The Sourdough and the Queen: The Many Lives of Klondike Joe Boyle


394 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-458-96810-2




Reviewed by William A. Waiser

Bill Waiser is a professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan,
and the author of Saskatchewan’s Playground: A History of Prince
Albert National Park and Park Prisoners: The Untold Story of Western
Canada’s National Parks, 1915–1946.  His


The Sourdough and the Queen is the third biography that has been devoted to Joseph Whiteside Boyle (1867-1923) — a Canadian who is relatively unknown outside Woodstock, Ontario, and the Yukon. Whereas earlier studies were either highly embellished or overly erudite, former journalist Leonard Taylor has tried to provide a readable, factual account of Boyle’s varied life. He succeeds admirably.

Klondike Joe Boyle was a singular figure. The son of a successful horsebreeder, Boyle was an adventurous, somewhat reckless young man who was one of the thousands that answered the call of the Klondike Gold Rush in the summer of 1897. He was no ordinary sourdough, though. Within three years, he had secured a large concession of placer mining ground around Bear Creek and shortly thereafter began to extract the region’s niches with some of the biggest gold dredges in the world. In June 1916, anxious to see action during the Great War, Boyle turned his back on the wealth, power, and status he enjoyed as president of the Canadian Klondike Mining Company and was named an honorary lieutenant colonel in the Canadian Militia. From England, he was dispatched by the American Committee of Engineers (ACE) to Petrograd to try and resolve Russian railway problems behind the front lines. It was on this assignment that Boyle became concerned about the fate of the small Kingdom of Rumania and made it his cause. Through 1917 and 1918, he worked to keep Rumania in the war on the side of the Allies, returned the Rumanian crown jewels from Moscow, fought to prevent the spread of Bolshevism and campaigned tirelessly to secure relief supplies for the war-ravaged country. During it all, the Klondiker apparently fell madly in love with Marie, Queen of Rumania — a clandestine relationship that ended with Boyle’s death outside London in 1923.

Researched over several years, The Sourdough and the Queen contains a surprising amount of detail about Boyle’s life and activities. Much of this information is based on a collection of documents that was recently uncovered at the Boyle ancestral home in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, Taylor’s use of these papers is not clear, for the book is not footnoted. An index and maps would also have been helpful. The Sourdough and the Queen, nonetheless, is the remarkable story of a remarkable Canadian.


Taylor, Leonard W., “The Sourdough and the Queen: The Many Lives of Klondike Joe Boyle,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024,