Lion in Winter: Sam Steele, the Yukon, and the Chaos in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in England


  • William F. Stewart Independent Historian


Sam Steele, NWMP, Military Administration, CEF, Klondike


The Northern Review 44 (2017): 267–291

Major-General Sir Samuel Benfield Steele, the iconic Western Canadian policeman famed for helping to tame the West and the rowdy miners of the Yukon, was also a senior military commander in the chaotic administration of the Canadian Expeditionary Force  in England in the First World War. Called by one biographer called the “Lion of the Frontier,” Steele was less successful in his First World War command than popular narratives of his life have portrayed. This article demonstrates how he floundered under the strains of total war. In the Yukon, Steele’s natural decisiveness and independence received free rein, where he did not have to defer and get approval from multiple authorities for decisions, and where the scale of his responsibility was such that he could directly interact with all involved. In those conditions, Steele thrived. He was a leader made by the frontier and performed best in that environment. In England, now in the centre and far from the frontier, the attributes, character, and experience that served him so well did not translate. Steele was not the primary culprit or cause of the chaos in the administration in England, but neither was he blameless or innocent of contributing to it. In effect, the Lion of the Frontier became the Lion in Winter. This article is part of a special collection of papers originally presented at a conference on “The North and the First World War,” held May 2016 in Whitehorse, Yukon.






The North and the First World War