DRAMATIC READING Andre Sutherland Begin, the special guest orator, and Harv Baessler, Stamp Club president, performed a reading of Service’s Cremation of Sam McGee. (Brennan Phillips/Black Press)

Summerland connection to Sam McGee recognized

McGee Street in Summerland named after character immortalized in poem by Robert Service

The Penticton and District Stamp Club had a presentation about Sam McGee, who was immortalized in the Robert Service poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee.

The presentation was made at the club’s annual general meeting earlier this month in Summerland.

Sam McGee lived in Summerland in the early 1900s.

He was born Aug. 28, 1867, in Fenelon Township, Victoria County, Ont.

When he was 15, he left home and traveled to the San Francisco. In 1898, during the Klondike gold rush, he headed to the Yukon. He owned a log cabin in Dawson City and worked as a construction engineer, building roads and bridges.

In 1938 McGee wrote, “I went to the Yukon in the fall of 1898, and that winter freighted the steamer Glenar from the White Pass to the head of Lake Bennett. When we got through with that job, we took horses to operate the tram road around Miles Canyon and White Horse Rapids on the Yukon River the summer of 1899. In July 1899, I staked copper property some miles from White Horse Rapids.”

On June 5, 1901, he married Ruth Warnes. He continued with the development of the copper mine and acquired a partner, Robert Lowe.

Poet Robert Service wrote that he only saw McGee once. He explained that while working at the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Whitehorse, “I happened to be turning over the bank ledger and I came across the name of Sam McGee, and it seemed a good name to use. It Sounded well and it rhymed well.”

Service included the poem about McGee in his 1907 publication, Songs of a Sourdough, which became a best-seller. Sourdough was a term used to describe a prospector or miner who had spent at least one year in the Yukon.After McGee realized his name was in Robert Service’s poem, he transferred his bank account to the Bank of British North America.

McGee left the Yukon in 1909 due to his wife’s poor health, and they moved to Prairie Valley, in what is now Summerland.

Ruth Warnes had two sisters living in Summerland, with one sister living with the McGees. One daughter, Hazel Ruth, was born in 1911, while the family lived in Summerland.

In 1910 McGee purchased 191.33 acres of orchard land in Summerland and one acre of residential property in Balcomo, a new townsite in Prairie Valley.

His orchard was located in Paradise Flats located on the east side of Trout Creek canyon.

After only one year in Summerland, the McGee’s sold their orchard.

McGee Street on the property’s western boundary commemorates Summerland’s connection (1909 to 1911) with the celebrated Yukon character.

The family later moved to Alberta, where he worked in road engineering and construction. He was also appointed a justice of the peace.

He died on Sept. 5, 1940 and was buried (not cremated) in Beiseker, Alta.

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