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Yukon River Sternwheelers:

the Alaska (1913-1927) / Aksala (1927-1952)

Northern Ships and Shipping

    Please note that, at present, this is merely an accumulation of data, part of a 700-page database of material on all Yukon-Alaska steamboats 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. Registration #165171; Canadian Shipping Registry #116621

  • wooden sternwheeler; 164.8 feet long, with 35.3 foot beam and 5.9 foot hold. Gross tonnage 642, registered as 603 tons. Three decks, carvel build, square stern, 4 bulkheads. Licenced for 143 passengers (1929). Sternwheeler Aksala on the Yukon River

  • engine room 70.6 feet long, housing by a pair of horizontal high-pressure engines built in 1913 by Seattle Machine Works; the cylinders had 16 inch diameter and 72 inch stroke, producing 17 NHP at 200 pounds of steam pressure.

  • 1913, Alaska and Yukon were built in Whitehorse by BYN crews for a newly-formed WP&YR division, the American Navigation Company. Affleck says that they were prefabricated in Seattle by Nilson & Telez, and then assembled at Whitehorse.

  • June 14 1913, Alaska left Whitehorse on her maiden trip to Fairbanks; the round trip was 1,950 miles.

  • registered in Canada for a few weeks after construction, then transferred to U.S. registry.

  • n.d., photos of Forward Saloon and Dining Saloon, in Cohen, p.36.

  • 1913-1914, wintered on the ways at Whitehorse (COR722).

  • 1914, used on the Dawson-Fairbanks run; wintered at Whitehorse, so the first run of the season was Whitehorse-Fairbanks.

  • 1915, converted to burn oil, and wheel changed from one with 14 buckets to one with 17 (COR722).

  • 1915-1921, used on the Dawson-Fairbanks run, which involves 700 miles downstream on the Yukon, and 275 miles upstream on the Tanana and Chena (COR722).

  • 1917, false ceilings built into the Texas deck rooms, to keep them cooler in the summer (COR722).

  • 1918 season crew: Master, Captain James T. Gray; Chief Engineer, L.M. Dow. Sternwheeler Aksala on the Yukon River

  • July 1, 1918, Virginia Alaska Walker was born on board while the boat was between Fort Yukon and Circle.

  • On October 25, 1918, 87 employees of the White Pass & Yukon Route died in the sinking of the Princess Sophia, including 7 crew members of the Alaska: Fred Bower, deckhand; H. Bennett, deckhand; A. Campbell, fireman; Charles Headland, fireman; A.W. Sutherland, deckhand; C.W. Seylstra, fireman; E. Taggart, fireman.

  • 1922 season, she is the only AYN boat on the Dawson-Fairbanks run. Her crew includes: Master, Captain J.S. McCann, with 25 years Yukon experience; Pilot, Captain Hollis Looney, whose father was a captain with the ACCo.; First Officer, Captain John Murray, former captain of the White Seal; Second Officer, Thagard Buckholtz; Chief Engineer, R.W. Kern; Second Engineer, James Kent; Purser, E.P. Bemis; freight clerk, Fred Rhind; steward, Thomas Walsh; chief deckhand, Frank Hurlander; and Chef, J. Boyd ("Mr.Boyd weighs 240 pounds, and is living proof of his skill") (Dawson Daily News, July 12).

  • August 31 1922, taken out of service for the season due to a lack of cargo; hauled out at Whitehorse.

  • August 13 1923, left Nenana due to a lack of cargo; arrived at Whitehorse August 31, and was hauled out (COR722)

  • 1925, oil tanks removed and installed in the Tutshi, which was converted to oil (COR722).

  • 1926, used in Whitehorse as a floating hotel during the tourist season by the British Yukon Navigation Co.

  • 1927, name changed to the Aksala when she was transferred to the British Yukon Navigation Co.

  • 1927, put into service August 17.

  • n.d., steel British boiler installed; built in 1927, it was rated at 17 NHP, 450 IHP.

  • 1928, with Casca and White Horse, "required wheel and rudder work nearly every trip they were in port. Heavy ore loads and low water at Hellsgate and Kirkman were largely responsible for this." (COR 723).

  • 1929, registered as 803.31 tons, licenced for 143 passengers; it is not known what work was done to increase the net tonnage (GOV 1684).

  • 1929-1932, wintered in the water at Lower Lebarge, in order to be the first boat through to Dawson; freight was brought to her overland.

