S.S. Keno National Historic Site of Canada

Fact Sheet

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One of a fleet of riverboats that played a major part in the history of the Yukon Territory and the Klondike Gold Rush.

Historical photo of the SS Keno
Historical Photograph of the S.S. Keno - Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada
© Parks Canada / Wiley Collection / 201.3.18

Background

In 1869, the Alaska Commercial Company put the first sternwheeler on the lower Yukon River to supply the trading posts from St Michaels on the Bering Sea to Fort Selkirk.

By the time of the Klondike Gold Rush, several companies had established trading posts and sternwheelers and a basic transportation system was in place.

Sternwheelers were the only practical craft for the Yukon River. The S.S. Keno, which was built in 1922, had a shallow two-foot draft. This allowed it to navigate through shallow water and sections with ever-changing and treacherous sandbars. It had a narrow beam to be able to make turns around tight, narrow curves. The stern-mounted paddle wheel permitted the sternwheeler to land virtually anywhere along riverbanks and it assisted in getting off sandbars. It was protected from snags and sweepers by the hull. The sternwheelers burned wood to provide steam for their power and all along the river wood camps sprang up to supply the fuel.

The S.S. Keno worked mainly on the Stewart River hauling silver lead concentrate from Mayo to Stewart City. It was also used for the early and late season trips to Dawson City.

The seasonal nature of steamboat operations (three to four months in the summer), along with the development of roads, inevitably meant the end of the steamboat era. By 1955, the remaining sternwheelers were dry-docked for the last time.

The sternwheelers, and the transportation companies which ran them, played an important role in the economic development of the Yukon. They brought in all the supplies required by the Klondike's booming population and in subsequent years supplied all of the heavy machinery, which were essential for the success of industrial, corporate mining. The sternwheelers also made the development of new areas possible and led to the creation of new mines in places such as Mayo.

The sternwheelers were more than a carrier of men and supplies into and out of the territory. They supported a timber industry, contributed to the development and evolution of mining and united the small communities that hugged the riverbank.

Reasons for National Historic Significance

The S.S. Keno was part of the fleet that played a major part in the history of the Yukon Territory. Without the riverboats, the gold of the Klondike and the silver, lead, and zinc of the Mayo district would have remained in the hills for at least another half century, and the development of the Canadian West and North would have suffered in consequence. The S.S. Keno is an example of the riverboats used on the lakes and rivers of the Yukon and displays the design and application of steam powered sternwheeler technology.

Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, 1981

Milestones

1869
Sternwheelers began supplying the fur traders and prospectors on the lower Yukon River.

1898
By 1898, 57 steamboats owned by a number of companies carried tons of supplies to the goldfields of the Klondike.

1900
The White Pass and Yukon Railway was completed from Skagway to Whitehorse thus opening up the Upper Yukon River route.

1914
All sternwheelers on the upper Yukon River are owned by one company.

1922
The S.S. Keno was built to transport silver lead concentrate from the Mayo district to Stewart City.

1944
Alaska Highway completed

1953
Klondike Highway completed

1955
The last sternwheeler was dry-docked in Whitehorse.

1960
The S.S. Keno was moved to her present berth on Dawson's waterfront.

1962
Parks Canada refurbished the vessel and declared it a National Historic Site on July 1st.

Location

SS Keno location map
© Parks Canada

S.S. Keno is located on Front Street in Dawson City, 541 kilometers north of Whitehorse on the Klondike Highway.

For more information:

Klondike National Historic Sites
Box 390
Dawson City, Yukon Territory
Y0B 1G0
Telephone: (867) 993-7200
Fax: (867) 993-7203
Email: dawson.info@pc.gc.ca


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