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S.S. Klondike National Historic Site

On the River

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The Story

Sternwheelers were a common sight on the Yukon River in the first half of the 20C – here the S.S. Casca is seen heading upstream from the deck of the S.S. Klondike, followed by close up views of the rotating paddlewheel which made these riverboats distinctive.

Did You Know?

There were two basic types of paddlewheelers: sidewheelers and sternwheelers. Sternwheelers tended to be employed on rivers, where having the paddlewheel at the back of the boat put it in a more protected position in the event of a brush with the riverbank.

The “blades” on the paddlewheel were referred to as “buckets”. The S.S. Klondike's paddlewheel operated at peak efficiency turning at 22 rpm – though capable of turning faster it would simply churn up the water with the result that the buckets would be pushing more air than water.

The arm connecting the paddlewheel to the engine was called the “pitman arm”. The term refers back to the days before mechanized sawmills when lumber was milled by hand by two men on either end of a whipsaw (one straddling the log and working from above – the topsawyer – the other working beneath the log in a sawpit – the pitman). Early sawmills replaced manpower with a water wheel or windmill connected to a whipsaw. The shaft that converted the rotary motion of the water wheel or windmill to the up and down motion of the whipsaw was referred to as the pitman arm in reference to man in the sawpit whose job had been replaced.


This footage was generously made available to Parks Canada by Ian Ashdown. The original 8mm film footage was shot in 1941 by Ian's uncle Charles H. Bennett, whose father-in-law, John Scotland, was Chief Engineer aboard the S.S. Klondike between 1929 and 1944.