1897 Yukon Nuggets
As he loaded up his flat-bottomed riverboat on the shores of Lake Laberge, GI Cameron belied his 80 years. He looked like a young whippersnapper getting ready for his first trip down to Dawson. In fact, Cam had made this river trip so many times he could do it with his green bandana covering his eyes. His travelling companion was an equally experienced river traveller, Charlie Taylor, whose company Taylor and Drury, had operated riverboats to deliver goods to their many stores on the rivers of the Yukon.
Cam lived at Fort Selkirk in the 30s and 40s when the river town was a bustling place. Times were interesting for the young RCMP constable. As we motored downriver his comfortable flat-bottomed boat, Cam told a lot of fascinating tales, such as the days when the riverboats would have to reverse the paddle to stop in mid-stream so they could allow thousands of caribou to swim across the river in front of them. Cam described how an RCMP constable of that day had many other related duties...such as that of dentist, pulling absessed teeth with rusty old pliers...or that of doctor...dreaming up concoctions for all manner of ailments...or that of undertaker, giving the last rites and officiating at burial services.
Cam talked about that year in 1936, when the SS Klondike lost steering power near Eagle Rock bluff. The boat was carrying passengers and lots of freight to Dawson. When the steering was lost, the boat hit the bank on one side of the river and a few passengers jumped off. It careened into the centre of the river and headed backwards for the other side, smashing the paddlewheel in the process. More passengers jumped off and freight was washed overbord.
The boat continued its uncontrolled trip for three miles down river before coming to rest on a sandbar. Cam said when he arrived on the scene, passengers were lining both banks of the riverbank for three miles, while goods which would float bobbed up and down in the water.
He told me that for years he found sacks of flour along the riverbank, hard as concrete but very useable when chipped off and mixed with water. The Klondike was abandoned on that sand bar where you can still see parts of it lying there to this day.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.