The eldest in a family of seven boys and three girls, Robert William Service was born in Preston, Lancashire, England, on January 16, 1874. His father, also Robert Service, worked in a Scottish bank; his mother, Emily Parker, was the daughter of the English owner of a Lancashire cotton mill. From 1880 until 1895, young Service lived in Glasgow, where he received an education of some substance at the Hillhead High School. He also attended some classes at the university and engaged in a self-prescribed reading program at the public library and by way of Miss Bell’s Circulating Library. The latter contributed significantly to his taste for literature and to his urge to travel abroad. Early realizing man’s dependence upon money, Service worked at the Commercial Bank of Scotland. The drudgery of Glasgow, the bank, and schoolboy athletics, however, quickly gave way to romantic visions of Canada—of cowboys, gold prospectors, and beachcombers. The young man read pamphlets about Canada and set his sights on becoming a sturdy settler in a hard land—on raising grain, riding broncos, and roping steers. In 1895, he crossed the Atlantic aboard a tramp steamer, proceeded to British Columbia, and partook of the freedom of a backwoods ranch in the rough “wild west.” From there, he made his way up and down the West Coast of the United States, enjoying still more freedom and learning about life on the road.
Despite his love for the vagabond life, Service had a strong practical streak, and in 1903, he determined that a steady job would allow him to save some money, which in turn would provide the necessary independence for writing, travel, and general leisure. After securing a position with the Canadian Bank of Commerce, he moved through its various branches: Victoria and Kamloops in British...
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