AN UNLUCKY MOVE
But Charlie's life was not to be lived in the city. Back he went to the
valley in the fall of '86, this time to Dewdney. He took up a pre-emption
there but times were getting harder and after two or three years he traded
his farm for a livery barn in Chilliwack.
This was a bad move. Times got worse and the livery barn became more of a
liability than an asset. Charlie threw up the whole thing. He took his
best team of horses, hitched them to his best wagon, loaded up his family
and goods at his brother-in-law's and set out for the Similkameen to look
for ranch lands.
That was where fate stepped in. Charlie was never to get to the
Similkameen but he was to get his sturdy legs firmly planted on the deck of
a river boat and he was to find himself thrust into a profession that was to
be a joy to him for 40-odd years.
Charlie Gardner measured up to the demands of the north. "A man with the
heart of a Viking and the simple faith of a child." He understood this
great raw land and was able to gauge her power. For the fast, white water
of her rivers, for the rigor of her climate, for the terrible loneliness of
her great spaces, he had a tremendous respect but no fear at all. Every bit
of knowledge, every skill, and every quality of character that he had
acquired stood him in good stead in these years in the north.
In '94 he received his mate's ticket and early in '98 his master's. His
ability to "read water" readily and accurately was perhaps the main thing
that set him out from the rank and file of river boat captains. To him the
river was an open book whose characters he had learned in boyhood. From '93
to '97 he ran on the Skeena and the Stikine -- from Port Essington to
Hazelton on the Skeena and from Wrangell to Telegraph Creek on the Stikine.
But fate pushed Charlie still farther north. In the fall of '97 Duchesney,
chief engineer of the C.P.R. asked Charlie to take him by canoe up the
Stikine as far as Telegraph Creek. Duchesney was anxious to make a personal
survey of the possibilities of an All-Canadian route into the Yukon. Up the
Stikine this route was to go to Glenora, a few miles below Telegraph Creek,
north from Glenora to Teslin Lake, the head waters of the Yukon, down this
60-mile lake, and then down the Yukon to Dawson City.
A forty-foot Chinook canoe and supplies for six men for a month were bought
in Vancouver. Four good paddlers were secured and all were taken up to
Wrangell to the side-wheeler Enterprise. The Stikine was very high that
fall but the great canoe was well manned and the trip was made without
On reaching Telegraph Creek, Duchesney stationed part of the crew in the
town giving them careful instructions regarding the marking of a barometer
he left them. He himself, took a similar instrument when he started on the
northern trek and by comparison of the maride he figured the elevation of
the route. Charlie and Felix Coup went with Duchesney and explored many of
the streams in an endeavour to find a suitable roadway.
Some progress was made and Duchesney returned to Ottawa to be followed next
spring by Louis Coste, chief engineer for the Dominion Government, and his
party, on a similar mission. Charlie was by this time working for the
Hudson's Bay Co. but when he wanted Charlie Gardner and no other to act as
his guide to the Teslin Lake country, the Hudson Bay Co. released him as
they said that it was their policy never to refuse the government any favor
The party outfitted in New Westminster but supplies bought at the coast were
supplemented by delicacies of all kinds which had been brought from the
East -- ready-made dinners in partitioned cans, four kinds of potatoes,
evaporated, canned, riced and powdered: canned milk that, after they had
reached the north, churned itself into butter as they rode along on their
horses; caviar, saccharine tablets and lemonade capsules and much more that
was new to the north.
If the Stikine was to be an important link in the all-Canadian route to the
Yukon it must be cleared of snags, and the Samson I was accordingly sent up
for this purpose. It was on the Snagboat Samson I that the Coste party
Several C.P.R. and Hudson's Bay boats were already on the Stikine ready to
connect with the new road as soon as it would be built. But this railroad
was never built. While the Coste party was still on the Stikine word came
that Mackenzie and Mann had decided against continuing the line since the
American road from Skagway was well advanced and much shorter.
Coste decided, however, to continue his journey to Dawson City. Over the
northern trail the party set out for Teslin with one Indian guide and half a
dozen ponies to carry their supplies. The Canadian Development Company had
built a steamer, the Anglian, at the head of Teslin Lake and on this boat
the Coste party along with many others set out for Dawson.
