukon Government has place on flood watch. (Google Maps Image)
Flood watch issued for Teslin Lake, Yukon River at Carmacks

The bodies of water may soon burst their banks due to melting snow and rainfall

Kluane Adamek, AFN Yukon’s regional chief, has signalled a postponement to a graduation ceremony scheduled for today due to COVID-19. She is seen here in her Whitehorse office on March 17. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
AFN Yukon’s post-secondary grad celebration postponed

The event scheduled for June 14 will be rescheduled when deemed safe

(Alexandra Newbould/Canadian Press)
In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on.
Terror charges laid against man accused in London attack against Muslim family

Liam Casey Canadian Press A vehicle attack against a Muslim family in… Continue reading

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, poses for a portrait in the boardroom outside his office in Iqaluit, Nunavut, on Sept. 30, 2020. (Emma Tranter/Canadian Press)
Two cases of COVID-19 at Iqaluit school, 9 active in Nunavut

Nunavut’s chief public health officer says two COVID-19 cases at Iqaluit’s middle… Continue reading

The Village of Carmacks has received federal funding for an updated asset management plan. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Federal funding coming to Carmacks

The program is aimed at helping municipalities improve planning and decision-making around infrastructure

Most Read