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Joseph Boyle, explorer. Boyle's exploits in eastern Europe make him one of Canada's unheralded adventurers (courtesy Woodstock Museum).

Joseph Boyle, explorer. Boyle’s exploits in eastern Europe make him one of Canada’s unheralded adventurers (courtesy Woodstock Museum).

“A Man With The Heart of a Viking, and the Simple Faith of a Child”

Joe Boyle was one of the Yukon’s most heroic figures

“A very curious, fascinating sort of man, who is frightened of nothing.”

 – Queen Marie of Romania 

Joseph Whiteside Boyle (Honour Roll), whose life story reads like a soap opera, was a flashy, flamboyant, swashbuckling, larger-than-life figure, too fantastic to be real.

He was as impressive for his Herculean physique and strength as he was for the gigantic projects he pushed forward. But his cathedral ego needed fueling with praise and publicity. He never denied a story written about him, regardless of how outrageous. Therefore, it’s often difficult to separate the wheat of the real Joe Boyle from the chaff of the fictional Joe Boyle.

Nevertheless, he was a very complex man, his life divided into two distinct parts: The Klondike Years, dealt with herein, and The War Years.

His flawed personality prevented his emotional closeness to the people he should have loved the most. He probably should never have married once much less twice, for he was unfit as a husband and was negligent as a father to his four children.

Boyle; was one of Canada’s little known yet quite exceptional heroes. Experiencing everything from a millionaire mining company to the love of a Romanian Queen, he lived an extraordinary life which exceeds the imaginations of many Canadians.

Joe Boyle was born in 1867 to the well off couple, Charles and Martha Boyle. He was born in Toronto but later moved with his family to Woodstock, Ontario, sometime during 1872. He was the second youngest of four children, he had two older brothers named Charles and Dave, and a younger sister named Susan. His father was a race horse breeder and bred successful prize race horses. The children grew up on a wonderful farm and Boyle spent much of the free time of his youth riding horses, boating, swimming, and fishing.

When Boyle reached 17 his fascination of the sea lured him from the mainland to the docks. Befriending the captain of one of the Braque’s in a harbour, he was hired on as a deckhand to the ship, which was to sail in two hours. After the agreement was reached, the captain told him to inform his family of his departure. Arriving home he discovered no one there. Not wanting to miss this chance at adventure, he didn’t hesitate and scribbled a note reading, “‘I’ve gone to sea. Please don’t worry about me.’ signed Joe.”

He was then to spend the next three years at sea, never once to contact his family through his absence. He first sailed on a ship called the ‘Wailace’. It is said that he dove overboard with only a knife as his weapon, to rescue a fellow shipmate that was being attacked by a shark.

The Wailace was ordered home two years later and, arriving in Nova Scotia, he went and served on another ship. This ship went aground near Ireland, leaving Joe stranded in Cork where he had to take up a job as a tour guide before he was able to return to the sea.

When Boyle finally returned to the mainland he went to the city of New York, United States. There he met a very pretty divorcee to whom he proposed and not three days later they were married.

Settling down to raise a family he slowed his life down a little. Not long after their wedding their first child was born. Six more children were born to the couple, and of the seven, only four survived. But with the marriage not working they separated in 1896 and Boyle returned home to Canada accompanied by his eldest children; son, Joseph Jr., and his daughter, Flora. His wife retained guardianship of their other daughter and unborn child.

Klondike cowboy bar.

Klondike cowboy bar.

Joseph was financially well off after encouraging a small animal feed business to grow and prosper. He also managed a boxing club in which he met the professional heavyweight boxer, Frank Slavin. The two became friends and when the first rumours of precious yellow metals trickled down from Klondike gold fields, Boyle and Slavin decided to travel north. Leaving his two children with his parents, Boyle, with Slavin, decided to stage boxing tournaments to finance their way up to the Klondike. The boxing scheme didn’t work but they managed to arrive in Skagway despite their empty pockets.

Boyle, with twenty-five cents to his possession, managed to locate a team of sixteen would-be miners and twenty-five pack mules. He and Slavin would travel with this company over the scarcely explored White Pass Route. Arriving in Dawson City, he and Slavin had a mere 22 dollars between the both of them. To better their financial situations the two of them hired on as laborers on the claim Eldorado 13, owned by the famous Swiftwater Bill Gates.

Boyle and Slevin became some of the first men to survive a terrifying frozen passage known as White Pass, making money along the way by setting up Fight Club style boxing exhibitions and earning cash with their ability to face-punch others for sport.  When the two men arrived in Dawson City, Yukon, they had 22 dollars between them.