The trip down the long lake was uneventful, but , on reaching the end of the
lake, the captain of the boat was unable to find his way out. Charlie, who
was standing by the bow with the mate said he thought that if the captain
would swing to the right he would find the current about half a mile up.
This word was sent to the pilot house and was immediately acted on, with the
result that the Anglian soon emerged on the Yukon. But the captain had by
now lost his nerve. He admitted that he knew nothing about navigating such
rivers as these northern ones and he definitely refused to take the boat
further. The situation was serious -- hundreds of men frantically anxious
to get to the gold fields and no one to take the boat in.
Louis Coste and Maitland Kersey, manager of the Canadian Development Co.
"I have a man who knows a good deal about river work," Coste said, "but I
don't know that he has any papers."
Kersey grasped at a straw.
"Let's talk to him," he said.
Coste brought Kersey to Charlie Gardner and told him of the situation.
"Have you any papers at all, Charlie, that would justify us in putting the
boat into your hands?" they enquired anxiously.
"I've my Master's papers," Charlie answered.
Kersey had never received a more welcome piece of news. The boat was
immediately put into the hands of Captain Charlie Gardner and was taken
safely down the Yukon into Dawson -- the first steamer ever to cover the
Dawson was, in the summer of '98, a bustling town of about a thousand
inhabitants. There were hardly any substantial buildings, just a few low
cabins about the Klondike but for the most part tents.
On the first night of their arrival the Louis Coste party was invited to the
opening of a fine dance hall -- the largest and most elaborate in the town.
A dance floor occupied the centre of the building with games of chance of
every imaginable kind around the walls. A gallery encircled the room. A
raised dais for the orchestra was at one end and beside it a bar where beer
could be bought for eight dollars a bottle and champagne for fifty. Near
the door, the exchanger's desk, with the gold scales, was placed, so that
each man on entering might have his gold weighed and valued.
Captain Gardner stood by this desk interestedly watching those miners
exchange their gold dust for coin of the realm. Early in the evening one
grizzled sourdough swung in and throwing his poke on the desk enquired what
it was worth. The yellow gold was poured into the scales.
"You've two thousand here," he was told.
"All right, give me a couple of hundred now. I'm going to have some fun."
Off he started around the room trying his luck at every table in turn. He w
as soon back for more money.
"I'll have three hundred this time."
He got it, but it too went in a few minutes.
"My luck will soon turn," he prophesied, "give me four hundred."
Three hundred more -- five hundred more -- a hundred and fifty and his money
was all but gone.
"What have I left?" he enquired.
"One hundred and fifty."
"Let me have it. There's still a couple of tables I haven't tried."
He was soon back.
"Give me my poke," he called "There's more where that came from."
And so Dawson thrived.
Captain Gardner saw a storekeeper throw double handfuls of five and ten cent
pieces into the stove.
"We want no such chicken-feed in this country," he grumbled. "Nothing less
than twenty-five cents passes here."
And very soon the 25-cent piece was the smallest coin accepted and you paid
four of them for one egg.
Captain Gardner was asked to take the Str. Anglian up the Yukon as far as
White Horse to get information about the run, since no steamer had as yet
passed over this part of the river. He did so, making the round trip in
eleven days, the crew cutting their own wood en route. They took out 20
passengers who made their way overland from Whitehorse to Skagway and so
down the coast. Captain Gardner reported the river quite navigable as far
as the Whitehorse rapids.
The Coste party left Dawson on Aug. 9, '98, coming around by St. Michaels on
the steamer T.C. Powers and down to Victoria on the Garron.
In '99 Captain Gardner had charge of the steamer Canadian for the Canadian
Development Co. and, just as they had hauled out for the season, he got a
wire from Mr. Kersey telling him that at the head of Lake Lebarge there were
40 or more scows headed for Dawson, all anxious to get through the lake
before freeze-up and asking him to tow them through with the Canadian if he
thought it at all possible.
