Arctic & Northern History
The Yukon River ferry George Black
An Explorer's Guide to Dawson City, Yukon
In the 1930s, Arthur Elton "Art" Anderson (1912-1996) found a large deposit of natural asbestos about 30 miles northwest of Dawson City, on Porcupine Hill in the Clinton Creek valley where he and his father were farming. There was no market for asbestos then, but by 1957 there was, and Dawson merchant Fred Caley grubstaked Art to re-locate that deposit.
Art and his trapper friend George Walters were successful in finding the asbestos, and Conwest Exploration, which owned the Cassiar Asbestos Corporation in northern British Columbia, took an interest. They soon bought the claims, and in 1965 decided to take the deposit into production.
By 1967, a completely self-sufficient town, Clinton Creek, had been built, and a 7-storey mill, the Yukon's tallest building, was officially opened. On Wednesday, November 1, 1967, the first shipment of asbestos left the mine.
The Yukon River made transportation to and from Clinton Creek problematic for a few weeks each year. Ferries made the crossing in the summer and once the river froze thick enough, vehicles could cross the river on the ice - an "ice bridge." In the spring and fall, though, when there was too much ice in the river for ferries but not enough to drive on, there was no way across (that is still the case today). To solve that problem, a 1,460-foot-long skyline was built, carrying freight and asbestos across the river on a cable. When that first shipment of asbestos left the mine in November 1967, the skyline was in operation. While the Clinton Creek mine paid the cost of building the skyline, the Yukon Territorial Government (YTG) seems to have paid the costs of operating and maintaining it.
What follows is a compilation of newspaper articles that are related to the skyline, from The Whitehorse Star unless otherwise credited.
March 17, 1967: Cassiar Asbestos applies for land on both sides of the Yukon River at Dawson to build the skyline (see legal notice to the right).
September 28, 1967: The Skyline is being made ready for use at freeze-up when it will be needed to transport freight across the river. Some of the freight trucks are now using the new West Dawson scenic grade road, although Western Construction crews are still working on sections of it.
November 30, 1967: Ben Kingwell was reported in satisfactory condition in hospital in Whitehorse today following injuries suffered in an accident at Dawson City Monday afternoon. Mr. Kingwell, 46, an employee of the Territorial Government, was doing minor repair work in the control shed of the skyline which stretches across the Yukon River when the cable snapped or the pulley released and came whipping through the wall of the shed, striking him. He suffered a broken leg and was flown to Whitehorse General Hospital.
April 29, 1968: The ice bridge has gone out in the Yukon at Dawson City and shipments of Cassiar Asbestos products are being carried across the river via the aerial Skyway tramline. Territorial Engineer Ken Baker said this afternoon that permission had been received from Ottawa today to operate the Skyline ten hours per day for six days a week, to accommodate the Clinton Creek mine. Previously it had been planned to operate eight hours daily seven days a week. Ferry service is expected to start approximately the third week of May.
May 6, 1968: Black spots and patches of open water on the ice indicate that break-up is not too far away. The ice bridge has been closed to traffic, but on Saturday evening several light pickups and cars crossed at their own risk. The Skyline is now operating from 8.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. The increased operating hours were approved by the Federal Government in order to handle the transporting of asbestos from the Clinton mine to the waiting trucks on this side of the river. Regular hours, with unforeseen delays in loading and transferring, would prove very costly to Cassiar Asbestos. It's very evident to all that a bridge across the Yukon at Dawson is an absolute necessity.
October 31, 1968: The "George Black" ferry has been pulled out and put up on skids, and traffic across the Yukon is being handled by the old ferry "Campbell". The skyline is in operation, carrying asbestos for the waiting Clinton Mines trucks on this side.
November 18, 1968: The ice in the Yukon at Dawson stopped on November 8th. Later during the day the water rose rapidly due to an ice jam below the town. The ice is rough and choppy looking and there is a wide space of open water at the ferry crossing. Some of the more adventurous people have been walking across on the ice near the Bank of Commerce to the old original West Dawson ferry landing. Meanwhile, the building of the ice bridge is not possible, and the skyline is handling approximately 280 tons of fibre a day from the mine, as well as freight going in to Clinton. Where is that bridge across the Yukon?