  • 1929, the front of the hull was rotting, and warped from loads heavier than she was designed for. The front 70 feet of the hull was completely replaced, with heavier keelsons and trussing used; after the work, she drew 13 inches less forward (COR 723).

  • prior to the launch of the Klondike in July 1929, Aksala's best trip from Stewart to Whitehorse was 5 days, 7 hours, 5 minutes, with 300 tons of ore, burning 133 cords of wood. The Klondike could do it with 325 tons in 4 days, 1 hour, burning 82½ cords (COR 723).

  • 1938 season crew (operating the Keno as well): Master, E. Morrison; Extra Pilots, J. McPhee, P.V. Edwards and Courquin; Second Mate, W. Goodlad; Chief Engineer, F.L. Young; Second Engineer, Fred Vey; Purser, B.F. "Fred" Dunn; Steward, Fred Walsh (Whitehorse Star, May 5).

  • 1939 season crew (operating the the Keno as well): Master, E. Morrison; Extra Pilots, J. McPhee, P.V. Edwards and J. Wakefield; Second Mate, W. Goodlad; Chief Engineer, Fred L. Young; Second Engineer, Fred Vey; Purser, B.F. "Fred" Dunn; Steward, Fred Walsh (Whitehorse Star, May 5).

  • May 5, 1939: Mr. Fred Young, chief engineer on the str. Aksala, had the misfortune to fall and injure his spine whilst working aboard ship. He was a patient in the Hospital for a few days but was able to leave that institution on Tuesday.

  • May 26, 1939: The first steamer to leave the local docks this season was the Aksala (Capt. E. Morrison) which left Sunday bound for Mayo, where she arrived on Saturday, May 27 at 4:30 p.m. She had as passengers Mr. and Mrs. Stan Rickinson for Lower Le Barge, Mr. W. Schofield and Mr. P. W. Forrest (of Nabob fame) for Selkirk and Mr. and Mrs. Geof. R. Bidlake for Mayo. Mr. and Mrs. Bidlake were popular during their residence in Whitehorse and we wish them every happiness in the new home of their adoption, where M. Bidlake has taken over the cashier duties in the W.P. & Y. R. office

  • July 28, 1939: To date 4,853 tons of silver ore have been taken out from Mayo by the Aksala and Keno.

  • October 6, 1939: The Aksala was taken to Lower LeBarge where she has been moored for the winter. Our old friend Alec McLeod will be her caretaker.

  • May 23, 1941: Last Sunday evening (May 18) the Aksala cleared from the local docks on her first northbound trip of the season with twenty passengers bound for Dawson, Harry Walker for Little Salmon and Henry Arp for his destination near Gold Point. All the steamboats are now in the water ready to be placed in service.

  • June 6, 1941: The Aksala left Dawson May 30th on her first southbound trip of the season with Mrs. K. Burian and two children bound for Vanconver, Mrs. Drugan and her three children and Harry Walker for Whitehorse and Rt. Rev. W. A. Geddes, Bishop of Yukon for Selkirk. Mr. A W. Adcock boarded the boat 14 miles below Reindeer for Stewart.
    On her second northbound trip the Aksala left the local docks Saturday with 18 circle tourists, two passengers for Circle City and 22 tor Dawson. Three other passengers were Mayo bound, six for Britannia Creek, Mrs. Rod Smith for Carmacks and Messrs. W. and R. Smith for Lakeview.

  • June 13, 1941: The Aksala left Dawson on her second southbound trip June 4th with 15 passengers en route for the Outside, six for Whitehorse, Corpl. Cameron R. C. M. P, for Selkirk, H. Colley for Coffee Creek and 16 for Stewart. Five other passengers disembarked at up-river points.
    When leaving on her third trip to Dawson Monday night the Aksala had board as passengers six for Dawson including Controller G. A. Jeckell, six for Selkirk, two making the round trip and one for Britannia Creek.

  • June 20, 1941: The Aksala left on her fourth northbound trip on the 12th with 21 passengers eleven of whom (including Rt. Rev. W. A. Geddes Bishop of Yukon and our old familiar friend Mr. E. A. Ball) were bound for Dawson and ten tourists who were making the round trip.

  • April 17, 1942: According to reports around town only two steamer trips will be made by the Aksala to Mayo this season. Heavy river traffic will be on the Hootalinqua up to Teslin.

  • June 1, 1945: River navigation opened last night when the str. "Casca" left the local dock for Dawson with passengers on board. The str. "Aksala" which has been chartered by the Barrington Bros., left Monday morning to operate on the lower river for the season but carried no passengers on board.

