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British Yukon Navigation Company Sternwheeler

by Murray Lundberg

Please note that, at present, this is merely an accumulation of data, part of a database of material on all Yukon-Alaska steamboats compiled by Murray Lundberg. Additions, corrections or comments are always welcome - just drop me a note.
  • Canadian Shipping Registry #116618

  • wooden sternwheeler; 130.5 feet long, with 29.2 foot beam and 56 inch hold. Gross tonnage 553.17, registered as 348.5 tons. One deck, 1 mast, carvel build, straight head and bevel stern, with no bulkheads. Licenced for 78 passengers, has accommodation for 53 (also reported as 32) (Ref: YA: GOV1684; COR722).

  • possibly powered by machinery from the Evelyn / Norcom. The engine room (in the 1937 hull) was 30.8 feet long, housing 2 horizontal high-pressure steam engines built by Clinton Novelty Iron Works of Iowa, and a locomotive boiler built by Vulcan Iron Works of Vancouver. The engine cylinders were 12 inch diameter, 54 inch stroke, rated at 9.6 NHP.

  • spring 1922, designed and built at Whitehorse by the British Yukon Navigation Company construction foreman A.E. Henderson.

  • August 15, put into service. Designed especially for shallow water work, on this trip she pushed a heavy barge with 70 tons of meat, and 50 tons on herself: "the boat demonstrated that she is the best light draft vessel ever turned out in these waters." With the 50 tons, plus 12 cords of wood, she drew only 21 inches of water forward and 19 aft; most of the boats draw 30 inches empty (Ref: YA: COR722).

  • operated on the side streams, mainly hauling silver ore on the Stewart River from Mayo to Stewart City. Ore was in 125-pound bags.

  • had 3 feet draft loaded with 120 tons. Often pushed a barge with another 225 tons.

  • had 23-man crew, with the captain, pilot, 2 mates, 5-6 deckhands, 3 firemen, 2 engineers, 4 waiters, 1 mess boy, 1 pantryman and 2 cooks.

  • 1923, wheel set further back from the transom to enable her to back up more effectively (Ref: YA: COR722).

  • June 8 1927, sunk in shallow water just below Scatter bar, at Big Bend, when she hit a rock; raised and repaired (Ref: YA: COR723).

  • 1928, got a new transom 3 feet further aft, to provide her with "better backing facilities to enable her to handle heavier loads downstream." (Ref: YA: COR723).

  • 1930, a Foster-Wheeler economizer was installed in the stack; it uses the waste heat from the stack to pre-heat the feed water before it goes into the boiler, "the direct result being increased economy in fuel consumption and easier steaming conditions." (Ref: YA: COR723)

  • 1933, badly damaged just above Rocky Reach, on the Thirty Mile. The barge Tookeno hit the beach with a corner, swinging Keno to bridge the river, breaking off the rudders and smashing the wheel (Ref: YA: COR723).

  • 1937, hull completely rebuilt, to 140.6 feet long with 30.4 foot beam; gross tonnage increased to 613.049, net 416.128 tons. Four bulkheads were added, and the stern design was changed from bevel to transom.

  • 1939 season crew (operating the Aksala as well): Master, E. Morrison; Chief Officer, J. Wakefield; Extra Pilot, J. McPhee; First Mate, P.V. Edwards; Second Mate, W. Goodlad; Chief Engineer, F.L. Young; Second Engineer, F. Vey; Purser, B.F. Dunn; Steward, F. Walsh.

  • retired in 1951.

  • August 24, 1959, offer made by White Pass to give the Casca, Keno, Klondike and Whitehorse to the Federal government, on an as-is, where-is basis. The company had been planning to tear apart the ways and remove the ship-handling equipment, but that was to be delayed until the summer of 1961.

  • August 1960, made the last sternwheeler run in the territory, to her final resting place at Dawson. Captain Frank S. Blakely, from the Columbia River, and Pilot Frank Slim, a 62-year-old Indian who spent his life working on the Yukon, took her down; First Mate was 32-year-old Henry Breaden, and there were 12 other crew members. At the launching, pioneer riverboat engineer and skipper Emil Forrest died; he was to have piloted the Keno on the trip. To get under the new Carmacks bridge, the stack and pilot house had to be taken off, and the hydraulic tiller installed on the Saloon deck (photo of her going under the bridge in Downs,p 78). She grounded once on the trip near Minto, and had to be winched off (Star, March 11, 1983).

  • 1979, during the huge flood in Dawson, the Keno just filled up with water and stayed in place; if it had been made watertight, it may have floated downriver and been lost.

  • 1985, Parks Canada announces that $225,000 will be spent in 1986-1987 to stabilize the boat, under the direction of Ottawa expert Richard Fairweather (Star, Oct.9)


Ref: "YA" is the Yukon Archives; COR722 and COR723 are White Pass & Yukon Route corporate record files held there and the GOV are government records.
      "Downs" is Paddlewheels on the Frontier: Volume 2 by Art Downs (Cloverdale, BC: BC Outdoors, 1968)
      "Star" is the Whitehorse Star newspaper.

The Last Voyage of the Keno

The Death of Emil J. Forrest

Roster of Yukon/Alaska Sternwheelers

Northern Ships and Shipping

The SS Keno in Dawson City on February 7, 2019
The Keno on February 7, 2019