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The Stikine River Route to the Klondike Gold Fields, 1897

The Klondike Gold Rush

    Today, its fame as a world-class hiking route has made the Chilkoot Trail the best-known of the routes to the Klondike gold fields. During the stampede, however, there were several other routes vying for attention, including one that used the Stikine River as the initial access to the interior.

    The extremely detailed report on the route by Arthur St. Cyr, D.L.S. (Dominion Land Surveyor) that follows took up 29 pages in the Annual Report of the Department of the Interior for 1897 (pages 99-127).

                        OTTAWA, 1st February, 1898.

        SIR, - I have the honour to submit my report of the exploration of the country between the head of navigation on the Stikine river and the mouth of Teslin river.

        In this connection I have to state that through circumstances over which I had no control, part of my notes on the explored country and all other data collected during the summer, were left at Telegraph Creek along with all my surveying instruments, and are presumably still there. Though I have tried every possible means since my arrival in Ottawa, I have not been able so far to obtain a satisfactory reply to my constant enquiries about them.

        The primary object of this exploration was to find out if a pack-trail, or better still, a wagon road which would meet the requirements of the ever increasing traffic with the Yukon district could be built with a reasonable expenditure.

        On 8th May, on receipt of your telegram, I left Golden, B.C., where I had just returned from a subdivision survey in the vicinity, and proceeded to Victoria, B.C., where the necessary instructions concerning the exploration were to be forwarded. They did not reach me until 14th May, just one day before the sailing of the steamer for Wrangell, where I was supposed to wait for the Hudson's Bay Company's boat "Caledonia," bound for Telegraph Creek on the Stikine. Though I had only twelve hours at my disposal, I managed to get nearly everything in readiness before the sailing of the steamer.

        I am greatly indebted to Mr. Tom Kains, Surveyor-General for British Columbia, for the useful information and the timely suggestions offered to me during my stay in Victoria. He spared neither time nor pains to help me in every possible way.

        I left Victoria on 15th May, arriving in Wrangell three days later.

        In the afternoon of 21st May, the "Caledonia" arrived. She had left Port Simpson on the previous day, covering the 160 miles of distance between that place and Wrangell in thirteen hours, which is a remarkably good performance for a stern-wheel river boat. She was bound with a large cargo for Telegraph Creek, some 137 miles up the Stikine river.

        Having been informed that Chief Factor Hall of the Hudson's Bay Company was on board, on his annual visit to the different posts of the company in the Cassiar district, I called upon him and expressed my desire to go up the river with him. He soon had everything arranged for taking my outfit on the steamer, and during the trip up the river made things as comfortable as possible for myself and party.

        As it rained without interruption every day while we were waiting for the steamer at Wrangell, we were anxious for a change of locality knowing well by experience that as soon as we left the coast range behind, we should again enjoy the more genial climate of the interior.

        The captain of the steamer having informed me that in order to take advantage of the high tide he intended to leave very early the next day, we all went on board and slept on the steamer that night. The next morning at day-break we left Wrangell with the rising tide which, by the time we had reached Point Rothsay at the mouth of the Stikine river, was in full flow, an indispensable condition for a successful passage over the numerous shoals at the mouth of the river. For eight miles or so the steamer had to make its way through narrow and intricate channels winding among the numerous bars and low islands, after which we entered the Stikine proper.

        From here on, the river flows through a valley whose general trend is east and west for a distance of fifteen miles or so. A few miles further the coast range is crossed, after which the valley takes a northerly trend which it keeps till Grand rapids is reached, a distance of nearly sixty-five miles; it then turns to the north-east for thirty miles more.

        The total distance between the mouth of the Stikine and Telegraph Creek following the windings of the river is 137 miles.

        The Stikine river is a considerable stream often divided into channels by large islands which are mostly covered with poplar, cotton wood, spruce and birch.

        Between the coast and Telegraph Creek the Stikine receives several large tributaries; the largest being the Iskut river, on the eastern side; the principal one on the opposite side is the Clearwater river which heads in the same glaciers as the south branch of the Taku river.

        The Stikine river and the country adjacent to it have been described so minutely by Dr. G. M. Dawson who ascended it in the summer of 1887 that I need not say anything more about it.

        As the captain would not run the risk of navigating in the dark at this season, the steamer always laid up at night. For that reason we did not reach Telegraph Creek where I was to procure the necessary pack animals to carry my outfit to Teslin lake before 24th May. The river was just rising for the first time in the season and though the flood in June is not quite so great in volume as it is in July and August, still the current was very strong and in some places where sharp bends occurred, lines had to be taken ashore, made fast to stout trees and the capstan brought into requisition to overcome the obstacle.

        On the trip I noticed that this river was remarkably free of drift wood and floating trees which come down in great quantities on some streams during the period of high. water and are a constant source of annoyance to the pilots and real danger to stern-wheel steamers.

        Most of the swift places met with in the early trips of a season improve and sometimes disappear as the water becomes higher.

        Last summer the "Caledonia" entered the Stikine river on the 22nd May, running up the cañons on the following day. On the present trip we passed the mouth of the Clearwater river on 24th May. The "Alaskan" which also plies on this stream is a much smaller boat and of poor design. At this date she had already made two round trips from Wrangell to Telegraph Creek. Dr. Dawson, on the authority of J. C. Callbreath, states that the Stikine opens for navigation between 20th April and 1st May.

        On September 26th, the day I left Telegraph Creek for my second trip to Teslin lake, the Alaskan started down the Stikine on its way to Wrangell and I have been informed that she made two more trips since.

        From all the information which I have been able to collect on this most important subject, I am inclined to believe that under ordinary circumstances and with properly built steamers, the Stikine is navigable from the first week in May up to the middle of October, but it is known to have been open as late as the end of November. The boats for this river should have very powerful engines, a light draft and not be much over one hundred feet long in order to pass at all stages of water.

        When about one mile above Glenora, my attention was drawn by the captain to a serious obstruction in the river which could be easily removed in winter at a small cost: it is a narrow ledge of rock about one hundred feet long and six feet high which projects from the left bank and almost meets a gravel bar extending from the opposite shore: its removal would greatly improve navigation above Glenora especially in May or late in the fall when the water is low.


    A pdf (10.9 MB) of the entire report can be viewed and/or downloaded: Exploration of the Country Beween the Stikine River and the Mouth of the Teslin River, 1897.