10th Annual Robert Service Birthday Commemoration

Postponed until November 2004

Period costume or costumes from poems optional, but encouraged.

Tickets are $30 per person and are available at
Westmark Whitehorse, (867) 668-4700.
Special: 2 tickets and room for $99

Come and celebrate the bard's 130th birthday in the town where he wrote some of his best-known poems.

For more information, contact Doug Bell (867) 667-6034.

There wasn't a fus when this fellow came to town. There sure was when he left. He loved life, language, words, and space.

In Whitehorse 1904, he became known as "the solitary walker." Nothing pleased him more than losing himself in the "great wild silence" which he was to describe as "the final word in desolation" with an "end-of-the-world feeling." One of his biographers said "all his life, Robert Service was afflicted by a restlessness and a wanderlust that was to take him to the ends of the earth."

He stepped on Canadian soil in April 1896 -- prophetically perhaps, in the year gold was found in the Klondike. He had $15 in his pocket and visions of becoming a cowboy. He roamed the land at will for eight years, ending up broke in Vancouver. His earlier banking experience saved him... the Bank of Commerce in Victoria hired him.

Within a year they transferred him. He loved Whitehorse in 1904. He often entertained at church and other social events, reciting classic poetry. A friend encouraged him to write his own. He loved the idea.

Returning from one of his solitary walks, inspiration seized him for one of his most famous poems, The Shooting of Dan McGrew. The story he tells is the line "A bunch of the boys were whooping it up" popped into his head as he passed a bar on Main Street in Whitehorse.

He always responded immediately and passionately when inspiration seized him. He went to the bank, into his teller's cage, and began to write. He wrote all night.

He later said that a sleeping guard awoke, assumed he was a burglar and shot at the intruder. Fortunately, he was a poor shot, or The Shooting of Dan McGrew might never have been written. "With the sensation of a bullet whizzing past my head and a detonation ringing in my ears, the ballad was achieved," he recalled.

Some 50 years later he admitted, with his wry smile, the story was pure hokum.

His first book of verse, Songs of a Sourdough, which contained this poem, was an accidental success. Service planned printing a small volume for friends and family. He sent the manuscript to a publisher of hymn books in New York for a limited printing.

The book sold itself when pressmen were discovered laughing and reciting his verse. It sold over two million copies. He was on the trail to one of his goals -- financial independence.

In 1908 he was transferred to Dawson City, where he eventually settled in a rustic cabin that has become a museum. Here he continued his solitary walking and writing. His second book of verse, Ballads of a Cheechako, was the first result. Another hit!

Now he was financially independent. He left the Yukon in 1912 and never returned.

Of his eight years in the Yukon, he has noted they were the most momentous of his life. He was inspired and stirred by the solitary universe of ice and snow and the thousands of men who went there frantically searching for gold. "With every breath, I was unifying myself with the country," he wrote. "It seems as if I had never lived anywhere else."

On January 21, 1995, the first annual Robert Service Birthday Commemoration celebration was held at the Westmark Hotel in Whitehorse. It was a sell-out. You're encouraged to hold your own, wherever your home may be.

Robert Service, the most widely read poet of this century, was born on Jaunary 16, 1874. He died on September 11, 1958. He is buried at his summer home in Lancieux, France, the area known as Brittany.

Thank you, Robert William Service! We're sure glad you came to the Yukon, and we're mighty proud of the stories you tell about the place.

Collected Poems containing
  • The Spell of the Yukon
  • Ballads of a Cheechako
  • Rhymes of a Rolling Stone
  • Rhymes of a Red Cross Man
  • Ballads of a Bohemian

More Collected Verse containing

  • Songs of a Sunlover
  • Rhymes of a Roughneck
  • Lyrics of a Lowbrow
  • Rhymes of a Rebel
  • Songs for My Supper

Later Collected Verse containing

  • Carols of an Old Codger
  • Rhymes for My Rags
  • Verse from Prose Writings
  • Selections from Unpublished Verse
  • Cosmic Carols

The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses

  • The Trail of '98
  • The Pretender
  • The Poisoned Paradise
  • The Roughneck
  • The Master of the Microbe
  • The House of Fear


  • Why Not Grow Young?


  • Ploughmen of the Moon
  • Harper of Heaven


  • Robert Service: Vagabond of Verse
    by James Mackay
  • Robert Service: A Biography
    by Carl F. Klinck
  • On the Trail of Robert Service
    by G. W. Lockhart

Tapes About Robert Service

  • Active Service by R. Bruce Cook
    Available at local merchants and Old Sourdough Enterprises (867) 668-7960
  • Tales of the Far North by Tom Byrne
  • The Robert Service Story
    An audiobiography produced by Les McLaughlin, available from Fred McLaughlin (867) 667-6023
  • Sourdough Stories by Conrad Boyce
  • Buckwheat Tapes
    Available at Anne Doyle Art Studio

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