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The burial of Sam McGee

Sam McGee wasn’t cremated in the Yukon — he was buried in Kaslo. Here’s his grave marker to prove it, as it appeared in 2008:

I say this tongue in cheek, of course. The Kaslo McGee had nothing to do with Robert Service’s famous poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee, published in 1907. But it’s nevertheless startling to read the name on this weathered wooden headboard — one of a few such remaining markers. The full epitaph is:

In memoriam

Sam McGee

Born Co. Donegal


Died May 16


Age 42

The death was not registered. Everything else we know about this Sam McGee (or Magee) comes from these brief mentions:

The Tribune (Nelson), Dec. 22, 1892: “Sam Magee, foreman of the Dardanelles [mine], was in Kaslo Sunday and Monday. He reports the vein improving as the shaft descends toward China.”
Northwest Mining Review, May 15, 1894: “Sam McGee, foreman of the Dardanelles mine is reported to be lying sick at the mine.”
The Tribune, May 19, 1894: “‘Sam’ McGee, who was foreman at the Dardanelles mine, died at Bear Lake on Wednesday morning.”
The Ledge (New Denver), May 24, 1894: “S. Magee, superintendent of the Dardanelles mine and owner of several promising claims in the Slocan, died last week of pneumonia and was buried in Kaslo.”

I wasn’t able to find any matches for a Sam McGee born in County Donegal using, although the Tribune’s use of quotation marks suggests Sam might have been a nickname. On the 1871 English census, a William McGhee, 19, born in Donegal was then at sea with the Royal Navy.

At least a couple of men are said to have inspired Service’s poem. One of them, William Samuel McGee, died in 1940 in Beiseker, Alta.

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