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Yukon River Sternwheeler Thistle

by Murray Lundberg

Roster of Yukon/Alaska Sternwheelers

Northern Ships and Shipping

Please note that, at present, this is merely an accumulation of data, part of a database of material on all Yukon-Alaska steamboats compiled by Murray Lundberg. Additions, corrections or comments are always welcome - just drop Murray a note.
  • C.S.Reg. #107867, registered at Dawson.

  • wooden sternwheeler; 102.0 feet long, with 19.8 foot beam and 3.9 foot hold. Gross tonnage 224.75, registered as 152.83 tons. One deck, carvel build, straight head and square stern, with no bulkheads.

  • 1902, built entirely of B.C. fir at Lower Laberge (sometimes reported as Dawson) by D. McPhee, who improved on a design by Captain Smythe; sister ship of the La France (6 feet longer than the La France). The registered owner was John A.Fraser.

  • launched July 20 (21?) 1902; empty, she draws only 6 inches forward and 8 inches aft; with full boilers, she draws 11 inches. The machinery was tested for 1 hour, with the steamer's nose against the riverbank (Yukon Sun,July 20).

  • The freight room, between the forward boilers and the engines, was designed to hold 40 tons; although intended mainly as a passenger boat, she will be used for fast freight. The galley and pantry are also on the lower deck. Licenced to carry 40 passengers in first class, 90 in second class; she carried 2 boats able to carry 24 people. "Upstairs the boat presents the sight on a small scale of one of the magnificent Mississippi River packets. Forward is the smoking room. Twenty staterooms are on the boiler deck, all of which are much larger than the usual ocean steamer rooms. In fact, they are larger than the bridal chambers on some of the boats. Each room has velvet Brussels carpet on the floor, and hot and cold water connections. A bathroom for the benefit of passengers is a feature... In the main saloon a Kimballl upright piano will be installed. The carpet for the saloon would be worthy the house of a millionaire." A 4-foot high King coffee urn will be installed, and passengers of all classes will be able to get a coffee and sandwich any time they want one (Yukon Sun, July 20, 1902).

  • the engine room was 18.1 feet long, housing 2 horizontal engines built in 1898 by United Engineering Works of San Francisco. The cylinders are 12 inch diameter, 48 inch stroke, developing 6.6 NHP. The 2 steel, brickyard-type boilers were built in 1898 by Albion Iron Works of Victoria, and at 150 pounds pressure, develop 80 horsepower. The wheel is 16 feet in diameter, large for a boat this size. Taylor & Drury claimed that she was the fastest boat on the river.

  • 1902 crew: Master, Captain W. C. Marsh; Pilot, Captain Henry Bailey; Chief Engineer, J. H. White; Steward, Frank Hall; Chef, Jack Farnham. Manager Calderhead says that the cuisine will be one of the boat's features.

  • October 4, 1902, transferred to R. W. Calderhead of Dawson.

  • November 3, 1902, with the Wilbur Crimmon, the last boats of the season into Whitehorse from Dawson (1902 NWMP Annual Report).

  • August 3, 1903, transferred to John Tilmour Hay of Dawson.

  • September 11, 1903, Thistle, La France and Clifford Sifton purchased 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. Thistle put into BYN service September 21 (COR722).

  • October 1903, hauled out at Hootalinqua on "small longitudinal ways" owned by the Dominion Steamboat Lines Company; BYN later purchased the ways from Dominion for $500 (COR722).

  • May 13, 1904, left for Dawson with 2 cattle scows, picked up 3 more at Yukon Crossing; total cargo was 500 sheep and 200 cattle (COR722). When she arrived at Dawson on the 18th, the count given was 201 steers, 418 sheep and 4 horses. She was in command of Captain Gardner; although it was intended to put her on the Dawson-Eagle run, it was decided to haul the Thistle out on the ways, and put the faster, heavier-capacity Zealandian on the run (DDN,May 19).

  • operated in 1905 and 1906 (COR722).

  • 1910, not launched (COR722).

  • 1915, overhauled to work on the flats at the head of Lake Laberge during low water (COR722).

  • 1917, operated the sand pump on the Government Dredging Barge, which was built over the winter to create a new channel through the Laberge sand flats (COR722).

  • 1918, operated "for short time to help the pilots stake a channel thru the Laberge sand flats." (COR722).

  • 1919, bought by Taylor & Drury Company to service their trading posts. She replaced the smaller Kluahne; both boats were operated by Captain Jackson and Pilot Frank Slim.

  • July 26, 1926, 20-year-old deckhand Frank Wise Mutch drowned in the Stewart River. At around 7.00pm Frank was on the starboard side and was ordered to tighten the towing cable on the barge by using a 4 ft. bar. The bar slipped out of his hand and hit him on the head. Several of the employees saw him collapse and then fall into the water. Some employees sprang into the water at once to attempt to seize him before it was too late but failed. Frank's body was found on August 12th and buried in the Mayo Cemetery.

  • late October 1926, returned from "a strenuous trip" to Taylor & Drury's Teslin Lake post; "never before was the water recorded as being so low at this season of the year" (Star, Oct. 22).

  • 1929, a hole was cut in the side of the deckhouse to stow a new Chevrolet which had been sold to George Johnson, and had to be delivered to Teslin. "The car was a little too high to get under the steam pipes, and we had to let some air out of the tires to get it stowed aboard" (Charlie Taylor, in Iris Warner, Alaska Journal, Spring 1975). Johnson painted the car white, and used it to hunt wolves on the frozen lake, and took people for rides at $2 each.

  • August 30 1929, broke in half and sank off the northeastern end of Richthofen Island in Lake Laberge during a storm, when a barge towing cable snapped and swung her sideways. No lives were lost. Easton feels that the remains may yet be found intact, with its extensive cargo (much of the cargo was saved when it floated to the surface). The Thistle was replaced by the Yukon Rose.

Yukon River sternwheeler 'Thistle'


Ref: "YA" is the Yukon Archives; COR722 and COR723 are White Pass & Yukon Route corporate record files held there and the GOV are government records.
      "Star" is the Whitehorse Star newspaper.
      "DDN" is the Dawson Daily News newspaper.