By the time they left, they’d both be up to their necks in Klondike Gold.

Living in a cowboy-style frontier town in the middle of a mountainous, unsurvivable permafrost glacier, Joe Boyle scrounged cash by working as a manual labourer, boxer, and horse jockey, then blew all that cash on his attempt to try and mine some of the gold that was hidden underneath several feet of rock and ice at the top of a snow-covered mountain. He tried panning for gold, but that didn’t really work out, so instead he decided to use a technique called dredging, which is where you build a huge machine that drags the river bed and sifts out more gold than any one man could pan by hand.

He secured financing for a large dredging company, then wrestled control away from the Rothschilds in the courts. In doing so, he became the most prominent businessman in the gold fields.

Naturally, this worked, Boyle found gold, used that gold to buy a logging business, set up a hydroelectric power plant, and become so goddamn rich that he was known as “The King of the Klondike.” Not bad, especially when you consider that the vast majority of people who tried their hand in the Klondike Gold Rush either froze to death or went broke.

The thrill of being the head of a large dredge company and the mantle of being one of the most prominent figures in the Klondike wore thin on him over the years; he longed for new challenges worthy of a real man.

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The Dawson City Nuggets Hockey trail route. It’s basically the Oregon Trail in reverse, undertaken by men whose parents were old enough to have made the original Trail ride.

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A rabid sports fan and endless promoter, in 1905 Klondike Joe put together a crew of hockey players and took them all the way to Ontario to play for the Stanley Cup. Which sounds bizarre, but back in this time basically any team could challenge the champs for the Cup.

The insane thing here is that Dawson City is 4,000 miles from Ottawa, and this is a trip that was going to be undertaken through vastly uncharted territory at a time before the automobile was invented. It took the Dawson City Nuggets 23 days to reverse-Oregon-Trail their baggage over mountains, rivers, and forests, travelling by dog sled, train, steamer ship, and then train again. They battled seasickness, rain, and ice over roads in an epic journey just for the chance to challenge one of the most unbeatable super-teams in hockey history, and the sheer determination involved was impossibly epic.

These players were mostly recreational players, looking for something to do during the long winters quite literally in the middle of nowhere. But in typical Klondike fashion, the hockey players dreamed big, and challenged for hockey’s greatest prize. They were dreaming of gold, and of Stanley Cup silver.

Funded by the $3,000 from millionaire prospector and shameless promoter Colonel Joe Boyle, “The King Of The Klondike” as he owned the richest claim, and organized by Sheriff Jack Eilbeck, the Nuggets were a real motley crew, though most were not miners themselves. The team was made up of players who formed the 4 team senior league in Dawson City, then a city of 26,000 people including the surrounding area in the days after the gold rush was dying out.

The 4,400 mile route from Dawson to Ottawa is a story in itself. The team arrived exhausted, just a day before the first game, after travelling by bicycle, dog sled, stage coach, boat and train.

The Nuggets left Dawson City on December 19, 1904. Some players left on dog sled, but since the snowfall was negligent to that point that year, other players left on bicycles. The bikes soon became useless. The team reportedly fought numerous snowstorms and an avalanche. The bicyclists had to walk.

The first day the Klondikers covered 46 miles, the second 41. The third day saw them struggling to cover 36 miles, some suffering with blistered feet. To proceed, these had to remove their boots. It may give an idea of the hardship they faced when it is recorded that the temperature sank to 20 degree below zero during the mush from Dawson City west to Skagway, Alaska.
Skagway was the only sea exit from the Yukon. Unfortunately the prospectors missed their boat connection by two hours. They were forced to wait 5 days until another vessel arrived to take them south to Seattle.

While waiting around with the 5 day layover, they had one practice while stuck around Skagway. It was a rink 40 feet by 50, half of it covered with sand, which dulled their skates.”
The team finally left Skagway on New Year’s Eve, 1904. Upon arrival boarded a train to take them 200 miles north to Vancouver, then another to lead them to Ottawa. The players reportedly tried to keep active by skipping rope in the smoking car. They arrived one day before the opening game of the Stanley Cup final. The weary group asked for the games to be put back a few days, but the request was denied.
Exhausted and horribly over matched, the Nuggets, wearing “gaudy uniforms of black and gold stripes with white knickers and striped stockings” were blown away by the likes by the other teams.

The Nuggets got the poop kicked out of them, naturally, because how much gas can you have left in the tank when you’ve been riding a dog sled for three weeks and then hurling over the side of a steamer ship.