IN RAGING WATERS
Already there was a thick scum of ice over the lake but the captain decided
to take a chance. Out they started from Whitehorse, the Canadian steaming
ahead followed by the forty scows all strung together by wire cable and
attached to the Canadian in the same way.
After a few miles the captain saw that the scum ice was cutting the hull of
his boat so he had the scows unhooked, turned his boat astern and let the
big paddle wheel break a pathway for them all the way down the lake.
He got his scows into Thirty Mile River and away on to Dawson they went.
That was the last trip taken by any steamer across Lake Lebarge that fall.
By the spring of 1900 the railroad had been built through from Skagway to
Whitehorse, consequently there was no more work for the boats that had been
on the Bennett Lake-Miles Canyon run. These boats were now needed on the
Dawson-Whitehorse run but the problem was to get them through Miles Canyon
and the Whitehorse Rapids. No steamer had ever gone through that extremely
dangerous bit of water on her own power. The Bellingham had been put
through in '98 but not under her own steam. She had gone through with
sweeps just as any barge might do. The Bennett Lake Transportation Company
now asked Captain Gardner if he would try to take the steamer Nora through.
7 MILES, 17 MINUTES
"We'll give you $500 over and above your regular salary if you can get her
down" they promised him.
But it was not the five hundred that tempted the captain so much as the
desire to see whether or not a boat could be taken through that seven-mile
stretch of raging water.
When word got around that the Nora was going through the Canyon there was
great excitement. Two captains from other boats asked if they might go with
"Yes," the captain said. "you may, but you must take your own chances. I
won't be responsible for anyone; once I start I'm putting this boat through
the canyon either on the water or under it.
"You may stay wherever you like on the boat as long as you stay away from
the pilot house. I want that entirely to myself."
Down the narrow canyon they went and over the roaring rapids, and 17 minutes
later they were at Whitehorse. Seven miles of wild water in seventeen
minutes. Captain Gardner had conquered the last bad stretch of the Yukon.
The competition in getting the first boat into Dawson each spring was keen.
The whole population of the northern city welcomed with eager enthusiasm
this first arrival. In the spring of '02 Captain Gardner was sent to
Hootalinqua to take charge of the Str. Sybil and run her down to Dawson.
Three opposition boats had also wintered at Hootalinqua; the Clifford
Sifton, the Casca, and the Prospector.
"I didn't really consider myself in the race that year," Captain Gardner
reminisces, "as I had to pick up sixty head of cattle at Yukon Crossing, but
I intended to have a try at it, just the same.
"The four boats all went down together to Rink Rapids, just below Five
Fingers and there we found a great jam of ice. I noticed that the water was
rising only very little so I knew that it must be getting through somewhere.
I sent a couple of hands out in a canoe to see where the water was going
with instructions to wave to us if they found a way to get through. They
found the channel and as we had a full head of steam we were away in a
"We got to Yukon Crossing and began to pick up the cattle. The other boats
soon missed us and were on our heels. They all passed us but just below
Selkirk we came to another big jam. I sized it up and decided I'd better
pull in to a wood pile and 'wooden up' while I had the chance.
"Suddenly we missed the smoke of the Prospector. She had found another
channel but we were soon after her. When we sighted her smoke I told the
pilot to mark the spot and time us in getting to the same place. He
reported that it took us forty minutes.
"All right," I said, "we've forty minutes to make up somewhere.
"We hadn't much hope of catching her for the Prospector was a pretty fast
little boat but anyhow we trimmed the Sybil so that she could travel and we
gave her all that was in her. As we passed the government telegraph below
Selkirk the agent there wired Dawson that the Prospector was forty minutes
ahead of the Sybil.
"Suddenly we rounded the bend of the river and there was the Prospector
pulled up at a wood pile repairing her rudder and at the same time taking on
wood. Every passenger on the boat was helping to pile on the wood. By we
went at full speed without a sign. We kept our lead and pulled into Dawson
twenty-five minutes ahead of the Prospector.
"The welcome we got was tremendous. The wharf was lined and even the tops
of the sheds were black with people.
