George Black 1916
In far off France in that dismal year of 1916, men in the mud braced themselves for yet another shelling. Both the Allied forces of…
I could find no record of his prowess as a hunter in the Yukon, but George Black was no slouch when it came to shooting rabbits on Parliament Hill.
George Black was born in 1873, in Woodstock, New Brunswick, where he eventually graduated from University with a law degree. But in 1898, the appeal of gold in the Klondike outweighed the thought of a life in front of the bar. So the budding lawyer doffed his robes and headed, with a party of four men, for the Yukon. At Lake Bennett, Black and his men built a steam-powered river boat and made their way down the Yukon River, bound for Dawson.
Before they reached their goal, however, the party split up. George took a detour to the Livingstone Creek region where he staked a discovery claim and worked it for three years.
The claim didn't pay and in 1901, Black, now nearly broke, hitched a ride on a riverboat heading for the Klondike.
In Dawson, he set up a law practice and made a name for himself in a hurry. In 1904, he married another Klondiker, Martha Louise Munger, a naturalist by profession. The pair quickly became leading lights in the Dawson social circuit.
By 1905, the young lawyer had made such a name that he was easily elected to the Yukon Territorial Council. In 1908, he took a run at federal politics and lost. But he was now a name to be reckoned with and, in 1912, George Black was appointed the Yukon Commissioner. The appointment should have been a stepping stone to greater things, but World War I intervened and, by 1916, every able-bodied man in Dawson was itching to go overseas to fight for Great Britain.
The 43-year-old lawyer began a recruitment campaign and enlisted an astounding 275 men into his own personal Yukon Infantry Company, which later became known as the 17th Canadian Machine Gun Company.
By the time George and his small army left Dawson for England, his high-spirited wife, Martha, had talked the Canadian government into allowing her to go along on the troop ship that carried more than three thousand men.
George was severely wounded in 1918 at the Battle of Amien in France. Following the war, the Blacks settled in British Columbia. In 1919, George ran for a seat in the provincial legislature and lost. Then they returned to the Yukon. In 1921, he won his first seat in Parliament as a Conservative.
Black soon became an important part of Ottawa society. In 1930, Prime Minister R.B. Bennett nominated Black to become Speaker of the House of Commons.
George and Martha had reached the pinnacle of Canadian society, but George had not forgotten his Yukon roots. He kept, in the venerable speaker's chambers, a .22 caliber pistol, which he used to shoot rabbits behind the centre block on Parliament Hill.
In 1935, George Black suffered a nervous breakdown, the result of his war wound, and was committed to a psychiatric hospital in England.
He was unfit to run in the 1935 federal election, so Martha Louise Black, at age seventy, ran as an Independent Conservative. She won and became the second woman to serve in the House of Commons. Meanwhile, George slowly recovered and, in 1936, they moved to Vancouver.
By 1940, George was again ready for political combat. Martha stepped aside and allowed Black to contest the Yukon seat. He won, and he remained the Yukon Member of Parliament until the 1949 election, which he did not contest. He attempted to recapture his seat in the 1953 election, but lost to Liberal Audrey Simmons.
The couple lived on First Avenue in Whitehorse where Martha continued as the matriarch of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire.
A treasured family photo shows the ladies of the IODE celebrating Martha's ninetieth birthday, as my mother looks on at her patriotic friend.
On October 31, 1957, Martha Louise Black died in Whitehorse. George moved to Vancouver, where he died on September 23, 1965, at the age of 94.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.