Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Sam McGee Story

You might have heard of the famous poem by Robert W. Service about the demise and ultimate cremation of gold prospector Sam McGee on the shore of Lake Lebarge in Northern Canada -
There are strange things done in the midnight sun,
by the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
It's a good tale. But it is fiction.  Sam wasn't from Tennessee and he didn't succumb to hypothermia in the Yukon in 1898.  He was born in Lindsay, Ontario and passed away quietly at his daughers place east of Beiseker in 1940.  In many ways Sam's real life is actually more interesting than Service's tale!  His travels took him all over North America as he seeked fame and fortune in numerous ventures.  At one point, he was living in Whitehorse, working in construction, where he met Robert Service who worked at a bank there at the time.  Over the years the two became friends.  Service asked Sam if he could use his name in a poem and Sam agreed.

Funeral of Sam McGee, 1940
There were times which Sam was a prospector who tried to make his fortune in both gold and copper in Canada's North.   After his many adventures all across the continent, Sam settled down at his daughter's place near Beiseker in the late 1930s.  Just before he moved to the Beiseker area, he had made one final trip to Whitehorse where he was able to purchase a small urn containing "Sam McGee's Ashes"!  The urns were sold as souvenirs by the Whitehorse Historical Society. 

Sam died in August of 1940 of a stroke or heart attack (the stories vary) and was buried east of Beiseker.  Exactly where he is buried is a bit of a local legend, too! 

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