"A great deal of money changed hands as a result of this race. One old
friend of mine said to me:
"Cap. Gardner," said he, "what do you mean by coming in first? I've bet on
you for years but I had a sure tip from the telegraph office at Selkirk that
the Prospector was ahead of you this time. Now, I've lost five hundred
dollars over you."
"I was presented with a beautiful silk Canadian flag from my passengers but
I never did get the one dollar per head bonus that the man who owned the
cattle freely promised me if I'd beat the other boats, and it was because of
picking up his cattle that I nearly lost the race, too.
"But I couldn't blame the poor fellow because when we got to Dawson the
whole town was filled with caribou meat. There had been such a trek of
caribou the Fall before that hundreds had been shot and put in cold storage.
So there was no sale for his beef and the last I knew of him he was herding
his cattle on the grassy slopes above the town.
"But, anyway, the Str. Sybil had her fine new flag and the honor of winning
the race into Dawson that year."
MILLION DOLLARS IN GOLD
Symbolic of the North - of its riches and of the price demanded for those
riches - was the load of the Str. Sybil as it left Dawson for the outside in
the Spring of '02.
The Riches? Over a million dollars worth of gold. And the price? Eight
insane men on the passenger list.
The gold was in every form - nuggets, dust and bar. The pokes of the
passengers so weighted down the purser's office that reinforcements to the
floor were required, and below decks many two-hundred-pound steel boxes of
bar gold were stored.
But the eight were no longer interested in the treasures of the North. For
them the struggle had been too great. They sat, for the most part,
oblivious of the other passengers, either vacantly staring into a vacant
future, or chattering to themselves unconcernedly, or cursing vaguely and
monotonously. Each was police-escorted.
There were always a few insane for the first boat out in the spring.
Captain Gardner, Master of the Sybil, said, that this was the greatest toll
the Arctic had yet taken.
As well as the Sybil, Captain Gardner ran the Thistle, the Bonanza King and
the Mary Graff - the largest boat in the Yukon - for the White Pass Company
in 1903 and 1904. In the Spring of '04 his company contracted to build a
mining dredger at Whitehorse for the Guggenheim's, a New York firm. This
dredger had to be taken from Whitehorse to Dawson and since it was a large,
awkward affair the job of taking it down was one that required exceptional
What captain would be asked to take this dredger down, was the question
everyone was asking. They all knew that it would be an honor to be the
chosen one. They had not long to wait. Superintendent Scharschmidt soon
announced that in the contract signed in New York, it had been promised that
the dredger would be taken down to Dawson by Captain Charles Gardner with
the Str. Bonanza King.
The dredger was successfully delivered at the mouth of the Klondike. A
couple of years later another dredger was built for this company and
delivery by the same master was stipulated. A creek about 20 miles below
Dawson was the destination of this second dredger. The introduction of
machine mining meant the end of the old pick and shovel days.
Danger and difficulty often went with these trips on the Yukon but sometimes
a certain amount of humor accompanied them too. Captain Gardner liked to
tell of one experience when all three were present.
"There's quite a trick of getting out of the Arctic on time," the Captain
explains. "Will she freeze up, you say to yourself, and keep you tied up at
Dawson, or can you risk one more trip in the hope she will milden up
"I mind one time about 1905 when I was sent down pretty late on the LaFrance
with a scow load of cattle. When I got unloaded at Dawson it was getting
"Do you think you can make it back, Cap?" the agent wanted to know.
"Well, I've never got stuck yet" I told him, "and I guess I'll manage to get
through this time, same as the other times."
THE ICE ACCUMULATES
"But I don't like the look of things. The LaFrance was a light boat. Scum
ice was forming fast and floating down the river. That thin ice cuts like a
knife and, with us going up and it coming down, it had a lot of power. I
had 50 passengers aboard, about 40 of them 'sports' who were moving from
Dawson down to Whitehorse for the winter - gamblers, show people, and the
"We started out from Dawson in the evening and along about Stewart the ice
began to get bad. I was afraid that it would cut right through our hull so
I stopped and had the boys take out the sheet-iron casing that was around
the smoke stack in the saloon and nail it around the bow of the boat at the
waterline. That was better and everything was fine till we got to the White
River where we found the Victorian on a bar.
"Can I help you, Cap?" I called. "I haven't got a capstan but I can run out
a line for you."
"I'm fine," the captain answered. I'll get off all right. I'm going to
throw a lot of these potatoes overboard to lighten her stern and she'll make
it all right."
"I had my own passengers to think of, so I left her.
"The next stop was Latherent's woodyard where we expected to take on a
pretty good wooding because you never know what may happen at that time of
year. Just before we got to the woodpile we came on the Canadian sitting
right in the middle of the channel. She couldn't move an inch and the
channel was so narrow that nobody could get by as long as she sat there.
"It all looked pretty hopeless. While we were deciding what was best to do,
up comes the Dawson and then the Selkirk so now we had four boats all in one
"All the captains began talking, each one saying what he would do, and
bye-and-bye they turned to me.
"What would you do, Cap?"
"Leave her," I says, "Leave her just where she is. She's been here long
enough now to be frozen to the bottom. She'll never move till Spring."
"Oh no, no, no. We'll unload her and lighten her up and she'll be on her
way in a few hours."
"It won't do a bit of harm to try anyhow," I says. "Her cargo'll freeze
soon whether it's on the boat or off."
"So we put all our crews to work and the cargo was soon covered up on shore.
But did she budge? Not an inch. She was frozen clean to the bottom and
sitting there square in the middle of the channel.
"By this time I noticed that the river was cutting a little channel through
alongside the Canadian and I said to the captain of the Dawson: I think Cap
that you could squeeze through there and then line me up." The Dawson tried
it and got through - touching both the bottom and the Canadian - but she
made it, and we went after her - didn't have to be lined up.
"Before we left the Canadian I took some of her supplies. First I asked her
purser for them but he was shocked.
"Oh, I couldn't, Captain," he says, "all that stuff's bonded and I couldn't
touch a pound of it."
"All right then, I'll take it" I says. So I helped myself to everything I
wanted - ham, eggs, potatoes, vegetables, and apples, and I tell you the
company was pretty glad when they heard of it.
"By now the Dawson had finished wooding up at Latherent's and was just
pulling away when we came up. I saw that some terrible quarrel had been
going on. I never saw anyone in such a frenzy as Latherent was. That man
was in a real madness. Something about the price of wood was the cause of
the trouble and he and the captain had got into a terrible tongue fight.
When I got there Latherent was jumping up and down with rage.
"Captain," he yells to me, "I'm the seventh son of a seventh daughter and I
lay my curse on the captain of the Dawson. I lay my curse on that man and
on his boat and on everything he has or does! Mark my word, Captain, I lay
my curse on him."
"The Dawson was pulling out into the current by this time and she was going
over a shoal just above the woodyard she went aground on the stern, her bow
swung around and she was headed down stream with her wheel up into the
channel. After I had woodened up I came over and ran his cable ashore and
since I had no capstan that's all I could do - I had my own folks to think
"About a mile or two above Latherent's I met the Bailey and the Clifford
Sifton. They hailed me and I went over.
What's the matter down below?"
"The Canadian's frozen to the bottom - she's there for the winter - but you
can get by if you're careful."
"So the Bailey started but when she got into the shallow place by the Dawson
she ran smack into the Dawson's wheel, cracking her cylinder timber and
crippling her pretty badly. I guess Latherent was satisfied that his curse
was working by that time."
"When I got to the telegraph station between Selkirk and White River they
handed me a long telegram addressed to 'The first captain arriving' and
asking 'Where's the boats? What's doing, what one's in trouble,' and so on.
I sent up word of just what I had seen and went on. I pulled into
Whitehorse nearly two days ahead of any other boat," said Capt. Gardner.
"The next Spring I was sent to bring the Canadian up to Whitehorse. Quite a
job it was too; her rudders were so chewed up by the ice that there were
just stubs left.
"Those northern rivers are certainly no place for boats once the cold
weather really sets in."
