Joe Boyle came to the Klondike with the first wave of gold-seekers in the early summer of
1897, but soon left with a dream of becoming rich.
He was successful in obtaining a large mining concession in the Klondike Valley from the federal government in 1909, and within a decade had gained control of one of the largest dredging companies in the Yukon. He was active as a community leader and contributed his time and resources to a variety of community initiatives. He once sponsored a hockey team that challenged for the Stanley Cup.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, he was quick to step forward to support any charitable fund in aid of the war. He also sponsored a detachment of 50 men to enlist as a machine gun battery in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Many of these men became decorated heroes.
But Boyle may have become the greatest hero of them all. In 1917, he found himself in a Russia that was torn apart by war with Germany, and by internal revolution. In one short year, Boyle distinguished himself in Russia and Romania, and had been decorated for his feats by four different nations.
First he sorted out the congestion and delays in getting strategic supplies to the Russian battle front by rail. When the Germans counter attacked, Boyle stepped in to protect the city of Tarnapol during a Russian withdrawal.
Boyle was sent to Romania where he helped untangle the railway congestion and save a million Russian soldiers from starvation. Romania was so impressed by Boyle that they entrusted him with the onerous task of returning the national treasury and archives, which had been held in Moscow, to the motherland. He delivered the goods on Christmas Eve, 1917, after a hair-raising odyssey across a blizzard-swept, war-torn Russia.
Meanwhile, he negotiated an international treaty with Russia on behalf of the Romanian government. On another occasion he saved 70 Romanian officials from certain death at Odessa. They escaped across the Black Sea and received a hero’s welcome when they arrived home safely. Boyle set up and operated a spy network in Russia with 500 operatives spread out across the country.
As if that wasn’t enough, Boyle became a close friend – some say lover- of Queen Marie of Romania, which gained him access to the highest levels of power. He spoke to kings and prime ministers as easily he did with men and women on the street.
Boyle was recognized by Canada as a person of national significance in 1986.
You will learn more about this remarkable Yukon hero from several speakers at The North and World War I conference at the High Country Inn May 9 to 12.
For more information and online registration for the conference go to HeritageYukon.ca and click on “North and First World War.”
Commemorating the Yukon Heroes of World War I
The Yukon Historical & Museums Association is coordinating a series of initiatives to commemorate the First World War and explore its impact on the North. The events include a workshop on May 9, the North and First World War Conference on May 9-12 and a Dawson Study Tour on May 13-15.