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The Yukon Sternwheeler Clifford Sifton

by Murray Lundberg

Northern Ships and Shipping

The information on the Clifford Sifton that follows is simply a cut-and-paste from my database, compiled from a wide variety of sources, primarily government records and the White Pass & Yukon Route corporate records (COR 722) at the Yukon Archives, and newspapers.
  • Canadian Shipping Registry #107528

  • wooden sternwheeler; 120.0 feet long, with 24.0 foot beam and 4.5 foot hold. Gross tonnage 291.41, registered as 183.59 tons.

  • powered by a pair of horizontal high-pressure steam engines built in 1898 by Wolff & Zureker of Portland, Oregon. The cylinders had 10 inch diameter and 48 inch stroke, producing 6.6 NHP.

    Ad for the sternwheeler Clifford Sifton, 1899

  • 1898-1899, built at Lake Bennett; MacBride says it was by a syndicate of women from Kansas, Affleck says John Julian built it for the Dominion Steamboat Line Company Ltd. The ad to the right was run in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer from June 3 until July 8, 1899.

  • named for the Honourable Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior at the time.

  • operated on upper lakes.

  • early crew included Ole Strom as Chief Engineer, J. E. Doddridge as Pilot (died in Whitehorse hospital spring 1914), and Charles Niles as manager and purser (MacBride)

  • July 6, 1899, with the Australian and Gleaner, standing by at the WP&YR spike-driving ceremony at Bennett.

  • August 5, 1899, Bennett Sun: "The mishap to the steering gear of the Clifford Sifton on Monday evening was soon put right. She left early Tuesday morning with a very large consignment of freight for White Horse."

  • we have posted passenger lists for the Clifford Sifton for June-August 1899.

  • September 1899, operated by the Dominion Steamship Company; running from Bennett on demand (Skagway Daily Alaskan, Sept. 9). The Dawson Daily News reported her as being owned by the Yukon Flyer Line at that time (Mining Edition).

  • January 19, 1900, used to hold a large dance (Bennett Sun, Jan. 20).

  • early 1900, new engines installed (Affleck).

  • July 24, 1900, went through Miles Canyon (see photo below).

  • August 3, 1900, the Dawson Daly News reported on the boat's maiden arrival at Dawson: "The handsome and elegantly appointed steamer Clifford Sifton arrived at Dawson at 8 o'clock this morning on her maiden trip, having heretofore been stationed on the Lake Bennet run, She was built at Bennett in the spring of 1899, is of 156 tons burden, 140 feet long and 24 feet beam. Colonel Williams is the owner; Captain G. G. Haley, master, and J. L. Wortham, purser, She brought down 75 tons of general freight for Dawson dealers.
        As it was her first trip down, the Sifton enjoyed the experience of hanging upon a bar for a few days about 30 miles this side of Big Salmon, She lightered her freight to shore by establishing a trolley line and allowing the current to do the work, on the same principle that the Klondike ferry is operated. With the exception of this mishap the trip down was a pleasant one and without special incident. The Sifton is temporarily at the Aurora dock and expects to sail for White Horse some time tomorrow."

  • May 24, 1901, the Clifford Sifton was the second boat to arrive at Dawson. The Dawson Weekly News reported:
        "Just 45 minutes after the Bailey landed the Clifford Sifton steamed to the old Aurora dock and made fast. She brought 60 tons of freight, including 22 horses, and the following passengers: S. Passaud, C. W. Rollins, Mrs. S. Wilson, Captain Joha Fessell and wife, Captain A. M. Seaton, H. I. Miller and John Miller. Captain Fessell will this year command the Tyrrell, while Captain Seaton will have charge of the Light.
        The Sifton wintered at Hootalinqua, leaving that post for Dawson on May 18. Between Little Salmon and Five Fingers, however, she had the misfortune to lodge on a bar, where she was detained for several hours. Part of her freight was unloaded before she floated clear of the shoals. She suffered no other damage than the brief delay, however, and reached the Hellgate jam night before last, where she remained until the channel was found around the ice gorge. The Sifton's officers are: Captain J. W. Sangster; purser, J. L. Wortham; pilots, C. D. Brownfield and George Fulk."

  • late May 1901, towing raft of 160,000 feet of logs to Dawson. The raft hit a sandbar and broke apart; during attempts to recover the logs, the Mate of the Clifford Sifton severely crushed his arm. Only 30,000 feet of logs were recovered (Knutson).

  • May 31, 1901, The Dawson Weekly News published a lengthy report on an Arctic Brotherhood excursion which the Clifford Sifton took to Eagle, Alaska - we have posted it on a separate page.

    Ad for the sternwheeler Clifford Sifton, 1901

  • October 3, 1901, the Dawson Daily News reported a great deal of trouble along the Yukon River as the result of very low water. Among those problems, "The Clifford Sifton went hard and fast on a bar last night at the mouth of Indian river and was passed there this morning at 7 o'clock by Messrs. Kramer and Ellingson, two miners floating down from Thistle creek. The Sifton was working to get off, so that the situation is evidently not considered hopeless by those in charge, notwithstanding the river is lowering fast."

  • October 09, 1901, the ad to the right ran in the Dawson Daily News. But 10 days later, the Klondike Nugget reported that she left Dawson on her last trip of "an exceedingly prosperous season. After reaching Whitehorse she will be brought down to Hootalinqua and put on ways already constructed to receive her."

  • December 23, 1901, The Daily Evening Star reported "The Sifton to be Enlarged. H.J. Mignerey of Seattle, managing owner of the vessel, announces that the famous Yukon river steamer Clifford Sifton is to be enlarged and remodeled so as to carry 30 additional first class passengers. Her present passenger capacity is 190, of which 70 are first clase. Enlarged and remodeled she will be able to accommodate 100 first and about 150 second-class passengers. While the Sifton's regular run is from White Horse to Dawson, she will during the coming summer, make one round trip from Dawson to St. Michael, sailing from Dawson about July 10. Returning she will have in tow a 500 ton barge, which the Sifton's owners propose to build next spring at Dutch harbor. The barge is to be loaded with general merchandise freight for Dawson. With the St, Michael voyage completed the Sifton will resume her regular run for the remainder of the season between Dawson and White Horse. The Sifton's improvements will be made at Hootalinqua, where the vessel is in winter quarters."

  • 1902, owned by the Dome Commission Company (White Horse Star, May 21).

  • Sunday, May 28 1902, running excursion to Fortymile for $5. A large crowd, 130 people, went on the trip, leaving Dawson at 11:00 AM, and returning at 07:00 the next morning, having taken less than 12 hours to make the return trip from Fortymile (Klondike Nugget, May 25; May 28).

  • June 11, 1902: "The Clifford Sifton was put on the ways yesterday for repairs. On the way up rover a few days ago she had a hole punched in her hull while passing through Thirty-mile river." (The Semi-Weekly Star)

    Ad for the sternwheeler Clifford Sifton, 1902

  • August 27, 1902, 1½ miles below Stewart, a passenger who had been drinking heavily, R.L. Mueller, fell off the upper deck, which had no railing. A small boat was launched, but he sank before it reached him.

  • October 6, 1902, The Daily Klondike Nugget ran the ad seen to the right.

  • October 17, 1902: "After the Clifford Sifton has discharged her passengers at Whitehorse she will be taken up the Hootalinqua and berthed for the winter." (The Daily Klondike Nugget)

  • June 13, 1903, The Weekly Star reported on problems at the head of Lake Laberge: "The Casca was stuck all night on the crossing near the cut off opposite the gap in the breakwater. She got off but was stuck again lower down, completely blocking the channel. The Clifford Sifton arrived at the bar at midnight, where she hung up for several hours but finally got off and reached Whitehorse at 3 o'clock this afternoon. Sixty outbound passengers were on board the Clifford Sifton."

  • September 1903, Clifford Sifton, Thistle and La France all bought by the British Yukon Navigation Company. Although none of the three have sufficient tonnage to work all season, they are expected to be good for early and late trips, as well as side-stream work. Clifford Sifton put into BYN service September 12 (COR 722). Affleck says they were sold July 25.

  • 1903, caught in Dawson for the winter when navigation closed with no warning (they expect manageable ice to run for at least a week first).

  • April 5, 1904: "Chief Engineer Hutchison, of the stern wheeler Victorian was a passenger north on the Princess May and reached Whitehorse yesterday. He left for down the river to prepare the stern wheeler Bailey and Clifford Sifton for the summer traffic." (The Daily Evening Star)

  • 1904, totally wrecked when ice forced the river to cut through the Dawson Slough; loss set at $250, her value in Dawson (COR 722)

  • July 23, 1904: "Clifford Sifton is being dismasted. This does not mean the honorable minister of the interior, but the B. Y. N. steamer named for him. The venerable craft arrived from Dawson on the last trip she will probably ever take. Once the pride of the upper lakes, and later a popular boat on the Dawson run, her glory has departed. Her smoke stacks, of which she has boasted a pair, have been taken down, her wheel has been curtailed, her machinery is being yanked out and the once proud and palatial steamer will find a resting place in the boneyard." (The Daily Evening Star)

  • 1904, all machinery installed in the Gleaner, and the hull converted to a cattle barge (COR 722).

  • August 23, 1904: "The hull of the dismantled steamer Clifford Sifton is being converted into a barge and will be used to carry freight from here to Dawson." (The Daily Evening Star)

  • November 1905, the barge was wrecked at Dawson. A photo of the wreckage is in Knutson, "Gung Ho! The Klondike", p.30.

Sternwheeler Clifford Sifton at Bennett, 1900. Photo by H.C. Barley
Sternwheelers Clifford Sifton, Bailey and an unknown boat behind, at Bennett, probably in 1900. Photo by H.C. Barley

Sternwheeler Clifford Sifton running Miles Canyon, July 24, 1900. Photo by H.C. Barley
Sternwheeler Clifford Sifton running Miles Canyon, July 24, 1900. Photo by H.C. Barley