You wouldn’t think the Yukon river-boat days are gone long enough to attract the attention of archeologists. Nevertheless, a British Columbia archaeologist, sponsored by the Institute of nautical archeology at Texas A & M University, is conducting a multi-year research project. John Pollock has been leading a team of researchers for the past few years, poking around the remains of river boats, either beached somewhere between Whitehorse and Dawson or - as with the first SS Klondike - boats that are underwater.
The riverboat Klondike, that hit the bank with a load of passengers and freight in 1936, is a prime candidate for study, as are the boats in the shipyard graveyard near Dawson.
The first Klondike, a classy boat back in 1936, was sunk below Hootalinqua on June 12, 1936, when the captain misjudged a corner and hit the bank. She was licenced to carry seventy-five passengers, with ten passenger rooms on the saloon deck, six on the Texas, with a total of thirty-two berths. The dining room could seat thirty people.
She was built in 1929. The present day Klondike, which sits elegantly at the south end of Second Avenue in Whitehorse was built from material salvaged from the original riverboat, and began operations in 1937.
The deck of the original can sometimes be seen above water, and is, amazingly, in good condition. But researchers want to get inside the boat when the water in the river is low, and that will involve divers. They want to see what kinds of systems were used by riverboat builders to withstand the trying conditions of the Yukon River system.
Because the river was shallow, had narrow choke points such as at Five Finger rapids, and flowed so fast, the Yukon boats needed heavy re-enforced winches and steering gear unlike the boats that operated on the rivers and lakes of B.C., and on the Mississippi .
Archeologists have also done extensive research at the grave-yard on the west bank of the river at Dawson, where six sternwheelers have been beached for years. Here lie the remains of Schwatka, the Tyrell, the Seattle3, and other wrecks that have been a gold mine for archeologists because, though the place is a mess, much of the metal work that made up the boats has remained intact among the rotting hulls.
Archeologists are using high-tech imaging systems to plot out the unique shapes of the Evelyn, which lies high and dry at Hootalinqua post. The researchers say it’s a race against time to discover and preserve a written and photographic record of the famed Yukon river paddle-wheelers.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
See also: The Klondike's One and Two