In a best-of-three series, the Dawson City Nuggets lost the first game 9-3, but made up for it by getting into a load of fights on the ice and having a few of their players ejected – from a hockey game – for being too violent.

They lost the second game 23-2, which to this day is still the record for the worst defeat in the history of the Stanley Cup.  Ottawa’s star was Frank McGee, whose 14 goals is still an NHL record for most goals in a Stanley Cup series.  McGee was a adventurer himself – he was one of the original nine members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, but was killed in action in France a few years later, fighting the Germans in World War I.

As an side note to this Stanley Cup story, the day after the finals were over the Ottawa team invited Dawson City to come hang out and party with them… the two teams drunk about a billion beers, got smashed out of their minds, and got in trouble because they were taking turns trying to drunkenly drop-kick the Stanley Cup across the Rideau Canal in downtown Ottawa.

The announcement by Britain of war with Germany and her allies in August of 1914 provided him with the opportunity to prove himself in a new arena.

The Dawson City Nuggets. The Dawson City Nuggets. The Dawson City Nuggets: Klondike Joe is the man seated in the middle.

The Dawson City Nuggets: Klondike Joe is the man seated in the middle.

Joe married again but his new wife and his daughter fought a lot. In the beginning of WWI Boyle was too old to fight in the armed forces, so he organized a group of Yukon volunteers with his own money and equipped himself and the group with machine guns. His detachment became highly decorated.

He then left his brother in charge of his mining operations and went to London, England. There he learned he could not get a position higher than honorary Lieutenant Colonel, which disappointed him so he accepted that but kept searching. He became friends with a man who was in engineering and found out about an opening for a anyone willing to help the Russian army conduct a railway that was behind the Russian lines on the eastern front. Since Joe had experience with small rail trains from his Klondike days, he volunteered.

In 1917, on a beautiful June morning, Joe found himself in St. Petersburg in a nice, new officers’ uniform with badges and medals crafted from Yukon gold across his chest. He had an impressive appearance. Walking through the streets he did not realize that he was about to begin a series of adventures which would earn him the Distinguished Service Order, Croix de Guerre, and many other medals. But most importantly, he was soon to have the absolute admiration of a certain Queen.

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Queen Marie of Romania

Marie was born October 29, 1875 in Kent, England. The Duke of Edinburgh, the second son of Queen Victoria of England, was her father. Her mother was a daughter to the Czar Alexander the Second, of Russia. Through the duration of the union, both her parents suffered marital distress. Part of the problem was due to the fact that Marie’s father was an alcoholic. It was her mother who attended to the care of Marie and her siblings. In 1886 Marie moved to Malta where her cousin George came to visit often because she was his favourite cousin. Theirs was a match which was recommended by Queen Victoria as it became clear that George wished to marry Marie.

Her mother however detested English society and her husband’s family, so she made other plans without the knowledge of anyone but Marie. She proceeded with secret negotiations to connect Marie with Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania. Ferdinand was a nephew of King Carol, whose only child and heir had died at the age of 4. In 1892 the courting between Marie and Ferdinand began. In the beautiful spring month of May he proposed to her and she said yes. Her mother had achieved what she had wished to.

Her daughter would be married into high society yet out of the British setting. In January 10, 1893 the wedding commenced and the 17 year old bride was to be married to her 27 year old groom. They kneeled together before the alter and Marie promised to spend the rest of her life together with him. Through the Latin phrases she found a protective niche which “calmed fear and allowed hope to filter into my anxiously throbbing heart.” Later she admitted that “with that ‘yes’ I sealed my fate.” Nine months later, though the honeymoon was supposedly a failure, their first son Carol was born.

In 1907 the pheasants rose up against the land owners, and this revolt was handled violently. Marie opened her eyes to the political affairs of Romania. The king saw her intelligence and he took her into his confidence, and she became a backstage power for the throne. Marie met Boyle some time around 1908. They first saw each other in a reception hall, “You have come to see me?” She asked him. “No Ma’am, I have come to help you.” He calmly replied to her. Then they shook hands “as though we had never been strangers.”(3) Boyle began to fall in love with the beautiful Queen and vowed to never desert her. During the remaining years they would spend in each other’s company, he kept to all of his promises.

June 28, 1914, the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated and soon the world plunged into bloody war. WWI would change the lives of millions including the Crown Princess and a sourdough named Joseph Boyle.