November 21, 1968: The skyline is back in operation after a cable problem shut it down three times over the period of a week. See the article to the right.
December 5, 1968: The ice bridge is still being used by light traffic only, and the skyline is still handling the asbestos from Clinton - a cold job at 40 below.
December 9, 1968: The Sky-Line acros the river has finished for another season.
April 17, 1969: The ice on the river is beginning to show patches of black, and a few days ago there was water on top of the ice below the ice bridge. The skyline has been in operation, but Cassiar trucks are still crossing on the ice bridge, although there is quite a bit of water on top at the approaches. The condition of the ice is approximately two weeks ahead of a normal spring break-up, but freezing at nights may help hold it back.
April 24, 1969: The ice bridge was closed to heavy traffic on April 18th and the skyline went into operation. Cars and light vehicles continue to cross on the ice.
May 1, 1969: There is a daily convoy of Cassiar Asbestos and White Pass trucks on the road between here and Whitehorse. Approximately 18 to 20 trucks daily, each with 18 tons of asbestos fibre are being loaded at the Skyline. The supply of fibre from the Clinton Mine is being hauled from the mine by five trucks to the West Dawson loading ramp, and this is transferred across the river on the skyline to the waiting trucks on this side. A Territorial Government crew is working on the George Black Ferry, getting it ready for operation as soon as the ice is gone.
May 22, 1969: The Skyline was operating intermittently last weekend, but finally came to a complete standstill on Tuesday with 16 or 17 trucks waiting to be loaded with fibre. Territorial Government crews iaunched the old "Campbell" Ferry late Tuesday and it provided a temporary service until the George Black was ready and put in the water on Saturday. The water level in both Klondike and Yukon Rivers is extremely low for this time of year.
June 12, 1969: Larry Trudeau of British Wire Rope Industries of Vancouver is in Dawson in connection with repairs to the skyline. He was accompanied by Robert MacLennan, who drew the original plans for the skyline. This was his first view of the finished product.
September 22, 1969: The Dawson Indian Band is looking at starting a Friendship Centre, and is interested in the Ladue Sawmills warehouse. Clinton Creek Asbestos has a lease on the land but isn't using the building. "The General Superintendent, Mr. Murdoch, at Clinton Creek, was approached, and he agreed that the Band Council could have full use of the building, providing that they signed an agreement that should Clinton want the land (they were using it only for securing one of the guy-wires for the Sky-Line across the river), the building would have to be moved."
October 16, 1969: A Territorial Government crew and men from Elvins Equipment, Whitehorse, are working on the preparing of the skyline for freeze-up season. The ferry is using a temporary landing at the foot of the old hospital hill, in order not to interfere with the work on the cables for the skyline.
October 16, 1969: Jean Cook has taken up residence in Porter Creek, and Fred will remain in Dawson until the Skyline operation shuts down for this season.
October 30, 1969: There has been slush ice in the Yukon all week, but with the temperatures registering zero for the past two days, the ice is now running bank to bank. The "George Black" ferry has been hauled up on the bank and beached for the winter, with the old small ferry "Campbell" still in the water. With a small boat Dick Stevenson has been taking passengers across. Asbestos fibre from the Clinton Mine is being handled by the Skyline.
November 13, 1969: The road from Clinton to the Alaskan border has been plowed and is open for the hauling of asbestos fibre from Clinton to Alaska. The skyline transferred one of R. D. Gillespie's graders across the Yukon today, to be used
in keeping open the road.
November 13, 1969: The run of ice in the Yukon has stopped but a wide expanse of open water has been left. From the mouth of the Klondike it extends well beyond the usual location of the ice bridge near the summer ferry crossing. It is unlikely that the river will freeze over now, and the skyline will probably have to remain in operation.
The road from the Clinton mine to the Alaska border has been opened and the asbestos fibre from the mine is being hauled via that route. Six or more trucks are also being loaded at Dawson daily with the fibre brought across by the Skyline.
