Joseph W. Boyle; 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 on November 16, 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 barque's in a harbor, 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."(1) 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. Though it is not known that it is fully true, it could possibly be. 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.(1,Smith)
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 privilage of their other daughter and unborn child.
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 rumors 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.
Working the pits, Boyle decided that panning for the gold wasn't the way to mine. He believed that dredging rather hand-panning would be a more beneficial way to mine. So during the summer he and Slavin staked over 10,000 hectares along 13 km of river. Slavin stayed in the Klondike to file the claims for the land while Boyle decided to head to Ottawa to acquire large scale hydraulic leases for the 40 square miles in the Klondike River Valley. Late fall, Boyle, accompanied by Bill Gates, attempted to leave the Yukon by boat but were caught in ice flows as winter began to set in. Continuing on foot, the men met up with a stranded party so everyone decided to pool all their goods and equipment and to continue on together. Boyle led the men through the harsh wilderness, through deep snow with snowshoes, and without a stove or tent. He drove them on like a chain gang, and one month after leaving the gold fields they arrived safely in Seattle. From there Boyle traveled east to see the Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton, to submit his dredge proposals. Sifton supported the idea of Canadians developing the Klondike's goldfields and therefore profiting from the booming economy, so he agreed to consider the proposal. Returning to the Yukon, Boyle was slightly bewildered at the sight of thousands of stampeders that plugged the passes and crowded within the towns of the Klondike. He erected a sawmill to provide precious, and expensive, timber to the miners to use in building their cabins, furniture, sluice boxes and other mining apparatus. Quite successful, he continued to expand by building a storehouse, wharf and lumber dock. He also acquired seventeen placer mining claims and constructed a large headquarters along Bear Creek to serve as the operation's supervisory building.
In November of 1900, the dredging proposal was approved and Boyle was able to begin his dredging career. Though the work included long hours, Boyle found many sources of entertainment to relieve him of work related stress. Following in the footsteps of his father, he posed as a jockey and participated in the local horse races around Dawson City. Though not as spry as he used to be, he fought one of his last boxing matches in that Klondike town. Attracted by his tall, dark and handsome appearance, many of the 'fairer sex' came to see him as well.
In 1905, there was a Stanley Cup Challenge that was surely one to remember.
The Dawson Nuggets went to compete with the Ottawa Silver Seven, who were
said to be invincible. Boyle masterminded the $6,000 trip to Ottawa. After
6,500 km of walking mixed in with dog sleds, bicycles and then the Canadian
Pacific Railway, they finally made it to the arena. The team was made up of
Klondike prospectors and civil servants who hoped to take the cup. In an
attempt to stay in shape on the train they jumped rope in the smoking car,
but it didn't prove successful as they arrived in Ottawa tired and
flabby. The next day, which happened to be Friday the 13th, Ottawa beat
them 9-2. Not too bad in comparison to the 23-2 the Silver Seven would beat
three days later. To make it sound even worse fourteen of the goals were
scored by a half blind Frank McGee, the star center for Ottawa. The Toronto
Telegram called them the "worst consignment of hockey junk to come over the
metals of the CPR."
In 1905, a Detroit mining company offered to finance Boyle's dredge company. This caused him to lose control of the company, so, unconcerned, he headed home to his family in Woodstock. Upon returning home, he looked into the deals he and the mining company had agreed to. Boyle discovered a fraudulent deal in the contract with the company and, filing a lawsuit, he proceeded to take them to court. He went to Detroit where he won. Promptly returning to the Yukon, he returned to the Klondike to manage the 'Canadian Klondike Mining Company'.
While he was away from the Yukon he had begun working on plans to build a 'dreadnought dredge.' This would be the largest dredge in the world handling 11,000 cubic meters worth of sludge and gravel a day. Finally one day in 1910, another one of Boyle's dreams became reality as the dredge began to consume the earth seeking the mountains of gold waiting to be uncovered. Boyle began to amass great quantities of riches which he used to invent many new sagas which he would add to his life story.
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 searcing. 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.
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
But most importantly, he was soon to have the absolute admiration of a certain
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
of the union, both her parents suffered marital distress. Part of the
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 favorite cousin. Theirs was a
match which was recommended by Queen Victoria as it became clear that
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."(2) Nine months later, though the
honeymoon was supposedly a failure, their first son
Carol was born.(2,Smith)
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.(3,Smith)
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.
During the years of 1917-18, German, Austrian-Hungarian, Turkan and
forces plunged deep into Romania. In 1917, the capital had
fallen and the royal court and headquarters had been
evacuated. A cruel treaty of peace was signed by
Ferdinand March 7, 1918, but not by choice. Romania was desperate and they
received no assistance from their close ally, Russia. In 1917, Marie's
cousin Czar Nicholas the Second, had been abducted with his
family. They were imprisoned by the
Bolsheviks who wanted peace with Germany and so to
do this they declared war on Romania. The crown of Romania was being
threatened and neither Ferdinand nor Marie had a clear idea about what
A few days after arriving in St. Petersburg, He 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 recievers 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 Rumania. The return of 10,000 soldiers who had been disarmed while in Rumania was supervised by Boyle. He also traveled to Bessarabia several times in secret, and soon they voted for it to reunite with Rumania. 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.
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 layed 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 arised about Boyle's and Marie's relationship. These were all untrue, but 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.
50 years after his death, Joseph W. Boyle was finally laid to rest in his
hometown of Woodstock, Ontario. A group called the Joseph Boyle
Committee made this possible. The society was formed at the request of
Flora Boyle, his daughter, who had heard that that his grave was
deteriorating in an unkempt an sometimes flooded churchyard. Consisting of
three members, they asked for
permission to remove Boyle's body from his grave in a churchyard in Hampton
Hill. Eleven Parishioners argued that the cemetery should be respected as
sacred ground and that there would be little left of the remains due to the
flooding, but they were still granted permission. Along with his body,
they took the stone cross that was placed on his grave some 50 years
by the Queen who had captured his heart.
|This is the map of the Yukon which shows roughly where Joe travelled and about the times he was there. He started off in Dawson then continued his way around the Yukon.|
|This is a map of Romania which show his way around Romania.|
Foote, Isabel, In Praise Of A Canadian Hero, Published by the Joe Boyle Repatriation Committee Inc. of the Oxford Historical Society
Helwig, David, The Globe and Mail, Monday, July 19, 1982 (From the Yukon Archives)
Taylor, Leonard W., The Sourdough & The Queen, Toronto Canada, Methuen Publications, 1983
Smith, Charles W., The Sourdough Who Loved A Queen, Readers Digest, June 1990, Pages 141-164