Marie was strongly bonded to both England and Russia through blood relations. This caused some abrasion amid the royal family as the Romanian family felt sympathetic to the Germans who were encouraging Romania to take up arms against Russia. King Carol was willing to comply to the wishes of the Germans but his ministers strongly opposed that decision. Ferdinand didn’t make his opinion known as he was loyal to both his wife and his uncle. On This note, Romania declared itself a neutral country but still the people prepared for war. A few weeks after the declaration, the King passed away and now Romania was ready to have a new king suit the throne. The next day, October 10,1914, Ferdinand attended his coronation and swore the oath to lead his country. Marie was welcomed with loud shouts from the people as she was presented to them as the new queen. As she raised her morning veil to look into their eyes, she saw that she was no longer a stranger to this country. She now belonged.

Klondike Joe chilling with the Queen of Romania.

Klondike Joe chilling with the Queen of Romania. Boyle became a close friend 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.

A few days after arriving in St. Petersburg, Boyle set to work on the railway. He was very blunt when talking to the Russian officials. He demanded that he be completely in charge and he would accept nothing less. While trying to organize everything, some German soldiers broke through and the Russians fled in fear. Boyle took command of the Russian headquarters since the entire staff had left when the Germans arrived. Boyle, with two Russian officers, managed to set up defense posts and they held the town for four days.

Boyle left for Romania when the reinforcements arrived. There he found that supplies weren’t getting through due to blocked rail lines. He devised a system along the Lake Yalpukh using light-draft boats to get supplies to a clear railway line which took them across the Romanian border. His system made it possible to get several hundred tonnes of supplies across a day to the needy receivers at the other end.

Boyle met Captain Hill when he returned to the Russian headquarters. Hill was a British secret agent who had once lived in Canada. The two men soon became close friends facing many trials side by side. Together they witnessed St. Petersburg be taken over by Lenin’s Bolsheviks. After this Boyle was asked to take on a very important assignment by the Revolutionary Committee in Russia’s Capital. They asked him to fix the ‘Moscow knot’. This was about 10,000 rail cars that were all mixed up and blocking the way of the trains carrying food and supplies.

The people in Petrograd, the new name of what was St. Petersburg, Moscow and the soldiers on the front lines were suffering from starvation. Boyle was given charge of the railway gangs by the commander of the Bolshevik military in Moscow. Boyle set his mind on getting it cleared up. Trains carrying things that were not immediately important were pushed over embankments and empty trains were pushed into fields. Boyle got right in working with the gangs throwing out orders while he was at it. He encouraged the workers with some songs he learned from when he was in the Klondike.

Forty eight hours later the trains were up and running again and Boyle was given the position as ‘railway commissar’and was responsible for organizing the railway. With the assistance of Captain Hill, the two men organized a network of over 500 secret agents. The agents carried out things such as sabotage and they provided information on German and Bolshevik activities.

While Boyle and Hill were in Petrograd, a Romanian Ambassador came to see them. He asked them if they would be able to retrieve the crown jewels of Romania along with some other heirlooms. Both men with the spark of adventure in their eyes agreed to do so. The jewels were in Moscow, locked up in the Kremlin. The Bolsheviks would not give them up very easily. Boyle remembering that the Military commander owed him a favor for untying the ‘Moscow Knot’, asked him if he could remove the jewels. The commander agreed and arranged the necessary arrangements. Boyle organized a train to take them and the jewels, back to Romania. One plot to uncouple the cars in the night was discovered by Boyle and so he and Captain Hill managed to apprehend the enemy and save the train.

The Bolsheviks were not ready to allow the jewels to leave so the tried to gain control of one of the railway stations along the way. Bullets flew but they picked up speed and passed the station surviving with only minor wounds and damages. The next stop they were not so lucky and the Bolsheviks arrested Boyle and his party and forced them to remain in car 451, the car carrying the jewels. Under the protective fake front of a singsong, Boyle slipped out of the car and past the drunk guards.

He located an engine and driver who he forced to couple to car 451 and soon they were up and running again. Crashing through one last enemy rail block he finally arrived at the Romanian border. Boyle was surprised when his train was met with intense gunfire as it attempt to pass Romanian troops. He yelled at them that he was a friend not a foe and eventually the apologetic troops ceased fire and allowed the jewels passage. The unescorted jewels arrived safely into royal hands with great thanks to Boyle’s bravery and strength.

The Bolsheviks were not through with Romania yet. Their raiding parties terrorized the countryside. Boyle was able to imprison some 50 top officers of the enemy along with over 500 other men. He also led a daring rescue attempt in which he boarded a ship carrying Romanian hostages to Russia. Once in Russia he bribed the ship to sail to Romania which it did, returning the hostages to their country and making Boyle and even greater exalted hero. For that deed he was awarded the Grand Cross of Romania.

