Emil Forrest, like all Yukoners of his day, was a jack-of-all-trades, and a master of some. He came to the Yukon from Alberta with his family in 1901, at the age of twelve, and went to school at Dawson City .
In 1910, at age twenty-one, he began his career on the Yukon River as an assistant pilot on a motor launch charting the tricky river channels between Circle and Fort Yukon . He prospected in the Carmacks area and had mining interests around Mayo. Then he worked as an airplane mechanic from 1929 to 1937 at Mayo.
By 1941, he was back on the river as an engineer on the Neecheah, and later skipper of the Loon, a BYN motor launch used to make soundings on the river to make it safe for the paddle-wheelers to follow without ending up on a sandbar. When the Loon was put into drydock in Whitehorse in 1947, Emil stayed on with White Pass as a night watchman.
It was a sad day for riverboat men like Emil Forrest when the SS Klondike made her last river run in 1955. But it wasn’t quite over. In August, 1960, he was hired as the pilot when the Keno was being prepared for its historic voyage to Dawson City. It was to be Emil’s first time piloting a boat as large as the Keno, and the last voyage a paddlewheeler would make on the Yukon River. Seventy-one-year-old Frank Blakely of British Columbia had been hired as the ship’s captain.
(The Keno was built in 1922. At 160 feet long and 30 feet at the beam, she was one of the smaller of the big river boats. To sail under the new Carmacks bridge, the old wheelhouse had to be temporarily removed.)
August 20th was the big day - the day they would launch the Keno at the shipyards in Whitehorse. As the boat slid into the water, Emil Forrest suffered a heart attack and died later in the Whitehorse General Hospital.
With the death of Emil Forrest, Frank Slim of Whitehorse went aboard as pilot. Henry Breaden was signed on as first mate. As the SS Keno began her historic voyage, funeral services were being held at the Old Log Church for longtime Yukon riverboat man, Emil Forrest.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin