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Yukon River Boats:

the Kestrel (1913-1927) / Neecheah (1927-1952)



Northern Ships and Shipping

    Please note that, at present, much of the information below is merely an accumulation of data, part of a 700-page database of material on all Yukon-Alaska boats compiled by Murray Lundberg. Additions, corrections or comments are always welcome - just drop Murray a note. Some of the information is from corporate and government records at the Yukon Archives, referenced as COR and GOV file numbers).



  • U.S. Registry #220473 (229473?), registered at Eagle, Alaska. Canadian Shipping Registry #116619.

  • wooden propeller launch; originally 63.5 feet long, with 19 foot beam and 2.9 foot hold. Gross tonnage 52.96, registered as 36.02 tons. One deck, sharp head and square stern. Rebuilt 1922.

  • one of the first gasoline-powered boats in the territory, she had two 6-cylinder, 90-horsepower engines built in 1920 by the Wisconsin Motor Company of Milwaukee. The cylinders were 5 3/4 inches in diameter, with a 7-inch stroke.

  • 1920, built at Whitehorse to replace the Sibilla; put on first run June 28.

  • 1920, operated on the Kantishna River by the American Yukon Navigation Company, a division of the White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR). She could tow a 60-ton barge upstream, and was handling 80-ton ore loads down the river for a while. This was the first year the river had been worked, and it was so busy that it was expected that a steamer would be needed in 1921 (COR722).

  • At the end of the 1920 season, after being towed by the steamer Washburn from Tanana, the Kestrel was badly cut by running ice and forced to go into winter quarters at Circle City. Her crew had to mush overland from Circle to Fairbanks, then out to the coast by the Fairbanks overland trail.

  • 1921, transferred to the WP&YR's British Yukon Navigation Company, and Canadian registry.

  • 1922 renamed Neecheah and rebuilt to 78.5 feet long, with 17.2 foot beam and 3.1 foot hold; the gross tonnage was increased to 93.39 tons. Began operating on the Stewart River, hauling ore from Mayo, generally pushing a barge, the 89-foot Hootalinqua. Was very fast (Mills; Yukon News, Oct. 7, 1992 and Apr. 29, 1994). The new hull was the first large vessel in the Yukon to use a tunnel-hull design, with the propellers inset to protect them from rocks; it was very successful.

  • carried a horse named Hayburner, used to haul cables for lining through difficult spots.

  • 1928, her engines were used in the newly-lengthened Tarahne. That winter, she was on the ways in Whitehorse (COR 723)

  • ca. 1942-1944, used as a supply boat by the U.S. Army during construction of the Alaska Highway.

  • June 1961, the Aksala is "being dismantled by Ted ter Voert [Trevert], who will move the vessel to his Riverboat Cafe at Mile 900 on the Alaska Highway and set it up there. Several years ago he moved the Neecheah to his cafe site and it has proved to be a great attraction for visitors and tourists driving over the highway." (Alaska Sportsman)

  • ca. late 1960s, moved to Mile 913, Paddlewheel Village, where it became The Captain's Locker restaurant.

  • 1992, bought by a Whitehorse businessman, moved to the Yukon Transportation Museum.

  • 1997, acquired by the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse.


M. V. Neecheah
    This little vessel was built in 1920. Originally called the Kestrel, it was constructed in Whitehorse for the American Yukon Navigation Company, the American river subsidiary of the White Pass and Yukon Route.
    A year later the Kestrel was transferred to the British Yukon Navigation Company (BYN), the company's Canadian river subsidiary. The boat acquired Canadian registry and was renamed Neecheah. BYN operated the Neecheah on the Dawson-Mayo run from late July until the close of navigation that season.
    Although the gas-powered Neecheah was smaller than most of the company's sternwheelers, it was faster, since it didn't have to stop and wood up. With the barge Hootalinqua (specially built to be used with the Neecheah), the vessel could handle 75 tons of freight. And because of its smaller size, the boat was also used to place buoys and sound the channel over the flats at the beginning of the navigation season.
    In 1922 15 feet / 4.5 m were added to the boat's length, making it lighter and more efficient for work on the shallow Stewart River. Although the boat seems to have been laid up on the ways during part of the 1920 and 30s, it was back in service in the 1940s on the Stewart River run.


Yukon River work boat Kestrel, 1920
The Kestrel in the ice at the end of the 1920 season.

Yukon River work boat Neecheah at the Yukon Transportation Museum, 2002
September 6, 2002.

Yukon River work boat Neecheah at the Yukon Transportation Museum, 2002
The tunnel-hull design, with the propellers inset to protect them from rocks. September 6, 2002.

Yukon River work boat Neecheah at the Yukon Transportation Museum, 2004
November 23, 2004.

Yukon River work boat Neecheah at the Yukon Transportation Museum, 2007
February 20, 2007.

Yukon River work boat Neecheah at the Yukon Transportation Museum, 2009
December 11, 2009.

Yukon River work boat Neecheah at the Yukon Transportation Museum, 2012
May 18, 2012.

Yukon River work boat Neecheah at the Yukon Transportation Museum, 2018
November 8, 2018.



References & Further Reading:

  • Edward L. Affleck, Affleck's List of Sternwheelers Plying the Yukon Waterways (Vancouver, BC: Affleck, September 1995)

  • Stan Cohen, Yukon River Steamboats: A Pictorial History (Missoula, MT: Pictorial Histories, June 1982)

  • Art Downs, Paddlewheels on the Frontier: The Story of B.C.-Yukon Sternwheel Steamers - Volume Two (Surrey, BC: Foremost, 1971)

  • Arthur E. Knutson, Sternwheels on the Yukon (Snohomish, WA: Snohomish, 1979)

  • Robin E. Sheret, Smoke Ash and Steam: Steam Engines on the West Coast of North America (Victoria, BC: Western Isles Cruise & Dive, 1997)

    ©2018 Murray Lundberg: Use for other than research purposes must be approved by the author.


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