When you visit the SS Klondike at her final resting place on the banks of the Yukon near Second Avenue, consider that this marvel of a riverboat was not the first to bear the name. But it was the last to be built for service on the river.
There were two riverboats named Klondike. The first was built in the Whitehorse shipyards in 1929, and represented a new era in riverboat design. She could carry almost twice as much cargo as any other ship. Yet she still had a shallow draft - about four feet - and was able to navigate the most treacherous portion of the Yukon river.
That is, until June of 1936, when something went wrong with the steering system just below the Teslin river. Loaded with over 250 tonnes of freight and many passengers, the helpless boat cruised merrily down the river until she came to a shuddering stop on a large gravel bar. Though no-one was injured, the boat was a complete wreck except for the engine which was salvaged.
The White Pass needed the Klondike for its growing freight and passenger business to Dawson. The company immediately set about to build a replacement, the Klondike 2, which now sits high and dry on the riverbank near Second Avenue. The Klondike 2 went into service in June of 1937.
She could make the downstream run in 36 hours, stopping only twice to take on wood. The upstream trip back to Whitehorse took five to six days and required six wood stops. She would also stop at the mouth of the Stewart River to pick up ore from the Mayo mining district.
By the late '40s, the boats could not keep up with ore production. A road was built from Mayo to Whitehorse in 1950, so that trucks could haul ore year round. The riverboat era - and the work of the Klondike - was coming to an end. In 1955, the road was connected to Dawson, and the years of hauling freight and passengers ceased.
In 1954, the White Pass formed a partnership with Canadian Airlines and attempted to operate the Klondike as a tourist attraction bringing passengers from all over North America to travel the famed Yukon River. But by the end of August of that year, the Klondike steamed into Whitehorse for the last time.
The restored Klondike #2, which was moved from the shipyards to her present site in 1966, is a glowing reminder of those fabulous days when riverboats ran the fabled Yukon.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin