Robert Service: The Bard of the Yukon

There’s nothing like some humour to spice up your school days, especially mid-winter. Robert Service is one of the best; known as the Bard of the Yukon. Middle grade to high school will enjoy the rollicking ballads of Robert Service. 

Robert Service immigrated from Scotland to Canada and worked as a banker teller, first in Victoria and then in the Yukon, after the Klondike Goldrush. He listened to the stories from the old miners, turning them into ballads which were popular in his lifetime. (Handle the casual use of ethnic slurs, common in his day but recognized as inappropriate today by discussing historical perspectives.)

Spell of the Yukon

Cremation of Sam McGee

Robert Service’s ballad about Sam McGee, the miner who could never get warm, was published with great popularity in 1907, and has been a classic every since. Explain to your kids that the story is an embellished, satirical, and humorous look at the hardship of the Yukon gold rush.

The real Sam McGee was a successful miner who came up to the Klondike from Ontario. He struck it rich and, in 1909, retired to fruit farming in Summerland, BC. He never met Robert Service, who used his name after McGee made a deposit at the bank in Whitehorse where Robert Service was a teller. On his 2nd return to the Yukon, Sam McGee found his fellow passengers on the steam-ship were buying “genuine ashes of Sam McGee” after the great popularity of the ballad. He laughed, “It’s not everyday one can buy one’s own cremated ashes!”

McGee’s cabin is now part of the exhibit at the MacBride Museum in Whitehorse, YK.

Ballad of Blasphemous Bill

Ballad of the Ice Worm Cocktail

A pompous Englishman comes to town and the ol’ sourdoughs (someone who has been there for at least a winter or more) decide to teach the Cheechako (newcomer) a lesson. Read the ballad to find out the prank they play.

The Men Who Don’t Fit In

Shooting Dan McGrew

Try your hand at a recitation of a Robert Service ballad.


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