Boyle, Joseph Whiteside

Joseph Whiteside Boyle, "Klondike Joe," mining entrepreneur, adventurer (b at Toronto, Ont 6 Nov 1867; d at London, Eng 14 Apr 1923). As a youth he spent 3 years at sea as a deckhand. He settled in New York, where he started a feed and freighting business, and was married and divorced. He began managing Australian boxer Frank Slavin in 1897, touring Toronto, San Francisco and Victoria. Boyle and Slavin heard of the KLONDIKE GOLD RUSH while in Juneau, Alaska, and were among the first group of gold seekers to cross WHITE PASS.

It was Boyle who opened the trail to Lake Bennet and Lake Tutshi. He and Slavin filed a claim of 8 mi (13.3 km) along the Klondike River, but Boyle immediately realized that success would depend on a large-scale operation. He lobbied in Ottawa for a concession to dredge, finally achieving it in 1900. Meanwhile, he established a profitable sawmill, docks and wharfs. In 1904 he formed the Canadian Klondyke Mining Co, and by 1910 had massive dredging equipment in operation, as well as a hydroelectric plant (May 1911). He was embroiled in law suits, territorial disputes and local politics, and in 1905 he led a team (Klondike Wanderers) to challenge for the STANLEY CUP (they lost).

At the outbreak of WWI Boyle raised his own machine-gun unit and was made an honorary colonel. He left for England in 1916 and, after lobbying to get into the action, was sent to Russia to organize the railway system. After the Bolshevik takeover he was appointed chairman of the All-Russian Food Board, responsible for the collection and distribution of food. After clearing the congestion of 10 000 cars around Moscow, his reputation for extraordinary action spread. He was entrusted with returning the national archive and paper currency (likely not the crown jewels, as has been claimed) to Romania and had to run a Russian blockade to achieve it. He was a trusted emissary between Romania and the Bolsheviks, and succeeded in getting a peace treaty signed.

On yet another venture he secured the escape of 54 Romanian prisoners being kept as hostages at Sevastopol. He was meanwhile supplying intelligence to the British and French, as well as working tirelessly for the relief of the destitute Romanian people. After the war he worked to rehabilitate the Romanian oil industry and managed a brief Canadian aid mission. Boyle's efforts made him a national hero in Romania and he became the confidant, friend and possibly the lover of Queen Marie, who described him succinctly as "frightened of nothing and who, by his extraordinary force of will and fearlessness, gets through everywhere."

Boyle left Romania after 2 years of action that had exhausted him to the point of death. He was awarded the Order of St Anne and the Order of St Vladimir by Russia, the Croix de Guerre by France, the Distinguished Service Order by Britain, and the Crown of Romania, the Star of Romania and the Grand Cross. His remarkable career in eastern Europe went unrecognized in Canada. Like many men of remarkable achievement he was held in suspicion for his independence.