November 27, 1969: A footpath on the ice across the Yukon has been staked out, and marked with red flagging. The crossing is located up river from town near the mouth of the Klondike, due to the long expanse of open water where the customary crossing is usually made. Heavy fog rising from the river interfered with the operation of the skyline for several days when the thermometer was registering -40 below.
December 11, 1969: Territorial Government crews have succeeded in making an ice bridge. It is for light traffic only and the first vehicles crossed on Friday. The skyline continues to fransport the asbestos for seven trucks hauling between
Dawson and Whitehorse, but due to slippery and icy road conditions these past two weeks, the trucks have been kept off the road several times.
December 18, 1969: The ice bridge continues to be a problem, and has had to be closed down to all traffic due to the heavy overflow. Meanwhile the Skyline continues to operate, and has its own display of Christmas lighting. Drivers of the Cassiar trucks hauling asbestos between Dawson and Whitehorse are housed and have meals at the Gold Nugget Motel, owned and operated by Steve Prohazka.
December 22, 1969:
A photo of one of the trucks in the ice was posted in the Yukon History & Abandoned Places group by Linda Christiansen in 2018.
January 11, 1970: Following a short shut-down period over the holidays the Skyline has again resumed operation on an increased hour performance, which will continue for the rest of the winter - until spring break-up. Dick Gillespie is in charge of the salvaging operations of the trucks which went through the ice. One truck is out, but the other is still frozen deep into the ice.
January 22, 1970: The Cassiar truck which went through the shore ice on December 21st has now been freed. It was raised, and remains suspended by A-frames, until such time as the ice freezes back and is strong enough to support the
load and then it will be moved. Although there were many predictions that it would remain open all winter, the river did freeze over last week. The smooth sheet of ice began near the skyline crossing, and has now extended to the Bank of Commerce. With ice approximately 1 inch in thickness, an attempt is being made to build an ice bridge at the regular crossing near the ferry landing.
February 16, 1970: At long last the skyline operation was shut down on the weekend and the ice bridge across the Yukon is open to all traffic. Cassiar Transport trucks are hauling fibre from the Clinton mine, with loads up to 45 tons gross weight on the ice. There was considerable speculation re the unusual condition of the river this winter and many predicted that the skyline might have to operate all winter. Fred Cook has been in charge of the loading of the asbestos fibre for Cassiar Asbestos during the long session of skyline operation. He left on Sunday to join Jean and family at Porter Creek where they are presently residing. The road from the Clinton road to the Alaska border is still being kept open on a day-to-day basis by R.D. Gillespie and crew.
April 23, 1970: The ice bridge was officially closed for heavy traffic on April 17th and the skyline is back in operation. Light vehicles are still able to cross.
May 25, 1970: There were several heavy tuns of ice in the river last week, but the water level appears to have returned to normal once more. The ferry has not been put in yet, and cars arriving from Alaska have been brought across on the Skyline, and the passengers transported by small boat. These people were U.S. Army personnel en route back to their homes in the U.S., and anxious to visit Dawson before
leaving the north.
May 28, 1970: The George Black Ferry was launched and in full operation on May 21st, with the old ferry Campbell as a standby. Cassiar Asbestos trucks are again being handled by the ferry service and the skyline has ceased its operation for this break-up season.
June 29, 1970: The public campground in West Dawson has been abandoned by the Forestry due to the operation of the skyline, but a few tourists, especially from the Alaska route, find it convenient to camp there.
November 23, 1970: At last the Yukon has frozen over completely with a very rugged and uneven appearance, and a few adventuresome men have already crossed on foot. The Skyline is still operating and steady convoys of ore trucks are transporting asbestos to Whitehorse. The building of the ice bridge was scheduled to start Friday.
December 3, 1970: Light traffic has been crossing on the ice bridge for the past week, but it has yet to be declared safe for heavy traffic. Two shifts on the skyline have been handling the asbestos fibre from the Clinton mine to the waiting trucks on this side.
December 14, 1970: The ice bridge has been completed and is safe for heavier traffic, and the skyline has ceased operation for this season.
April 29, 1971: The ice bridge over the Yukon is officially closed and the Skyline is now in operation.
October 21, 1971: The skyline is up and ready to be put into operation as soon as the need arises. With the Yukon River filling with slush ice, it is only a matter of time before the ferry will be pulled out and drydocked for the winter.
October 28, 1971: Skyline breaks - see article to the right.
November 4, 1971: With the breaking of a cable, the skyline across the Yukon River ceased to operate on October 28, causing a temporary delay in the transportation of asbestos ore from Clinton Creek to Whitehorse. Realizing the high cost of such delay, Mr. Trudeau, a cable expert from Vancouver, and Brad Cyr of the territorial
government, arrived by air on Friday. By noon Saturday the skyline was in operation again,
a tribute to the fast action of the territorial government.
November 15, 1971: Mail and freight services to and from Clinton Creek have been very erratic since the ferry at Dawson was withdrawn for the winter. Problems have been encountered in the skyline operation leading to delays in the passage of both inward and outward goods and services. The frustrations developed in the individual at Clinton Creek lend further weight to the argument in support of a permanent bridge across the Yukon at Dawson City.
December 9, 1971:
Saturday, November 20 was a great day in the annals of Clinton Creek. To record the happening a Rock Fluff reporter was dispatched to the banks of the Yukon River to witness... "The Grand Annual Opening of the Bridge at Awesome City".
At an expenditure that the territory can ill afford and after weeks of preparation, herculean effort, and wet feet the ice bridge over the Yukon River at Awesome City was declared fit for use.
The traditional celebratory events immediately prior to the opening were, as usual, in two parts; one for the Clinton Creek side of the river and the other on the Awesome City side of the river.
Your reporter had the plea sure and privilege of attending the Clinton Creek section of the performance. Basically this revolved round the circulation of a bottle of OP amongst the drivers of the waiting vehicles.
The Awesome City version of the stunt was an impromptu picnic at the skyline terminal; the planned coffee morning had to be cancelled owing to the closure of the last catering establishment in that city. Several low-flying dignitaries and some representatives of the hoi-poloi made short speeches on the theme of permanent bridges whilst awaiting the official opening. No govemmental delegates were assigned to this year's do, and a statement concerning diplomatic immunity is expected in the next week or
The moment of opening at last arrived. The Awesome City Brass Band struck up "Symphony for Egg and Spoons" theme music from Hatch 22, the last movie to be shown at the now defunct Awefeum Theatre. (No customers from the other side of the river
hasbeen cited as one of the causes responsible for the demise of that enterprise.
A gentle breeze wafted the keening clamour of non-ferrous noise across the ice-bound river, and an eagle-eyed watcher spotted Miss Gold Nugget 1953 frantically waving her hanky to start the first wagon rolling.
Tricky Dick was elected to go first. Attired in a costume befitting the occasion and sporting an attractively-hued life jacket he sprang into his pickup.
Drawing a deep breath and stirring the box, he found a small cog. Then with the engine revving until it squeaked in agony he let the clutch in with a plop. A maelstrom of mud, gravel, ice, chips, tyre tread, gum wrappers and smoke enveloped the scene.
By the time the haze subsided our hero was seen screaming over the ice bridge with the front wheels of the truck one foot, 11 3/8ths clear of the ground and both doors flapping in the wind. Our correspondent who had the honour of travelling with Tricky Dick on this epic transit describes it as the journey of a lifetime.
Following the safe arrival of the heroic duo, a motorcade then drove over the now allegedly safe bridge amid scenes of wild rejoicing. Long parted friends greeted each other with the odd tear frozen on the cheek. The local pub did the best days business since the ferry boat went on welfare for the winter and the principal department store recognised the importance of the day by offering a special in potatoes.
It is reported from the Capital of the Territory that certain civic leaders take a dim view of these festivities in which Whitehorse does not get to participate.
In order to squelch the absenteeism and loss of production attendent upon such functions which is so detrimental to the local, territorial and national economics they are marshalling all the influence and pressure they can to have a permanent all year round bridge built over the river at Awesome City. YOU BETCHA!
The skyline story (so far) ends here - it wasn't mentioned again in The Whitehorse Star. A comment in the Yukon History & Abandoned Places group says that the skyline towers are now in Porter Creek.