Jim Christie was born in Scotland in 1867. He emigrated to Manitoba and then came to the
Klondike in 1898. The short, wiry Scotsman took to living in the north like a duck to water. He prospected in the summers and trapped in the winters, learning everything about the isolated regions of the northland. He even guided government geologists into regions of the Yukon never before explored by Europeans.
In the fall of 1909, after one of these expeditions, Christie and his partner, George Crisfield, were at the headwaters of the Stewart River. It was there that Christie was attacked by a grizzly bear that was scavenging a moose the Scotsman had cached.
The bear charged without warning and after firing two quick rounds at the enraged beast, Christie was clenched tightly in the bear’s jaws. Christie’s scalp was torn, his face crushed and his jaw broken; one eye was torn from its socket and his arm was fractured before the bullets took effect. Covered in blood and half blinded, he staggered 12 kilometres back to his cabin, where Crisfield later found him near death.
Christie recovered, and a surgeon in Victoria reconstructed his face; he was forever after known as “Grizzly Bear Christie.”
Four years later, when war was declared on August 4, 1914, Christie was one of the first to volunteer. To do so, he had to lie about his age, because he was nearly 50 years old.
Christie served with distinction in the sniper unit of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. With the skills he had acquired in the wilds of the Yukon, he excelled as a marksman, and as a scout, haunting No Man’s Land and striking fear in the hearts of the enemy. Christie was twice wounded in action. During the second battle of Ypres, the Princess Pats were overwhelmed by a German advance. Lance Corporal Christie laid down heavy and accurate sniper fire that allowed his comrades to withdraw safely. Christie received the Distinguished Conduct Medal and was promoted to Sergeant.
Two years later, during the battle of Passchendaele, Christie, now a lieutenant, while under heavy fire, covered the advance of his comrades, who were able to take enemy pillboxes that were laying down a deadly fire.
Three times during the battle, he made treacherous trips through intense artillery and heavy machine gun barrage to bring back valuable intelligence reports. For his bravery, he was awarded the Military Cross. Christie was eventually returned to Canada for medical reasons, but not before having distinguished himself in battle.
You will learn more about this remarkable Yukon hero, and many other Yukoners who distinguished themselves during the Great War, 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.