© A. G. Corquin Collection #11-42 / Parks Canada
The S.S. Klondike was built in Whitehorse, in 1929 by the British Yukon Navigation Company (BYN), a subsidiary of the White Pass & Yukon Route railway (WP&YR). Of shallow draft, she was specifically designed and constructed to eliminate the need to push a barge when carrying the heavy ore sacks coming out of the Mayo silver mining district upriver to Whitehorse. With a cargo capacity 50 percent greater than other boats on the river at the time, she was the first sternwheeler on the Yukon River large enough to handle a cargo in excess of 272 tonnes (300 tons) without having to push a barge.
Initially the S.S. Klondike operated between Whitehorse and Stewart Landing. On her downstream run she would carry freight bound for the Mayo Mining District. On her return trip she would carry silver-lead ore from the Mayo District that had been brought down the Stewart River aboard smaller sternwheelers such as the S.S. Keno . In Whitehorse the ore would be transferred to the WP&YR for shipment by rail to Skagway, Alaska.
Map showing the route the SS Klondike regularly traveled down the Yukon River to Dawson City.
© Parks Canada
The effects of the depression soon saw the S.S. Klondike moved to the Whitehorse - Dawson City run where she carried both passengers and freight, though she continued to be regarded primarily as a cargo vessel. Carrying general cargo and a few passengers, the S.S. Klondike would make the downstream run from Whitehorse to Dawson City – a distance of some 740 kilometres (460 mi.) in approximately 36 hours with one or two stops for wood. The upstream journey back to Whitehorse, including a stop at Stewart Landing to take on ore, would take four or five days and six wood-stops.
S.S. Klondike being rebuilt in the Whitehorse Shipyard, 1936
© Parks Canada
The career of the first S.S. Klondike came to an abrupt end in 1936 when the vessel sank on a section of the Yukon River known as the Thirty Mile . BYN immediately built the S.S. Klondike II, a virtual carbon copy of her predecessor, which continued to work the Whitehorse - Dawson City.
S.S. Klondike pushing barge with U.S. military supplies, Eagle, Alaska, 1943.
© Bill Maruk Collection #8/Parks Canada
The outbreak of WWII resulted in a decline in silver prices and consequently the early 1940's were lean years for the Klondike as her freight handling capacity was not required. One season was spent on the ways in the Whitehorse Shipyard. Another was spent working on the lower river in support of the war effort, transporting freight and personal for the building of the Alaska Highway. Increased silver-lead ore production in the late 1940s put the Klondike back into regular service, but the opening of an all weather road between Whitehorse and Mayo in 1950 saw her career as an ore hauler come to an end. She continued on the Whitehorse – Dawson run until 1952 when the Mayo Road was extended to Dawson, signalling an end to the era of riverboat transportation on the Yukon River.
Passenger enjoying themselves on the SS Klondike II.
© Vancouver Maritime Museum
In an attempt to salvage the career of their flagship, BYN refurbished the S.S. Klondike as a cruise ship. Though the trips were popular, the high cost of operation ended her brief sojourn as a passenger ship. In August 1955 the S.S. Klondike II – the last sternwheeler working on the Yukon River – steamed into Whitehorse for the final time.
S.S. Klondike National Historic Site
The S.S. Klondike being moved along First Avenue in Whitehorse, 1966. Pulled by four bulldozers, the boat rolled on top of steel runners greased with soap flakes.
© G.I. Cameron Collection #52/Parks Canada
In 1960 the S.S. Klondike II was donated to the government of Canada by WP&YR. In 1966 she was moved from the Whitehorse Shipyards to her present location where, restored to her original appearance, she now sits in permanent retirement overlooking the Yukon River. She was formally designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1967.
S.S. Klondike II Specifications