Dave Obee       Local History / Family History

Genealogy Columns   |   Victoria History   |   Book Reviews

dave obee Case study: The arrival of Robert W. Service

By Dave Obee

It has become easier than ever to find records of people arriving in Canada. Take Robert W. Service, for example.

Service was one of Canada's most popular writers in the early years of the 20th century, thanks to poems such as The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee, both included in his book Songs of a Sourdough.

Service went to the Yukon after living for a few years in British Columbia and California. Before that, he was a proud son of Scotland. Several biographies have been published, noting that Service arrived in Canada in 1896.

But when? Amd where? Thanks to a couple of new websites, it's easy to find out.

First, go to Find My Past.

Ancestors on Board has posted an index of about 7.5 million passenger departures from the United Kingdom. These include emigrants from the U.K., as well as people from other areas who passed through the U.K. on their way to other parts of the world.

Search for Robert Service in 1896. You'll quickly get a hit -- Robt W. Service, heading from Glasgow to Montreal in 1896. You can then view a transcript of the original record, or an actual image. It will cost five units for the former or 30 for the latter.

The price of the units varies depending on how many you buy. Worst case, you will need to pay 50 pence for the five units you will use in looking at the transcript for Service.

Here's what it shows: Robt. W. Service, departed 23 April 1896 from Glasgow, bound from Montreal. He was single, male, and a banker. He was on the Siberian.

Now, head to the passenger lists on the Library and Archives Canada. Click "search" on the left side, and then enter "Siberian" as the name of the ship and "1896" as the year of arrival.

We know the ship left Glasgow on 23 April, so look for an arrival in Canada a week or so later. There is one that fits -- 1896-05-04. Click on that link, and you will see another screen that has further information about the ship.

Click on "view image" and you will see the first page of the passenger manifest. You can navigate through the pages using the links at the upper right. For Service, you won't have to do that, though -- he is the very first person listed on the first page of the manifest.

robert w. service

And there you have it! The arrival of the famous poet, heading for Victoria! And all it cost was 50 pence (or less) and a few minutes on the Internet.

Other sites will help you find other references for Service. Check Ancestry.ca, for example, to find him in the 1901 and 1911 Canadian census returns.

In 1901, he was working on a farm in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. This is where he started serious attempts at poetry, sending several to the editor at the Daily Colonist in Victoria.

He was busy over the next few years, heading to California, then back to British Columbia, where he worked in banks in Victoria and Kamloops before heading to Whitehorse in the Yukon. Before long he was a published author.

In the spring of 1911 he visited his family near Edmonton, then struck out for the Yukon again. The 1911 census finds him in Fort MacPherson, Northwest Territories, on his way back to the land of Klondike gold.

There are many other records with information on Service, who died in France in 1958. But the ones showing his arrival in Canada, and his early years here, have become readily accessible for the first time.

These new sites will make it easy for us to discover much more about our families -- not just the famous people such as Robert W. Service. So start looking, then, for grandparents, their siblings, and so on!

Posted February 15, 2007


Search this site with Google:


Copyright 1997-2017 Dave Obee. All Rights Reserved.
Hosted by Islandnet.com