The Riverboat Cafe and The Captain's Locker restaurant
Whitehorse, Yukon, 1958-1979
An Explorer's Guide to Whitehorse, Yukon
Of the hundreds of boats which worked the Yukon River system, the Neecheah has had one of the most interesting careers on land. In March 1958, after being on the ways at Whitehorse since about 1928 except for 3 years during the war, she was sold to Ted Ter Voert, who planned to turn her into a coffee shop at Mile 900 of the Alaska Highway, 18 miles south of Whitehorse. The Riverboat Cafe opened in October 1958.
The Riverboat Cafe was not very successful, and in the late 1960s, the boat/cafe was moved to Mile 913, which soon became known as Paddlewheel Village. There it became The Captain's Locker restaurant, which developed an excellent reputation for providing a great dining experience. The Captain's Locker opened on August 23, 1972, and operated until at least late June 1979.
In 1990, the Neecheah was moved to the Yukon Transportation Museum, and in 1997 she was donated to them by Murray Hampton.
Below is a detailed history of the Riverboat Cafe and The Captain's Locker, compiled primarily from the pages of The Whitehorse Star.
The Whitehorse Star - Thursday, March 13, 1958
Famous as the only river boat with a horse on the crew, the motorship "Neecheah" was sold this month to Ted Tervoert, who plans to turn the boat into a coffee shop at Mile 900. Measuring 78 1/2 by 17 feet, the ship is registered at 63 tons.
Built in 1920 in White Pass shipyards, the vessel was originally named the "Kestrel" and operated under American registry until 1923. That year she was transferred to British registry and renamed the "Neecheah." Her pilot in those days was Captain Morrison.
With Captain Hoggan, the ship's purser in 1923 was Geoff Bidlake, now Yukon Game Director. Territortal Councillor Bill Hayes was another member of the crew.
The star performer on the small ship was crewman "Prince", a retired police horse, who was so big he continually bumped his head on doorways. His job was to carry a tow-line to shore when the current was too strong for the boat to make headway. The line was tied to a tree and then crewmen winched the boat along.
Recalling those days, Geoff Bidlake said recently, "Needless to say we got kidded up and down the river about the horse." Crewman "Prince" had a proper stall on board the ship, which according to Mr. Bidlake, "included all the necessary facilities."
When told the "Neecheah" was to be refurbished as a coffee shop, former purser Bidlake commented, "She worked hard during ber active life, I'm glad she's got a good berth."
The riverboat coffee shop is expected to be a welcome addition for both highway travellers and local residents alike.
- October 16, 1958, the first ad for the Riverboat Cafe appeared in The Whitehorse Star:
The Whitehorse Star - Thursday, February 26, 1959
With the hint of spring in the air and the old family auto acting less like a tank with treads missing, more and more people will be firing up the old buggy and taking off on Sunday drives or heading out midweek just for a little change. A nice stopping place for the casual family tour or "let's go out for dinner" jaunt is the Riverboat Cafe not far south on the highway.
Laboriously rebuilt by Ted and Ann Tevoert the Riverboat is the former White Pass Steamer, the Neechea, The land locked ship should soon become a highlight on the Alaska Highway, a popular stop with travellers and local people alike. Still retaining its former lines outside, inside it has been completely remodelled. The restaurant remains plainly a ship's cabin but it has been made warm and intimate with mahogany walls and soft lighting.
The many small rooms and cubicles of the old riverboat have been converted into one large room, plus the kitchen. Both counter and tables are available for guests who may order anything from a cup of coffee to a full course meal.
Working together on the big job, Ted supplied the practical skill and knowhow while Ann was head of the design and decoration department - though when there was hard work to be done they both pitched in together,
Although the Riverboat Cafe is an achievement in itself the Tervoerts are still looking ahead. Their plans for the large clearing at Mile 900 include an integrated tourist stop plus recreation facilities for townspeople seeking a change from the usual run of Whitehorse activities.
And how's the food right now at the Riverboat?
First of the stranded ships of a once proud fleet to be put to use on land, the Neechea, presents a unique and striking picture as the motorist first views her high, dry and handsome, nestled in the roadside trees.
Many have commented on the sad sight it is to see the old boats moulder away and so the rebirth of the Neechea is a satisfying event to Yukoners.
- June 4, 1959: "Another sneak thief bit the dust last week when an RCMP road block tripped him up. John Barnett Treadway, 50, was south bound on the highway when he saw a neat little clock at the Riverboat Cafe. He took a liking to it, took it, continued south and was caught two hours later near Teslin. It cost him $25 and a 36-hour delay. Magistrate A.C.L. Adams several weeks ago declared open war on highway thieves, most of whom are tourists according to court evidence."
The Whitehorse Star - Thursday, July 30, 1959
Application to move the Riverboat Cafe, that is presently located at Mile 900 of the Alaska Highway, into Whitehorse was made at last City Council meeting.
Joseph Schmidt outlined the project which would include the boat in its present condition plus adding a basement and addition to the end.
He said they hoped to have an apartment in the basement and a rather elite eating section in the rear.
City Fire Chief Fred Blaker said it was in good condition and nicely fixed up inside.
The main troublesome factor was mentioned about the low ceiling which doesn't comply with the building by-laws.
Said Mr. Schmidt, "I believe it will be one of the main features and historical attractions in Whitehorse."
However, the Council felt they would like to have Mayor Cameron in on this and also have additional information on where it would be located In Whitehorse.
- September 3, 1959: "SERVICES - RIVERBOAT CAFE - Mile 900 serves a delicious specialty every Sunday. Why not call and make your reservations. For only 10c more you'll get faster and more efficient service. Table will be prepared before you arrive and supper ready to serve. Just ask the operator for the Riverboat Cafe."
- May 19, 1960: "Offers Reward In Ship Thefts. $50 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of persons stealing material from the beached riverboat Aksala. Ted Tervoert, who is dismantling the ship with plans for moving the superstructure to his Riverboat Cafe site, reports he has lost sinks and doors particularly. He would like to recover the missing objects but also would like to find out who's been stealing them."
- June 8, 1961: "For Lease - RIVERBOAT CAFE - Located at Mile 900, the unique Riverboat Cafe is for lease. $3,000 will include sale of light plant, stock and handle lease for one year. Long term can be arranged. Clean and reliable applicants only. Phone the Riverboat for an appointment.
- June 3, 1963: "Riverboat cafe fully furnished can be moved, will help moving." Plus a long list of building supplies, vehicles, equipment, and "14 acres of land - 800 ft. lake frontage, unfinished 30x24 house." Contact Ted Ter Voert, Box 553.
- May 15-29, 1967: "RIVERBOAT CAFE - one year lease in advance. Also five 2-bedroom houses . No children over four years old, Lease by year only. Write Box 553, Whitehorse, Y.T." The Riverboat Cafe then disappears from The Whitehorse Star.
The Captain's Locker
- May 1, 1972, Paddlewheel Village applied for a liquor to sell liquor at Captain's Locker.
- August 25, 1972: "Aye, aye, sir." Yes, the "Captain's Locker" is now officially open.
It's the newest licensed dining room in the Yukon and is situated at Paddle Wheel Village.
It is the former riverboat Neecha and is being steered and engineered by Helen Wyatt and Mary Sitters.
This boat originally ran the Yukon River to Lake Laberge until it sunk in the lake. After it was pulled out of Lake Laberge it was restored and successfully operated as a restaurant at Shadow Lake. We were in it at that time.
Now, once again it has been completely renovated. It is going to be a great boost to tourism so let's all try it out folks.
Best of luck to Helen and Mary. They certainly picked the right time to have a boat, dining room.
Because this is certainly the year of the boat craze; it's barely possible to buy even a blouse without an anchor on it. Pierre Berton said we needed a navigable riverboat and this is the next best thing." (The Whitehorse Star)
- August 25, 1972: "Our friends, Helen and Ed Wyatt are open for business at the Captain's Locker at the Paddle Wheel Village at Mile 913, If you're looking for some delicious food in a lovely atmosphere, be sure and stop in to the dining lounge." (The Whitehorse Star)
- December 3, 1975: "Restaurant business for sale. Captains Locker, Mile 913 Alaska Hwy. All fixtures, equipment and inventory included in sale. Good potential for family business."
- March 17, 1978, Paddle Wheel Village properties for sale, including: "10.5 acres approx. with 5.2 acres of open land ready for development. Included on this land is the unique Sternwheeler, now known as 'Captain's Locker Restaurant.'"
- June 22, 1979, the final ad for The Captain's Locker was printed in The Whitehorse Star.