This Week in History


Gold, Spies, and the Queen of Rumania

For the week of Monday, October 31, 2016

On November 6, 1867, Joseph W. Boyle was born in Toronto and raised in Woodstock, Ontario. He was an entrepreneur, a hero, and a confidant to royalty. His adventurous life in the Yukon, Russia, and Rumania (as Romania was known at the time) earned him the nicknames “King of the Klondike” and “The Saviour of Rumania.”

Portrait of Joe Boyle
© Courtesy of Woodstock Public Library

Boyle followed the call of gold to the Yukon where he started the Canadian Klondyke Mining Company, which became one of the region's largest mining operations. His fortune increased with his control of a hydroelectric dam that provided electricity to not only the city of Dawson, but also to his competitors’ mining operations! While in Dawson, Boyle managed the Dawson City Nuggets hockey team and, in 1905, he brought the team to Ottawa to compete in the Stanley Cup final; they lost.

Boyle’s adventures had only just begun. At the onset of the First World War, he equipped a 50-man machine gun unit. Too old to lead the unit himself, he became its honorary Lieutenant-Colonel and moved to London, England. There, he joined the American Committee of Engineers and led one of its teams to Russia in 1917, to improve the railway system along the front lines.

Joseph Boyle posing with Queen Marie (left) and Princess Ileanna (right). Bicaz, Rumania
© Courtesy of Woodstock Public Library

When Austro-German forces invaded Rumania in 1917-18, Boyle, still in Russia, organized relief for the starving populace. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, he used former Russian contacts to smuggle the Rumanian crown jewels and national archives out of Russia, where they had been safeguarded, and back to Rumania by train.

From this point on, the relationship between Boyle and Rumania grew. He became a close friend and confidant of Queen Marie of Rumania. As her emissary to Russia, he negotiated for the release of imprisoned Rumanian dignitaries. When rebellious Bolsheviks refused to release the Rumanians, he managed to spirit them away from Odessa by ship. Fittingly, Boyle’s exploits also extended to espionage. While in Rumania, he built a network of 400 to 500 spies using his Russian military connections, and supplied information to Britain and France. At the end of the First World War, he represented Rumania at the Versailles Peace Conference, where he negotiated a Canadian loan worth $25 million to help rebuild destroyed Rumanian farms.

Upon his death in 1923, Boyle was widely honoured by France, Britain, Russia, and Rumania for his many contributions in the First World War. In Canada, Joseph W. Boyle is designated as a National Historic Person. His residence, the V.I.P. Guest House near Dawson, is a recognized federal heritage building. To learn more about the Klondike Gold Rush, visit Gold!!! in the This Week in History archives.

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