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Canadian History for Kids: Klondike Joe Boyle

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One and Canadian History for Kids have assembled 31 remarkable stories about incredible people, places and events which helped shape our amazing nation.

A grateful nation never forgets a hero.

Klondike Joe Boyle was a true hero and the stuff that Hollywood epics are made of.

Boyle grew up in Woodstock Ontario, but the travel bug took him many places before the Klondike. He was merchant seaman, businessman and fight promoter before the gold rush lured him north in 1897.

Boyle was successful in securing the rights to mining a large tract of land in the Klondike River valley. He eventually wrestled control of the Canadian Klondike Mining Company from the powerful Rothschild family.

By 1909, he was in charge of one of the two corporate mining giants in the Klondike and became known as “The King of the Klondike”. His mines were the largest in the Yukon and almost certainly, some of the largest in the world.

With the start of World War I in 1914, Joe left the Yukon for good. He stepped forward with the offer to finance and equip a machine gun unit of fifty men for the Canadian Army.
He embarked on a mission to get the Russian train system working. Boyle’s physical presence and willpower impressed his hosts and made immediate improvements in the flow of food and ammunition to the Russian front.

At Tarnapol, he helped restore order while under German attack, for which the Russians presented him with a medal.

In the winter of 1917-18 he became involved in the supply of food to starving defeated Romanians and arranged for the national crown jewels and archives to be moved to Moscow to keep them out of German hands. He later arranged for their return.

On March 2, 1918 Boyle met Queen Marie of Romania. The meeting was brief but left a deep imprint on both of them. Marie, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England, was a romantic. She described Boyle in her diary as a very curious, fascinating sort of man, who was frightened of nothing.

From trust grew friendship, admiration and love. The Queen’s diary is full of praise for Boyle’s strength, deep blue eyes and reassuring smile. Boyle was smitten too.

Boyle moved from one exciting moment to another. He negotiated a treaty of peace between Russia and Romania; he rescued 60 Romanian government officials and escaped with them to Romania via the Black Sea; he operated an extensive spy network, and he negotiated at the Versailles Peace Conference on behalf of Romania after the end of the war.

And yes, in all likelihood, he also became the lover of Queen Marie of Romania.

While never formally recognized by Canada at the time for his wartime accomplishments, Joe was decorated by several other countries: The Distinguished Service Order by Britain, the French Croix de Guerre, the Russian Order of St. Vladimir, and the Order of the Star of Romania, to name a few.

As his health deteriorated, Boyle grew lonely and longed to return to the rapids and clear air of the Klondike. He died in England April 14, 1923 and was buried at England.

In 1983, his daughter Flora and a committee of Woodstock citizens arranged for the transfer of Joe Boyle’s body to Woodstock, Ontario. In the sole recognition in Canada of this remarkable man, the Department of National Defense performed a full military funeral.

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