A still greater penetration of the North was made by Captain Gardner in the
Summer of 1913. Dan Cadsow, a fur trader from Rampart House on the
Porcupine River, who was accustomed to buying his supplies at Dawson and
have them taken up by canoe, had an exceptionally large shipment that Summer
and asked the White Pass Company to take his goods up by steamer.
There had never been any boat larger than a canoe on the Porcupine but when
Captain Gardner was asked by his company to take Dan's goods up on the Str.
Nasutlin he welcomed the opportunity to explore a new river.
AN ANIMATED DANCE
He had on board a customs officer from Dawson since he had to go down the
Yukon into Alaska and back up the Porcupine into Canada again, thus crossing
the international boundary line twice.
Rampart House is within the Arctic Circle, only 140 miles from the Arctic
Ocean and the Porcupine is within portaging distance of a tributary of the
The Str. Nasutlin reached Rampart House late one afternoon. The trader's
goods were unloaded and the boat was about to start back to Dawson.
"Stay here for the night, Captain," Dan urged, "and you'll see something
that I'll guarantee will surprise you." The place looked deserted enough
and as though likely to contain few surprises but, as the captain was in no
particular hurry, he agreed to stay.
In a short time men, women, and children began to pour in from every
direction, all eager to see the first steamboat ever to come up their river.
"If you men will clear off the barge the folks would like to dance," Dan
said, "and their dancing is worth seeing."
The barge was cleared. The Indians were delighted and thronged to it. Soon
a man appeared with a little skin drum and the captain was
prepared to listen to weird Indian rhythms thumped out by this vigorous
drummer. But, in a minute, two more Indian musicians appeared - with
violins - and the tune that opened the dance was "The Reel of Balloch."
BEAUTY OF RHYTHM
This was followed by the Keel Row, then The Highland Laddie, and these
Northern Indians who had never seen more than half a dozen white people in
their lives danced all the old Scotch reels and polkas and square dances in
a way that was beautiful to watch, so smooth, quiet, and perfectly timed.
There wasn't a shoe among them, and the soft rhythmical thudding of the
occasioned feet put a new beauty into those old dances.
The Indians themselves didn't know where they had learned these tunes but
doubtless the ghost of some old Scots trader was even then hovering by the
side of the barge, glad to see the enjoyment that his teachings of bygone
years was still bringing to these Northern folk.
Another bit of exploring was to fall to the lot of Captain Gardner that
summer. There had been a find of gold on the White River, a tributary that
enters the Yukon from the west 40 miles above Dawson.
On returning from the Porcupine, Captain Gardner took about 50 stampeders
and their outfits up this river. As it was late in the Summer the water was
The trip was difficult and the outcome at all times in doubt. The
stampeders were, naturally, extremely anxious to get in as speedily as
possible. The crew would also use their time in cutting a good supply of
Half an hour after stopping, a delegation from the passengers came to the
captain saying that, while they had every confidence to his ability to put
the boat through if anyone could, they were at a loss to understand what he
meant by saying that, although he found it impossible to get through that
day, he would try to do so on the next, when he knew that the water was
The captain told them that if they would wait until the next day they would
perhaps get a lesson on the power of running water.
The following morning they found that, although the water was much lower, a
clear channel had been cut through the bar. The very lowness of the water
had forced it to find a channel somewhere, since it could not now run over
the bar, and the ramming of the boat into the bar the day before had
encouraged the current to cut a new channel through that place.
The passengers were so pleased with the success of the trip under such
difficult circumstances that they presented the captain with a very fine
letter of thanks together with a chain and tiepin both ornamented with gold
Captain Gardner found that there were great quantities of soft native copper
at the head of White River. One boat had been up as far as Donjek before
but she had never returned. The remains of her burnt hull were still to be
seen beside the bank of the river.
In 1919 Captain Gardner went to the Mackenzie for the Hudson's Bay and made
a survey of many of the tributaries of that northern river for the company.
He explored the Ft. Smith rapids to see if that 16 mile stretch of fast
water was navigable for stern wheel steamers; he took a gas-powered boat
with a cargo of three tons over the Vermillion Chutes; he explored the Liard
River and he took the first steamer up the rapid and dangerous Bear River
into Great Bear Lake.
