Yukon Heritage Day – “Klondike Joe Boyle”

Today is Yukon Heritage Day! Do you know about “Klondike Joe Boyle”, one of Canada’s most legendary First World War figures who never formally enlisted with an active military force?

Joseph Whiteside Boyle, was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1867. An entrepreneur with an engineer’s ingenuity, Boyle headed north in 1897, arriving in Dawson City, Yukon just as the Klondike Gold Rush began. A savvy businessman,  Boyle built up a massive gold dredging operation, earning himself the nickname “Klondike Joe Boyle”.

“Klondike Joe Boyle”
Courtesy: Woodstock Museum National Historic Site, Catalog Number 1950.1.1a .

Following the declaration of war in 1914, Boyle offered to raise an entire machine gun unit, which was readily welcomed by the Minister of Militia, Sam Hughes. Reaching France in August 1916, the Yukon Motor Machine Gun Battery was attached to the 1st Canadian Motor machine Gun Brigade. It would serve with distinction at Courcelette, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, the German Spring Offensive of 1918, and in the Hundred Days. Meanwhile, back in Canada, desperate to be nearer to the action, Boyle left the Klondike for England in 1916. Too old for military service, Boyle was made an Honourary Colonel of the Canadian militia. Still dissatisfied, Boyle volunteered with the American Corps of Engineers.

By 1917, Boyle had found his way to Russia, befriending the Tsarist family and re-organizing the faltering Russian railway system that had hindered the country’s war effort. Arriving in Tarnapol as the Russian defenses crumbled, Boyle, without military authority, took it upon himself to organize an emergency defensive line that held long enough for the Russians to make an orderly retreat. Following the Russian Revolution in November 1917, Boyle managed to smuggle the Crown Jewels of Romania out of the Kremlin and return them to the Romanian royal family.

In 1918, Boyle worked with British secret service agents to organize acts of sabotage against German and Bolshevik forces. Together, they oversaw a network of approximately 500 spies. In Romania, Boyle mediated a ceasefire and in April rescued 70 high-ranking Romanians held captive by revolutionaries in Odessa. After the war, he secured a $25-million credit from the Canadian government to the country of Romania.

In all, “Klondike Joe Boyle” was granted the title of “Saviour of Romania” and awarded the Star of Romania with sash, the British Distinguished Service Order, the French Croix de Guerre and the Russian Order of St. Stanislaus. The government of Canada has never officially recognized his actions.

Following his death in 1923, an unknown woman dressed in black visited Boyle’s grave to place flowers. The mysterious visitor returned each year until the death of Queen Marie of Romania in 1938.