The S.S. Klondike

Parks Canada has converted the largest sternwheeler to work the Yukon River into a National Park. It is located on the bank of the Yukon River, at the end of the downtown strip, and is in complete dry dock. This is bad for a boat and everyone in Whitehorse knows this.

During its 70-year history, the SS Klondike faced dangers like open rapids and bad weather. Now it faces the dangers of rot and environmental damage. I am told that the boat is always undergoing some type of repair; that there are always workers on site fighting rot. The paddle on the back has been removed, most likely because the supports holding it to the steamboat are so rotted that it would have fallen off and been destroyed.

Nonetheless, the boat is impressive and the stories that go with it equally impressive.

Before the highway and after the railroad, the only way to get from Whitehorse to Dawson City (and its gold) was by riverboat. This practice began in 1886 and was a tradition in the north until the construction of the Alaska Highway. On the boats travelled first and second-class passengers, workers and tons and tons of supplies. The cost per trip of a first class passenger was $100 one way, which would have been a monthly wage for a well-paid individual.

The Klondike was fuelled by wood and reputedly burning up to two cords an hour. This meant that some poor sap was feeding the oven at a rate of one log per minute and the boat stopped every 30 miles to get more wood. This is an example of a man who made a decent wage: at $100 per month!

An upstream trip from Dawson to Whitehorse would take about five to six days to complete, while the same distance downstream could be covered in about a day and a half. Second class passengers slept on a cot by the boilers while first class passengers slept in itsy-bitsy rooms on the main deck. The captain had the best room at the head of the boat.

Both first and second class passengers could hang out on the back of the boat by the meat locker (which used the steam from the boat to steam the meat), but each had a different dining area. Not much consolation given the fact that the food was the same: corned mush, canned mush and picked mush, but they could eat as much food as their hearts desired.

It was raining when we started the tour, which was good given the fact that we were inside the belly of the beast learning about reindeer milk and how to cut a cord of wood. Once we got upstairs we were treated to the sunshine and also a rainbow or two.

If you are in Whitehorse, a tour of the boat is a must!

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