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The Destruction of the Sternwheeler F. H. Kilbourne:

Gov't-Funded Vandalism

Dateline: June 27, 1999

      Last August the newspapers in the Yukon reported the looting of an archaeological site, and outrage over the theft was widespread. I wrote an article about the problem of such theft throughout the circumpolar North, and the email response to The Theft of Our Heritage indicated that many of you take this issue very seriously. Today I'd like to share with you a similar situation that I am extremely upset about, and ask for your input.

      Two years ago I identified the wreckage of one of the earliest steamboats on the Yukon River system, along the shore of the Nares River in downtown Carcross, and reported it to at least 3 officials from the Yukon Heritage Branch. From my article on the F. H. Kilbourne:

When she is visible, it may look like so much junk, and nobody looks twice. But stop a minute - the 108-inch wide sternwheel is still there! While mostly buried in the mud, the part that's visible is still in reasonably good condition, so why hasn't it been recovered and preserved? Priorities are elsewhere - as in her lifetime, the F. H. Kilbourne just isn't exciting.
I found that nobody was interested, and was told by one person at Heritage that there was no money to do anything. I assumed that also meant that they had no money to hire a crew to destroy the wreckage. How naive of me!

      I regularly make a detour to check on the wreckage, and yesterday afternoon found the entire area "cleaned up" - nothing was left. I found a member of the crew who had done the "clean up", and he informed me that it had all been taken to the garbage dump. I went down to see what I could save, since the complete sternwheel was probably salvageable. I found the F. H. Kilbourne in one big pile, but not only had the crew taken her to the dump, they had taken a metal saw and cut everything into tiny pieces - even the case-hardened sternwheel shaft!!! What possible justification was there for doing that? Two men could probably carry the 108-inch wide sternwheel, and 300 feet away are at least 2 government buildings where it could have been put.

      Many times over the past couple of years I've thought about salvaging what I could of that little towboat - the sternwheel would look great on the terrace in front of my cabin. Under the Yukon Historic Resources Act, conviction for such salvaging carries a maximum sentence of either a $50,000 fine, or 6 months in prison. Who will now face charges for the the wilful destruction of the last remains of what was an important artifact to anybody who is even slightly interested in Yukon/Alaska transportation history?

      This is not an isolated incident, not just something that slipped through the cracks. When the burned remains of the sternwheeler Tutshi was "cleaned up", everything was taken to the dump as well - of particular significance, all the auxiliary equipment that could mean something to marine historians. Is the fact that the Tutshi has now been turned into a picnic table an indication of what happens when the Heritage Branch is a division of Tourism instead of the Education Department?

      A few miles from the Tutshi and F. H. Kilbourne, the 4½-mile-long Riblet aerial tramway on Montana Mountain, built in 1905 to access a series of silver mines, has been nominated as a National Historic Engineering Landmark as the best example of its type left in the world. When I asked for support from the Heritage Branch I was told that it was a waste of time, that Parks Canada has no money and the most attention it would get is a brass plaque. A brass plaque from Parks Canada would have saved the F. H. Kilbourne from the people who are supposed to be protecting our historic resources.

      I'm trying hard to not let this report turn into a rant. What can we do about situations like this? Is this sort of thing happening in other jurisdictions, or is this a Yukon problem? Your comments, suggestions or rebuttals are more than welcome, either by email or on the Bulletin Board (Board now gone). Officials from the Heritage Branch are particularly encouraged to respond on the public forum, since all Yukon newspapers will be receiving "Letters to the Editor"s about this issue in the next couple of days.

July 7, 1999 - the National Post has printed and posted an article on the destruction of the F.H. Kilbourne (link now dead).