When Marie was given permission to retire to her county residence when she was unable to accept the peace treaty signed with Germany. Boyle followed her there and their days were spent in each others company. She took him horseback riding in the country and her children became very fond of him and referred to him as dear family. He would tell the family stories of his Klondike days and sing Irish songs. Marie and Boyle found that they both were very rebellious, deifying the restrictions the German government attempted to place on them. Through their shared adventures their relationship strengthened and grew.

Boyle was given the title of ‘Duke of Jassey’. He continued to serve Marie and Romania. The return of 10,000 soldiers who had been disarmed while in Romania was supervised by Boyle. He also travelled to Bessarabia several times in secret, and soon they voted for it to reunite with Romania. Boyle still had the secret intelligence network, and he had them carry out sabotage on the German, Austrian and Bolshevik’s railways. The network also obtained intelligence which Boyle shared with the allies. With this information he was able to prevent large amounts of war supplies from falling into the wrong hands.

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Whiteside Boyle, D.S.O. 1867-1923.

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Whiteside Boyle, D.S.O. 1867-1923.

On one calm spring day, in June 18,1918, the inevitable came to pass. After a flight to the capital of Bessarabia, Boyle suffered a stroke. Boyle’s life up till that point had been non-stop. His constant activities finally took their toll. He became paralyzed on his right side and was unable understand much. He lay helplessly in his bed. When Marie heard the news her heart sank. She didn’t know what to do. Boyle fought back and he got back his strength. He was determined to become strong again. Marie invited him to go up to the Royal summer home to see her. The summer home was in Bicaz, in the Carpathian Mountains. Marie noticed something different about him though, a certain sadness had entered him.

On December 1, 1918, there was a parade to celebrate the end of the war. But shortly afterwards the Romanian countryside was ransacked and it looked as though Romania going to face a famine. Boyle went to England and called on an old friend. His friend was the chairman of the ‘Allied Food Council’, and Boyle asked him to get three shiploads of food to Romania. Marie went to England later on and assisted Boyle.

When back in Romania in the 1920’s, rumors arose about Boyle’s and Marie’s relationship, and it eventually led to Marie having to ask Boyle to leave, even though she did not want to. She had to look out for political matters. Boyle, shocked and hurt, left without any arguments as to not cause Marie anymore embarrassment. Even though he left, Marie and Boyle still wrote letters with each other.

Boyle’s health began to deteriorate and he was told that he would have to slow down or he would die. Boyle, being the adventurous man he was, ignored this advice and went to the Black Sea to rescue one of his staff that the Bolsheviks had imprisoned. A short while later he moved to Teddy Bredenberg’s home in Hampton Hill, one of his old friends from the Klondike. He died there a few weeks later.

After living a life of many adventures, it came to an end. The legendary hero Joseph W. Boyle was laid to rest after 56 years of life. He died on April 14, 1923. He was buried in Hampton Hill, England, in the St. James churchyard which was right across the street from the house in which he died in. Queen Marie had found tombstones as a source of solace to her when she was younger. Being a young bride and being homesick when she was in Romania, she was often depressed, and tombstones made her feel better. She was not pleased with his grave when she visited it in August, 1923, so in turn she had a 1,000 year old Romanian cross placed on his grave, as a gift from her, which she personally supervised.

A stone marker, a final gift from Queen Marie, was placed on his grave with the following epitaph, one of Boyle’s favourite passages from Robert Service, engraved upon it:

“A man with the heart of a Viking, and the simple faith of a child.”

Every year after that, on the anniversary of his death, a woman dressed in black appeared at his graveside and placed a bouquet of flowers there. This continued each year until Queen Marie passed away in 1938.

Joe Boyle: King of the Klondike – The Canadian Encyclopedia

Joe Boyle was one of the Yukon’s most heroic figures | Yukon News

Joseph Whiteside Boyle – YESNet

Badass – Klondike Joe Boyle

Klondike Joe and the Queen of Romania « James H Marsh

Biography – BOYLE, JOSEPH WHITESIDE – Volume XV (1921-1930 …

Joe Boyle — SuperHero of the Klondike Goldfields – diArmani.com

Joe Boyle: The Klondike King Who Became a War Hero …

Klondike Joe Boyle: Heroic Adventures from Gold Fields to Battlefields …

CM Magazine: Klondike Joe Boyle: Heroic Adventures from Gold …


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