From the Klondike to Berlin

For World War I, nearly 1,000 Yukoners enlisted–that’s a much higher rate per capita than the rest of Canada–and they also donated twelve times more money per capita FULL STORY

#149 Grit to the core

July 11th, 2017

REVIEW: From the Klondike to Berlin: The Yukon in World War I.

by Michael Gates

Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 2017.

$24.95  /  978-1-55017-776-3

Reviewed by Jim Wood




The outpouring of centenary books about aspects of Canada’s involvement in the Great War, 1914-1918, continues with From the Klondike to Berlin: The Yukon in World War I, from Michael Gates and Harbour Publishing.

The Yukon’s two units, both part of 2nd Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, trained in Victoria and Vancouver before distinguishing themselves in this most devastating of wars.

Reviewer Jim Wood of Okanagan College notes that the Yukon poet, Robert Service, an ambulance driver in the war, “was targeted by Canada’s chief censor” for portraying the devastation and suffering of war. – Ed.


Michael Gates


From the Klondike to Berlin presents a narrative history of the men and women who lived in the Yukon, then an isolated Canadian mining outpost, when war broke out in 1914. Michael Gates has highlighted their patriotic, indomitable spirit, born during the Gold Rush of 1898 and continued by the hardy folk who answered the call to serve the Empire.

One recruit summed up the northern spirit among his fellow soldiers:  “I am going with Yukoners because I believe no part of the world can produce men more accustomed to all-round frontier experiences…in the face of all kinds of difficulties which try every man’s resourcefulness to the utmost” (p. 58).

Canadian armoured cars going into action, Battle of Amiens, August, 1918. Yukon Archives.

At the centre of the region’s war efforts were two locally-raised units: Joe Boyle’s Yukon Machine Gun Battery and the Yukon Infantry Company, recruited and raised by George Black, Yukon’s territorial commissioner. Boyle’s unit trained at Hastings Park in Vancouver and Black’s infantry group at Victoria’s Willow Camp. Upon being sent overseas, both units were merged into the 2nd Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade.

Gates has featured the Black family, George, Martha, and their son Lyman, as the epitome of a Yukon family at war, displaying what poet Robert Service depicts as “The Law of the North” where men and women are “the strong and the sane,” “girt for the combat,” and “grit to the core” (Songs of a Sourdough, 1957, 9).

Martha Black tries machine gun and scores 64 hits out of 75. Witley Camp, 1917. Yukon Archives.

George recruited 255 men for the Yukon Infantry Company, qualified in Victoria to become a captain, and went on the lead his men in the battles of Amiens and the Hundred Days. The 2nd Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade served with the Allied occupation force in Berlin after the Armistice, and following their departure for Canada, Black stayed on to act as defence counsel for several British Columbia soldiers who had been charged in the Kinmel Park demobilization riots in Wales in 1919.

George and Martha opened Government House to organizations such as the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire for fundraising and assembling comfort packages for the soldiers.

Martha Black was well known for having climbed the Chilkoot Trail of 1898 while pregnant and going on to create a thriving sawmill business. During the war she led patriotic fundraising campaigns in Dawson, continuing her work in England with hospital visits, letter writing, and administration of the Yukon Comfort Fund.

Canadian armoured car proceeds to Battle of Amiens, 1918. Yukon Archives.

Their son Lyman Black joined up as a student from Dawson Public School, went on to be promoted to lieutenant, and was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry near Amiens in 1918.

Gates includes wide-ranging coverage of war experiences of Yukon soldiers, including the exhaustion and high casualty rate suffered by Boyle’s Machine Gun Battery in action at the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, Passchendaele, Amiens, and the Hundred Days. Boyle went on to assist the Romanian royal family by transporting the Crown jewels on a treacherous 1300-kilometre journey through Bolshevik Russia.

Robert Service

Canadian poet Robert Service’s work as an ambulance driver, journalist, and intelligence officer is shown by Gates to have frequently portrayed the devastation and suffering of war, with the result that his writing was targeted by Canada’s chief censor.

Yukon history has been well documented for the Trail of ’98 and the Alaska Highway; Gates, however, explores new territory in this history of the region’s participation in the First World War, using local and archival sources to reveal the experiences of individuals serving on both the home front and overseas, documenting the impact on Canadian families of an increasingly dire manpower situation in the later stages of the First World War.

From the Klondike to Berlin concentrates on Yukon men and women who took part in the Great War, fighting in or supporting the war with a uniqueness of character and fortitude that is the proud heritage of Canada’s north country.


Nearly one thousand men of Yukon’s population of about five thousand enlisted, a rate much higher than in the rest of Canada, and fundraising campaigns garnered a similarly patriotic response.

Where the average Canadian donation to the war was one dollar per capita, Yukoners raised donations at twelve times that rate. Likewise, with Yukon’s loss of about 85 men killed of the thousand who served, memorialization following the war years was equally impressive.

Michael Gates has captured that spirit, built on the challenges of northern living and carried forward to the war effort, patriotic fundraising, and recognition of the sacrifices made.



