The Hougen Group of Companies - A Yukon Tradition
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Joe Boyle, Businessman

He was an industrialist, and inventor, a promoter, a sports enthusiast, and a millionaire. He was truly the King of the Klondike.

Joe Boyle was born in Toronto on November 6th, 1867. When he came to the Klondike in 1897, the gold rush hadn't yet begun in earnest. But the search for gold was in full flight. He surveyed the many small claims and diggings on the creeks and decided that only large hydraulic mining methods would liberate the millions to be made from gold.

He gathered land rights in the Klondike valley and invented a means to dig for gold - not with pick, pan and shovel, but by building gold dredges. The dredges devised by Joe Boyle floated on small lakes created by backing up water from the Klondike creeks. The huge buckets would dig deep down into the ground and deposit sand, rock, gravel and gold on shakers contained inside the dredge.

By this means, Boyle turned the many small placer gold operations into a massive industry scooping out millions of dollars worth of gold which the small-time miner and his pan could not get at. By 1898, Joe Boyle controlled much of the gold and timber rights extending for 10 miles up the Klondike river valley and from Bonanza to Hunker creek.

But what kind of man was Joe Boyle. The Dawson daily news said: "There is no finer specimen of physical manhood in the world today - his magnificient physique, great strength and happy sympathic nature coupled with the total abstinence from the use of liquor or tobacco make him an ideal character for this rigorous climate".

Joe Boyle was at the head of the Dawson City social circuit at the turn of the century. He entertained in lavish style, wore only the fanciest of clothes. A picture of that time shows Boyle, resplendent in a flowing fur coat sitting at the wheel of a brand new car delivered by boat, train and boat again to Dawson City when cars and roads were few and far between.

Ever the adventurer, Boyle became a patriot when war broke out in 1914. He personally established and paid for a contingent of Yukon volunteers. He equipped 50 men from the Klondike and took them to England. Colonel Joe Boyle was miffed when Britain took over his Yukon militia. No longer in charge of his men, he travelled to eastern Europe where war was raging on every front.

Yukon History Hougengroup Joe Boyle
Joe Boyle at the stables of Sir Henry Deterding of the Royal Dutch Shell group, ca. 1922.
Yukon Archives. Oxford Historical Society, #2.
Click for larger view.

Yukon History Hougengroup Joe Boyle
Joe Boyle dredge, Canadian Klondyke Mining Co.
Yukon Archives. Oxford Historical Society, #10.
Click for larger view.

He became friends with Queen Marie of Romania and was instrumental in getting behind Russian lines to help recover national treasures stolen from Romanian cities. For this incredible feat, Joe Boyle was dubbed the Saviour of Romania by the Romanian government.

After the war, Boyle returned to England where he spent his last days. He died in London in 1923.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



The Man who cremated Sam McGee

"Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee," said Robert Service in his famed story of a man cremated in the boiler of a steamboat called the Olive May. Of course, we know the real McGee wasn’t cremated, nor was he from Tennessee. But who was cremated on the marge of Lake Laberge? And by whom? And why? Well, the cremated man's real name seems lost in the mists of more than a 100 bygone years. It wasn't Sam McGee, but whoever it was - he was cremated by Leonard Sugden.

Doctor Leonard Sugden was working for the NWMP in the winter of 1899-1900 when he mushed out to a cabin on Lake Laberge to check on the well-being of a miner, ill with scurvy. Sugden found the man – dead. And there was no way to bury him in the frozen ground.

So Sugden loaded the corpse on a sleigh and hauled it to the NWMP post at Tagish. Legend has it that the Mounties used the newly arrived telegraph line to contact his family in Tennessee for permission to cremate him. Maybe!

A steamboat, the Olive May, was frozen in for the winter at Tagish. The crew of the boat, who were wintering at Tagish, lit the boiler fire and helped Sugden stuff in the miner.

When Robert Service heard the story in 1906, his future and that of the real Sam McGee, a miner who lived in Whitehorse, was set. The Cremation of Sam McGee made Service famous.

But what about the doctor who inspired the poem? Doctor Sugden first came north on a whaling vessel and administered to the people at Juneau. In 1897, he headed for the Klondike but had to winter at Marsh Lake, where he built a cabin and worked as a doctor for the NWMP. When the real gold rush began in 1898, he helped pilot boats through Miles Canyon and the White Horse Rapids. Dr. Sugden stayed in the Yukon. He married in 1906 and moved to the Kluane area where he mined, hunted big game and bought a Prizma movie camera. With it he produced, in 1915, a film called The Lure of Alaska which played to rave reviews across America and Europe.

The film includes shots from the Seattle harbour and along the coast of Alaska and features scenes of Juneau, Sitka, Skagway, a midnight baseball game in Dawson City, a caribou herd swimming in the river, and icebergs calving from glaciers. The movie also includes scenes of Sugden piloting a raft through the Whitehorse Rapids.

About the movie, the New York Times in 1917 wrote: Seldom have nature pictures been such a combination of thrills and wild beauty. They are a notable accomplishment of the camera and Dr. Sugden’s nerve.

Unfortunately, Dr. Sugden’s life of adventure ended suddenly in 1923 when he fell off a barge into the Stewart River near Mayo and drowned.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin