The S.S. Klondike was built in Whitehorse and launched in 1929. 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.
Built as an ore hauler the Klondike initially operated between Whitehorse and Stewart Landing. On her downstream run she would carry freight bound for the Mayo silver 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.
The effects of the depression soon saw the 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.
Wreck of the Klondike I
The career of the Klondike I came to an abrupt end in 1936 when, on the third run of the season, the vessel struck a rock wall when rounding a bend, lost control and ran aground on a submerged gravel bar. The boat itself was a write off but the company was able to salvage the machinery and much of the superstructure and immediately set about re-building the Klondike. Built to the same basic design as her predecessor, Klondike II was launched in 1937 and continued to work the Whitehorse - Dawson run carrying both passengers and freight.
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.
In an attempt to salvage the career of their flagship, BYN refurbished the Klondike as a cruise boat, adding additional accommodations, a lounge and converting her from wood to oil. Through an arrangement with CP Air she offered cruise service between Whitehorse and Dawson in 1954 and 1955. Though the trips were popular, the high cost of operation ended her brief sojourn as a passenger ship. In August 1955 the Klondike II – the last sternwheeler working on the Yukon River – steamed into Whitehorse for the final time.
S.S. Klondike National Historic Site
In 1960 the Klondike II was donated to the Government of Canada by WP&YR. In 1966, pulled by four bulldozers and rolled on top of steel runners greased with soap flakes, she was moved from the Whitehorse Shipyards to her present location. She was formally designated a National Historic Site in 1967. Returned to her original 1937 configuration and meticulously restored and refurnished, she opened to the public in 1981.