Frozen in time. A picture of Dawson's finest young men. All in uniform. Fifty young men off to Europe to fight for King and country. The sign on the building behind them reads Dawson to Berlin 7460 miles. For most it would be a one way trip.
Of all the dashing and daring characters who lived and worked in the Klondike, none had more verve or nerve than Joseph Whiteside Boyle. His wheeling and dealings in the gold fields had made him the undeniable King of the Klondike. He even financed a Dawson City hockey team and challenged for the Stanley Cup back in 1905.
Now on August 4th, 1914, Britain declared war against Germany. This automatically meant that Canada too was at war. Canadians by thousands were signing up to go overseas. Boyle was determined the Yukon would not be left out of the action. He wired Sam Hughes, the minister of defense, saying he could assemble a 50-man machine-gun company from the Yukon to assist in the war effort. On September 4th, 1914, the offer was accepted. The Boyle Yukon Motor Machine Gun Company was established.
Within a week, 50 men had signed up. Since there was no money from the war effort to pay them, Boyle took each man on as an employee of his Klondike Mining company. Then, on October 4th, 1914, there was a rousing parade and send-off for the soldiers from the Yukon. The patriotic event took place at the Arctic Brotherhood hall. The Dawson Daily news reported that the streets were black with people from the city and the creeks. Under a blaze of lights and with a band playing and the populace shouting, the boys of the Boyle Yukon detachment stood at attention on the Dawson wharf. When the last whistle blew, 50 Yukon soldiers stood on the deck of the SS Lightning, bound for Whitehorse, and then on to Victoria where they were formally sworn into the Canadian army.
Joe Boyle was not among those on board. That very day, his Canadian dredge took on water and sank in its pond near Bear Creek. Boyle had to remain in the Klondike to take care of his massive and now problematic business enterprises.
There were many ordeals for the military contingent as well. They didn't arrive in Europe until late 1916. By this time, Boyle's legal battles in the Klondike gold fields got the better of him. In mid-July of 1916, he quietly slipped out of Dawson and headed for England where he was made an honorary colonel in the Canadian army. But he was not in charge of his Yukon machine gun company.
However, the company fought fiercely in combat on the European front and became one of the most decorated units in the Canadian army. But it paid dearly. In August of 1919, just three of the 50 men returned to the Klondike. Joe Boyle didn't return either. He spent his last days in England, where he died in 1923.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin