Joseph Whiteside Boyle (born 6 November 1867 in Toronto, ON; died 14 April 1923 in Hampton Hill, Middlesex, United Kingdom). Nicknamed Klondike Joe, Boyle founded a gold mining company and became a millionaire in the aftermath of the Klondike gold rush. During the First World War, he equipped a machine gun unit and was a spy with the British secret service in Russia and Romania. He also reorganized the Russian military supply network, rescued Romanian prisoners of war and became the confidant and possibly lover of Queen Marie of Romania.
Joseph Boyle was the youngest of four children of Charles Boyle, a racehorse trainer whose horses won the Queen’s Plate on several occasions, and Martha Bain. The family moved to Woodstock, Ontario, when Boyle was four-and-a-half years old. He attended Woodstock College in 1883–84. At 17, he left a note for his family that read, “I’ve gone to sea. Please don’t worry about me.” Boyle worked on freighter ships for three years. He later became a firefighter in Chicago, an amateur heavyweight boxer at the National Sporting Club in London, United Kingdom, and a manager for Australian heavyweight boxing champion Frank Slavin.
Marriages and Children
In 1888, Joseph Boyle married Mildred Raynor in New York City. They had four children — Joseph Junior, Flora, Susan and Charlotte — and divorced after nine years of marriage. In 1908, he married Elma Louise Humphries, but his second marriage was also unsuccessful.
Klondike Gold Rush
In 1897, Joseph Boyle joined the Klondike gold rush and travelled over the White Pass Trail. He mined Claim 13 and struck gold. In 1900, Boyle received the timber and hydraulic rights to eight miles of the Klondike Valley, known as the Boyle Concessions, from Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton. In 1909, he established the Canadian Klondyke Mining Company. The company, which used enormous dredging machines to extract gold from bedrock, was controversial and faced legal challenges.
Boyle also established a sawmill and warehouses and donated to local charities in Dawson City. In 1904–05, Boyle sponsored a hockey team, the Dawson City Nuggets, that unsuccessfully challenged the Ottawa Silver Seven for the 1905 Stanley Cup. (See Klondikers Challenge for the Stanley Cup.)
First World War
Joseph Boyle was a millionaire when the First World War began in 1914. He contacted Sam Hughes, minister of militia and defence, and volunteered to recruit and equip a 50-person machine gun company composed of Yukon gold miners. The “Boyle battery” was incorporated into the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915. Boyle received the honourary rank of lieutenant-colonel in the militia in 1916. For the rest of the war, he wore a colonel’s uniform adorned with badges of Klondike gold.
Adventures in Russia and Romania
In June 1917, Joseph Boyle accompanied the American Committee of Engineers to Russia, a wartime ally of Britain, France and the United States. By that time, Czar Nicholas II had abdicated the throne and the Russian Provisional Government was running the war effort. Although Boyle did not speak Russian or have experience with railway management, he offered to coordinate the transport of food and military supplies to the Eastern Front. He worked successfully with local authorities to remove blockades and coordinate ship and rail transport. At the same time, he worked with the British secret service and carried out undercover operations against German and Bolshevik forces.
Following the Russian Revolution in November 1917, which brought Vladimir Lenin to power, the Romanian government asked Boyle to transport Romanian currency and diplomatic documents out of Russia. He commandeered a train and transported the money and documents, as well as desperately needed food aid, to Romania.
The Bolshevik government declared war on Romania on two separate occasions in 1918 and 1919. Boyle helped negotiate a peace treaty between the two countries and the release of Romanian prisoners of war. At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Boyle negotiated a $25 million loan from Canada to help Romania rebuild after the devastation of the First World War. (See also Treaty of Versailles.)
Queen Marie of Romania
In March 1918, Joseph Boyle met Queen Marie, wife of King Ferdinand of Romania and granddaughter of Queen Victoria. They developed a close and passionate friendship. Queen Marie recalled in her memoirs, “Being myself entirely unresigned and exceedingly rebellious, it was natural that an irresistible sympathy should spring up between us; we understood each other from the first moment we clasped hands, as though we had never been strangers. His advice was strong, brave, stimulating, sometimes a little ruthless, but always invigorating.”
Did you know?
At Queen Marie’s request, Joseph Boyle organized the escape of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia, a cousin of the last Czar, and her second husband, Sergei Putyatin, from Odessa in November 1918. Grand Duchess Maria recalled in her memoirs, “Somehow I did not put much trust in the desire of a Canadian colonel to save us, but I was utterly mistaken.”
Historians still debate whether the two had an intimate relationship. After Boyle suffered a near fatal stroke in June 1918, Marie brought him to her country retreat and visited him twice daily. Marie’s children called Boyle “Uncle Joe.” He read them Robert Service poems and escorted Marie’s younger son Nicholas to the United Kingdom when he enrolled at Eton College in 1919. (See also The First World War in Canadian Literature and Artistic Legacy of the First World War.) By that time, Boyle’s company — the Canadian Klondyke Mining Company — was in receivership.
Boyle never fully recovered from his stroke and, in 1923, died of heart failure in London. Three years later, Marie visited his elder brother David in Toronto during a royal tour.
Did you know?
In 1926, Queen Marie became the first European queen consort to tour Canada, visiting Niagara Falls, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver during a seven-week North American tour to encourage foreign investment in Romania.
Joseph Boyle received numerous honours, including the Distinguished Service Order from the United Kingdom, the Croix de Guerre from France, and three decorations each from Russia and Romania.
According to British secret service agent George Alexander Hill, who worked with Boyle in Russia, “He was a born fighter, a great talker and…independent to a revolutionary extent. Etiquette and procedure meant nothing to him, especially if a job had to be done.”
In 1962, author Pierre Berton wrote in the Toronto Star, “It is my contention that, had Joseph Whiteside Boyle been born south of the border, he would by now have been a central figure in both motion pictures and television.” Boyle was portrayed by Scottish actor Robert Cavanah in the 2019 film Queen Marie of Romania.