1929 Yukon Nuggets
Many years ago, on a journey down the Yukon River in the company of Cam Cameron and Charlie Taylor, I heard first-hand many of the stories lived by these two unforgettable Yukoners. Both are gone now, but their memories live on.
It was hard to find a Yukoner like Charlie Taylor. The Yukon was his life. It ran in his blood like the Yukon rivers he knew so well. Born in Whitehorse, he was one of three sons of Isaac Taylor, the merchant who came to the Yukon in 1898. One day, on the trip down the Yukon river in 1980, Charlie, Cam and I sat in Cam's 18-foot, flat-bottomed home-built river boat. We were in the middle of Lake Laberge. On that sunny, calm afternoon, Charlie Taylor told me the story of the Taylor and Drury riverboat, the Thistle.
She was the third riverboat freighter owned by these pioneering merchandisers. The first was a little gas-powered vessel called the Christine. The second, called the SS Kluane, was built by T and D's, in the shipywards in Whitehorse, in 1905. The Thistle was built by the White Pass company in Whitehorse and purchased by T and Ds when they expanded their operations to many river communities in 1919. She was the perfect little riverboat. She could navigate the Yukon River, and all the sidestreams, carrying goods to the company's stores throughout the territory. She delivered George Johnson's brand-new Chevrolet from Whitehorse to Teslin in 1928. By pushing a barge in front, the Thistle could carry 90 tons to waiting customers throughout the Yukon.
As we sat, almost motionless in the middle of Lake Laberge, back in 1980, Charlie told me about the Thistle's last day on the job. One day in the summer of 1929, as she was pushing a fully loaded barge on the way to Mayo, a big storm blew up on Lake Laberge. The post that held the barge chain broke. Instead of circling around, the pilot was trying to refasten the barge to the boat. As he backed up, water rushed in through the Pitman arms, flooding the Thistle and snapping her in half. The entire crew jumped on the barge just as the riverboat went down.
Charlie told me that he had to call his father and tell him the news...the Thistle was lost. On hearing this, Isaac Taylor asked Charlie if any of the crew had been lost. When Charlie said no - all hands were safe - his father, a teatotaler, said, "Good, let's get drunk".
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.