  • September 7, 1945: Miss Judy Jespersen, a former waitress at the Regina Hotel, who has spent the past few months on board the str. Aksala operating down the lower river, is back in town again. The Aksala, which was chartered by the Barrington Bros. for the season, arrived at the local dock Monday night and will now be placed upon the ways for the winter.

  • May 4, 1951: The B.Y.N. expect to launch one or two of their river boats this weekend. Reports are that only the Whitehorse, Casca and Aksala will be used this year. The company has taken the smaller boats off the Stewart River owing to the opening of the Mayo Road and the use of trucks to transport the ore.

  • June 15, 1951: The steamship Aksala broke down last Thursday near Carmacks and was forced to tie up at the Carmacks dock. The steamer Whitehorse was dispatched to pick up passengers and frieght and continue the journey. It is estimated that the Aksala will be on the dry dock for several weeks while repairs are completed.

  • operated until 1952. She was reported to be "in the mud at Dawson" that Fall, "with no thought of reclamation."

  • April 16, 1959: Ted Tervoert of the shipshape Steamboat cafe at Mile 900 has bought the Aksala. There had been no mention in The Star of her being moved from Dawson to Whitehorse.

  • May 19, 1960: Offers Reward In Ship Thefts. $50 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of persons stealing material from the beached riverboat Aksala. Ted Tervoert, who is dismantling the ship with plans for moving the superstructure to his Riverboat Cafe site, reports he has lost sinks and doors particularly. He would like to recover the missing objects but also would like to find out who's been stealing them." (Whitehorse Star)

  • March 16, 1961, The Whitehorse Star published a photo of the boat with the caption: "Getting a bit breezy amidships here for the old steamer 'Aksala,' being dismantled by Ted ter Voert. Proprietor of the Riverboat Cafe at Mile 900, Ted plans on setting the Aksala up at his highway restaurant as a tourist attraction. He has experience in removing former river boats from Whitehorse, having successfully launched the 'Neecheah' to his highway property some years ago." In June 1961, Alaska Sportsman magazine published a very similar comment. A somewhat different description of that series of events appeared in the Yukon News in Oct. 7, 1992 - bought by Ted Tevert, the superstructure was moved to Shaddow Lake, near the Marsh Lake Dam. The Neecheah was used as a coffee shop there, the Aksala planned as a motel.

  • both were moved to Mile 913 (Paddlewheel Village) for a while; the Neecheah was used as a restaurant called The Captain's Locker, while the Aksala sat on timbers until it became a fire hazard and was demolished.

  • only the paddlewheel remains (2023) at Mile 913, Paddlewheel Village. The pilothouse was moved to a private residence, "has been beautifully restored and is now used as a greenhouse."

Sternwheeler Alaska, ca. 1900
Sternwheeler Alaska on the Yukon River, ca. 1900. Yukon Archives photo #2240 (photocopy).

Sternwheeler Alaska, 1915
Alaska being launched at Whitehorse in 1915. Yukon Archives photo #4000 (photocopy).

Sternwheeler Aksala on Lake Laberge
Aksala on Lake Laberge, n.d. Note reconfiguration of bow and some house trim changes.
Yukon Archives, Donald McLean collection, PHO 120, 80/33, #11 (photocopy).

Sternwheeler Aksala
Canada Department on Marine and Fisheries inspection certificate, 1929
Yukon Archives, GOV 1684, F. 77 (photocopy - click on the image to open a larger/legible version in a new window).

Sternwheeler Aksala on Lake Laberge, 1930s
The Aksala pushing a barge follows the Whitehorse through the spring ice on Lake Laberge in the mid-1930s.
The photo was published in The Whitehorse Star on May 24, 1940.

Sternwheeler Aksala at Whitehorse
Aksala at Whitehorse, ca. 1950.
From a slide produced by Dedman's Photo Shop in Skagway, in the ExploreNorth collection.

Sternwheelers Aksala, Casca, and Whitehorse at Whitehorse
Aksala, Casca, and Whitehorse on the ways at Whitehorse, ca. 1960.
From a slide produced by Dedman's Photo Shop in Skagway, in the ExploreNorth collection.

The paddlewheel of the Aksala at Paddlewheel Village in Whitehorse
The paddlewheel of the Aksala at Paddlewheel Village on October 22, 2000. Murray Lundberg photo.

The paddlewheel of the Aksala at Sternwheeler Village in Whitehorse
The paddlewheel of the Aksala being moved further from the highway on June 5, 2010. Murray Lundberg photo.

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.