Jim Wood

Dr. Jim Wood has taught history at several post-secondary institutions across Canada, including Trent University, the Royal Military College of Canada, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, UBC Okanagan, and the University of Victoria. In addition to articles published in Canadian Military History, The Journal of Military History, The American Review of Canadian Studies, and BC Studies, his book publications include We Move Only Forward: Canada, the United States, and the First Special Service Force, 1942-44 (Vanwell Publishing, 2006) and Militia Myths: Ideas of the Canadian Citizen Soldier, 1896-1921 (UBC Press, 2010). He currently teaches history at Okanagan College.


The Ormsby Review. More Readers. More Reviews. More Often.

Reviews Editor: Richard Mackie

Reviews Publisher: Alan Twigg

The Ormsby Review is a new journal for serious coverage of B.C. literature and other arts. It hosted by Simon Fraser University. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Wade Davis, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, and Graeme Wynn.


A list of contributors

  1. Cole Harris 2. Graeme Wynn 3. Jean Barman 4. Wade Davis 5. Tzu-I Chung 6. Dan Francis 7. Maria Tippett 8. Sage Birchwater 9. Colin M Coates 10. Hugh Johnston 11. Chris Arnett 12. Patricia Roy 13. Hal Kalman 14. Robin Inglis 15. Philip Van Huizen 16. Ian Kennedy 17. Larry McCann 18. Bonnie Reilly Schmidt 19. Peter Grant 20. Robin Ridington 21. Robert McCandless 23. Loys Maingon 24. Harold Rhenisch 25. Dorothy Kennedy 26. Robin Fisher 27. Margaret Horsfield 28. Howard Stewart 29. Jennifer Iredale 30. Glinda Sutherland 31. Joe Simpson 32. Janet Nicol 33.Trevor Carolan 34. Cate Sandilands 35. Martin Segger 36. Max Ritts 37. Jim Miller 38. Larry Hannant 39. Alan Hoover 40. Ken Mather 41. Bob Muckle 42. Chelsea Horton 43. Susan Safyan 44. Gregory Evans 45. Ginny Ratsoy 46. Takaia Larsen 37. Undine Celeste 48. Eldon Yellowhorn 49. Jan Drent 50. Bruce McDougall 51. Joy Parr 52. Bill Engleson 53. Briony Penn 54. Dennis Bolen 55. Michael Kennedy 56. Michel Bouchard 57. Jacqueline Holler 58. David N. Wright” 59. LiLynn Wan60. Rod Szasz 61. Lara Campbell 62. Jamie Morton 63. John McLaren 64. Émilie Pigeon 65. Ben Bradley 66. Jacqueline Gresko 67. Victoria Wyatt68. Kenneth Campbell 69. Bob Coutts 70. Nichole Dusyk 71. Emma Battell-Lowman 72. Lisa Pasolli 73. John-Henry Harter 74. Joe Wiebe 75. Jawad Qureshy 76. Sean Cadigan 77. Alice Fleerackers 78. Adam Barker 79. Ron Dart 80. Kathryn Bridge 81. Mark Forsythe 82. Fred Braches 83. Marina Sonkina 84. Lynne Bowen 85. Elisabeth Otto 86. David Mattison 87. Bill Engleson 88. Christian Fink-Jensen 89. Jody Decker 90. Warren M. Elofson 91. Gillian Crowther 92. Helen Hok-Sze Leung 93. Lorraine Weir 94. Molly Clarkson 95. Norman Girardot 96. Nancy Janovicek 97. Courtney Kirk 98. Mary Leah de Zwart. 99. Richard Mackie 100. Alan Twigg 101. Howard Stewart 102. Sabina Trimble 103. Mary-Ellen Kelm 104. Steven Ferguson 105. Mark Stanton 106. Serge Alternes 107. Janet Mary Nicol 108. K. Jane Watt 109. Scott Stephen 110. Deidre Roberts 111. Lisa Murphy 112. Patricia Demers 113. Heather Sjoblom 114. James Wood 115. Solen Roth 116. Roger Robinson 117. John Hinde 118. Dan Gallacher 119. Jeremy Twigg. 120. Ron Verzuh 121. David Brownstein. 122. Joan Givner 123. Pam Erikson. 124. Pam Erikson 125. Forrest Pass 126. Trevor Mark Hughes 127. Charlene Porsild 128. Graham Brazier 129. Kerry Mason 130. Clayton Whitt 131. Michael Kluckner 132. Sandi Ratch 133. Keith Regular 134. Mike Starr 135. John Gellard 136. Bert Ionson 137. Paul Crawford 138. Lara Campbell 139. Inge Bolin 140. Sean McPherson 141. Catherine Nutting 141. Megan Smetzer 142. Carol Shaw 143. Mark Dunn 144. John Hutchings 145. James Goldie 146. Megan Davies 147. Maansi Pandya148. Les Kozma 149. Andrew Cienski 150. Rheanna Robinson 151. Robert Turner 152. Keith Norbury 153. Colin Levings 154. Brian Conway 155. Bill Jeffries156. Veronica Strong-Boag 157. Mary Sanseverino 158. Sharn Sandhra 159. Susan Roy160. Nikki Tate 161. Grant Keddie 162. David Stouck 163. Catherine Annau 164. Molly Clarkson 165. Nancy Marguerite Anderson 166. Michelle Murphy 167. Stan Markotich 168. Howard Hisdal 169. Lauren Harding 170. Carol Volkart. 171. Vanessa Colantonio 171. John Belshaw. 171. Lani Russwurm. 172. Deanna Reder

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