He skippered boats on the 1400 mile run to Aklavik for 12 seasons, taking up
supplies for the various posts and bringing down great loads of fur --
beaver, ermine, martin, muskrat, bear, lynx and, most valuable of all,
white, black and silver fox.
"Well, you're back again safely," the superintendent said to him one time as
he brought his boat laden with furs into Ft. Smith.
"Do you know, Captain, that you've over a million dollars worth of fur on
board this trip? If the C.P.R. had a silk train as valuable as that cargo
of yours they'd have half a dozen policemen looking after it."
Captain Gardner has carried a good many policemen on his boats, however,
even though they were not needed to guard his cargo. On the one occasion of
a murder among the Eskimos one Summer, he took up to Aklavik not only
policemen but the judge and entire personnel of the court.
The trial was held on board his boat, the Str. Distributor, and the captain
acted as one of the jurors. He had a sympathetic understanding of the
feelings and ... (illegible) of these primitive folk and it was partly
through his efforts that the defendant was acquitted on the grounds of
The captain's most honoured guest was Lord Byng, then Governor-General of
Canada. On the return trip from the Arctic, Lord Byng was anxious to make
the best possible connections at Ft. Smith in order that he might not be
late for the opening of the House.
Captain Gardner was consequently trying to make better than usual time and
so pulled out of Hay River in weather that was far from promising to make
the 60 mile run to Ft. Resolution across Great Slave Lake.
The wind rose to a great gale and the waves threatened their safety so the
captain decided to run in to Little Bar River.
As the boat turned against the swell the strain was so great that one of the
hog chains broke with a report like a cannon shot. Lord Byng was on deck in
"Take no chances on my account Captain," he said. "Whether or not I make
connections at Ft. Smith is of little consequence in comparison to the
safety of your vessel."
The captain ran into the mouth of Little Bear River, mended his chain and
waited until the storm blew over.
On leaving the boat the Governor-General presented the captain with his
photograph set in a maroon leather frame on which was stamped a small gold
crown. Lord Byng thanked him for the care he had taken to make his trip a
pleasant one and commented on his skilful handling of the boat.
A STRANGE INCIDENT
But the Captain does not take to himself all the credit in bringing through
safely so many thousands of passengers and so many tons of cargo.
"I just do the best I know, always," he says simply, "and when I have done
all I can do, I look for help and I always get it."
The Captain justifies his philosophy by citing several instances, one of
which has to do with a trip across this same water.
It was late in the year and with the coming of darkness a wind rose while he
was still on the open lake.
He was headed for Burnt Island 12 miles from Resolution and was running by
compass. Once he would get into a certain bay on Burnt Island he knew he
could easily get his bearings for the short run into Resolution.
Presently he came to an Island but not the right one. He felt that he was
too far south but had no way of being sure.
"I wish they had kept the light burning on Burnt Island." he said to the
pilot who was in the house with him. He looked in the direction he thought
Burnt Island would be - and there was a light!
"Quick," he said to the pilot, "take our bearings from the light."
The pilot did so and the light went out. They steered to the bay from which
the light had shone, got their bearings from there, and ran without mishap
to Ft. Resolution.
At the Fort he mentioned that he was glad they had the light at Burnt Island
working again but spoke of its having gone out shortly after he had sighted
"Why, Captain," the man who looked after the light said, "that lamp hasn't
had a drop of oil in it for over a month, and as not a soul lives on the
island, you can't have seen a light from there."
"But we did," the Captain affirmed, "both the pilot and I saw it."
"I don't know what others call happenings like that, but I call it
Providence," said Captain Gardner.
Captain Gardner retired from his steam boating life at the finish of the
1930 season, 70 years of age. He came back to live by the Fraser at New
But is this western Ulysses willing to settle down in the orthodox manner?
By no means. At 81 he has plans for exploring the upper reaches of some of
the tributaries of the Fraser in a sturdy boat being built under his
"I might even go up the Chilliwack River and find my gold mine," he laughs.