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The Sternwheeler Dawson

by Murray Lundberg

Northern Ships and Shipping

The information on the that follows is simply a cut-and-paste from my database, compiled from a wide variety of sources, primarily the White Pass & Yukon Route corporate records (COR 722) at the Yukon Archives and newspapers including the

  • Canadian Shipping Registry #107836, registered at Victoria.

  • wooden sternwheeler; 167 feet long, with 34 foot beam and 4.5 foot hold. Gross tonnage 778.75, registered as 490.62 tons. Two decks, carvel build, straight head and square stern, with 2 bulkheads.

  • The engine room of the Dawson was 34.5 feet long, housing 2 horizontal high-pressure steam engines built in 1898 by the William Hamilton Engine Works in Peterborough, Ontario; the cylinders had 17 inch diameter and 72 inch stroke, developing 19.2 NHP.

  • 1898, one of 5 sternwheelers built at False Creek in Vancouver by the Canadian Pacific Railway for the Stikine River trade. The Dawson was not launched.

  • March 7, 1901, The Province (Vancouver):

    Yukon River sternwheeler Dawson launched at Vancouver, 1901

        The stern-wheeler Dawson, recently sold by the C. P. R. to the White Pass & Yukon railway for service upon the Yukon, was launched this morning from the position she has occupied so long on the shores of false creek just above the C. P. R. workshops. The work of launching was carried on under the supervision of Mr. Crosby, of the White Pass & Yukon company. The vessel was towed to a position near the old C. P. R. bridge where she now lies in the stream. Mr. Crosby states that she will be towed north to Skagway very shortly, but that the date of sailing has not yet been definitely fixed. She will probably leave in tow of the Seattle tug Peerless.
        The Dawson first felt the water this morning, she having never been launched before. The reason she never left the blocks is that the Stickine river trade, for which she was built, fell through about the time she was completed.
        After towing the Dawson north, the Peerless will return to Wrangel where the McConnell and Ogilvie are now lying. They will be taken north and the three will be dismantled at Skagway and transported in sections to White Horse, where the reassembling will take place. Considerable alteration will be made when the vessels are put together again, and to perform this work ship carpenters are being engaged in this city. The steamer Amur, from Victoria to Skagway, is to call here this evening or tomorrow morning on her way north. Among her cargo will be the frames for three steamers to be built by the White Pass & Yukon railway for service on the upper Yukon. These frames were built at Victoria and will be assembled at White Horse.

  • 1901, rebuilt at Whitehorse by the British Yukon Navigation Company; photo in the Barley Collection shows workmen on May 25 1901, putting the finishing touches on the new steamers Dawson, Selkirk and White Horse. Licenced for 75 first-class passengers, plus 100 second-class.

  • operated on the upper river run.

  • 1902, houses extended on Dawson and Selkirk, "converting them from freight boats into first class passenger boats, at a cost of $5400 each ..." (COR722).

  • October 25, 1902, an Austrian passenger, Frank Kirbar, apparently jumped overboard and was drowned near Whitehorse. He had been having hallucinations about men trying to kill him (NWMP Annual Report).

  • 1903 crew: Master, J.O. Williams; pilot, Frank Murray; mate, W.B. Ordano; purser, J.A. Fairborn; chief engineer, J.R. Young; second engineer, W.H. Turnbull; steward, George Tribe (Star,June 6).

  • December 15, 1903, the WP&YR applied to the Customs office at Whitehorse for a refund of the $70.32 paid for the Dawson's annual Inspection Certificate; in late April, the fee had been eliminated (GOV 1678,f.11-1).

  • 1904 season crew: pilot, George Raabe.

  • 1904, hurricane deck extended, with 11 rooms added. Bracing was also added to strengthen the house and stiffen the hull. Cost of work was $5,349.12 (COR722).

  • 1906 crew: Master, William Turnbull; pilot, George Raabe; mate, J.C. Embree; second mate, Edward Gray; purser, J.A. Fairborn; chief engineer, J.R. Young; second engineer, W.H. Turnbull; steward, J.H. Close (Star, June 8).

  • 1907, monkey rudders added, "proving of considerable assistance in low water and when towing barges." (COR722).

  • 1909 season crew: Master, J.O. Williams; pilot, George Raabe; mate, Cromarty; chief engineer, J.R. Young; second engineer, Long; purser, McKay; steward, Dumbrell.

  • 1909, had new steam-heated tea, coffee and water urns installed, at $215 each, to handle the large spring and fall crowds, and to lessen the danger of fire (COR722).

  • 1909, had a room added forward of the Captain's room on the Texas. The Captain was moved into it, and his room made into 2, for the Second Engineer and Pilot; the Pilot's former room was made into passenger room C, and the Second Engineer's was turned over to the waiters, whose former room was then made into a large passenger room, number 2. Cost $137.82 (COR722).

  • September 2, 1909, hit a snag while landing at the mouth of O'Brien Slough, tearing off 6 wheel buckets and arms. Cost of repairs was $75.00 (COR722).

  • 1910, galley and messroom moved from the Texas deck to the freight deck, and the space used for 4 more staterooms, able to be used as 2 suites of 2 rooms each. Cost of the work was $794.85. The smoking lounge was also lengthened by 6 feet and widened by 3 feet, at a cost of $349.05 (COR722).

  • 1911 season crew: Master, J.O. Williams.

  • 1917 season crew: purser, B.F. Boyker.

  • 1917, due to liquor prohibition laws, the bars were removed and the space converted to staterooms on the Casca, Dawson, Selkirk and White Horse. The same boats also had false ceilings installed in the rooms on the Texas deck to make them cooler in the summer (COR722).

  • On October 25, 1918, 87 employees of the White Pass & Yukon Route died in the sinking of the Princess Sophia, including 14 crew members of the Dawson: Capt. C.J. Bloomquist, master; C.S. Chinery, purser; R. Hager, deckhand; C. Holmes, cook; J. King, deckhand; C.E. Kilway, deckhand; J.C. McNeil, fireman; Alex McLeod, second engineer; W.P. Smith, fireman; W.P. Smith, Jr., deckhand; R.H. Smith, deckhand; J. Shimada, deckhand; W.A. Vandecar, deckhand; J.R. Young, chief engineer.

  • 1919, steam steering gear replaced by a hydraulic system.

  • 1921, a bake shop and cold storage room were added (COR722)

  • 1926, licenced for 158 passengers (COR722).

  • October 13, 1926, at 09:55, hit the Upper Reef of Rink Rapids while in command of Captain Cowley, damaging her hull so badly that she was abandoned. Her hull was torn open from the boiler aft, and her back broken. At the time of the sinking, she was carrying 69 passengers, a small amount of freight, and approximately $100,000 of "gold dust and remittances". The passengers and "treasure" were taken overland to Whitehorse; one man was badly hurt when he fell off the truck he was riding on. Some equipment from the boat was salvaged (COR723). Photo of the wreck in Cohen,p.74. Eddie Boyce was working on the deck crew on that trip; he said that deck dunnage was laid down in the galley so that food service could continue while the crew slashed a road about a mile to connect with the road; cars were driven right to the boat, using the barge as a bridge (in Knutson).

  • October 22, 1926, many of the passengers who had been on the Dawson published a notice of appreciation to Captain Cowley and his crew for their help and consideration; several prominent Yukoners are on the list (Star,Oct.22).

Yukon River sternwheeler Dawson

Yukon River sternwheeler Dawson