Northern Ships and Shipping
Top of the World Highway
An Explorer's Guide to Dawson City, Yukon
The steel ferry George Black has been transporting people and vehicles across the Yukon River at Dawson since 1967. Built by Allied Shipbuilders of Vancouver, she was cut into sections and shipped to Whitehorse. The 10 sections arrived on White Pass & Yukon Route flatcars in late April 1967, and 5 weeks later she was launched at Whitehorse.
The ferry left Whitehorse for Dawson on Thursday, June 8th, in command of veteran Yukon River pilot Frank Slim and assisted by Archie Van Bibber, but they grounded on sandbars at least twice. The first time was near the Marwell area just downstream from Whitehorse, where they were able to get assistance from Department of Public Works crews with winches and cables, and then 9 miles before reaching Dawson - the old ferry McQuesten helped them get off that one. They arrived at Dawson on Wednesday, June 14th.
The George Black initially supplemented the service of the old ferries McQuesten and later Campbell.
The George Black can carry substantial loads - vehicles up to 25 meters (83 feet) long and/or 5 meters (17 feet) wide, with weights of up to 65,000 kilograms (143,000 pounds). The ferry is free to use, and operates 24/7 except for a 2-hour closure for maintenance Wednesday mornings from 05:00-07:00.
When the ice floating down the river gets too thick to operate safely in the fall, the ferry is slid up wooden ways onto the top of the dyke, where she sits until Spring. The date service ends has occurred from October 10 to November 11 since 1967. In the spring, service has begun between May 10 and May 26. When the ferry isn't operating, the Top of the World Highway closes and snow isn't plowed past the road to West Dawson. When the ice on the river gets thick enough, an ice road is created to access West Dawson. When the Clinton Creek asbestos mine was operating, Cassiar Asbestos built a "skyline" to carry vehicles and freight across the river during the breakup and freeze-up periods when neither ferry nor ice road was available.
Some Highlights From the News
November 10, 1966: The Hon. George Black, former Commissioner of the Yukon, Speaker of the House of Commons, member of the Privy Council and Queen's Counsel, who died in Vancouver August 22, 1965, will be remembered by thousands of tourists travelling across the Yukon River on the new motor vessel now under construction. The 40-passenger ferry is to be named for "Captain Black" who led a Yukon Company overseas in the First World War. Built by Allied Shipbuilders of Vancouver at an estimated cost of $215,950, the 80-ton steel hulled ferry will operate from Dawson City, on the east bank of the river, to the start of the Dawson-Boundary road on the west bank of the Yukon next summer. George Black represented the Yukon as Member of Parliament from 1921 to 1945; five years of that time, Martha Louise Black ran in his stead and held the seat for her husband. The young New Brunswick lawyer came north with the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898 and was one of the most colourful characters in the Yukon for many years. (The Whitehorse Star)
June 5, 1967: The ferry "George Black", slated for service on the Yukon River at Dawson, was launched Saturday [June 3rd] after being put together on the banks of the river at Whitehorse. Allied Builders of Vancouver, who built the ferry there, cut it into nine sections, and shipped them and the deck house up the coast and from Skagway to Whitehorse by White Pass & Yukon Route. The re-assembling job was done by a crew of eight under the direction of foreman Bill Arthur of Vancouver. The ferry has a hull 83 feet long and carries a capacity of 80 tons. It is expected that Frank Slim, who holds a Master's Certificate of Inland Waters, will pilot the vessel on its journey after preliminary trials. Mr. Slim guided the S.S. "Keno" from Whitehorse to Dawson in 1960, and is an old-time river man in the Yukon. (The Whitehorse Star)
October 12, 1967: The Alaska-Boundary road is scheduled for closing on the 10th and will be followed by the pulling of the George Black Ferry. Skid ways are under construction in preparation for the beaching of the Ferry.
April 15, 1968: The Engineering Department of the Territorial Government has brought the ferry "McQuesten" by truck from Dawson to Whitehorse to undergo modification before being put into service in a new location.
It will be transported later to the village of Ross River to see duty on the Pelly River, starting May 1st.
Left at Dawson for use on the Yukon River during the summer are the ferries "George Black" and "Campbell". The "Campbell" used as standby is to be modified and used for freighting supplies for placer miners in the area.
October 17, 1968: Last Tuesday the ferry "George Black" got stuck in a sand bar in the middle of the Yukon and it took neatly all day to get it out. It had one of the Cassiar trucks on it, but in the end the McQuesten, the small ferry, tugged it out!
October 17, 1968: At Dawson City the new Yukon River ferry, the George Black, carried 27,289 vehicles and 65,682 passengers between May 19 and October 21. Busiest period reported was between July 16-31, with 3,932 vehicles making the river crossing.
April 26, 1976: Beside the skyline the crews are readying the ferry GEORGE BLACK for launching and were welding the bottom where apparently a rock in the river had bashed a hole. Ran into BOB JACOBS later and he'd been there diving and placing explosives on the rock. Got it too.
Photos of the Yukon River ferry George Black
The photos below are posted in chronological order. Unless otherwise credited, they were shot by Murray Lundberg.
October 18, 2002
November 15, 2002
November 15, 2002
November 5, 2004
November 5, 2004
July 6, 2007
Lineups are often a problem as RVs try leave Dawson each morning - July 6, 2007.
Locals and tourists - August 4, 2007
"I Survived the George Black Ferry bumper sticker - August 4, 2007.
Rebuilding the landing area as the water level climbs - July 11, 2008.
The west side landing, the Yukon River Campground, and the Top of the World Highway - July 12, 2012.
July 12, 2012
The George Black can carry substantial loads - vehicles up to 83 feet long or 17 feet wide - July 12, 2012.
February 11, 2015
September 22, 2016
Many fuel tankers use the highway and ferry to bring fuel in from Alaska, and they're brought across with no other vehicles on board. September 23, 2016
August 3, 2017