WHITEHORSE, YUKON JUNE 1974
by Athol Retallack
May 31, 1969, was a sparkling day in Montreal when Mrs. Dorothy Smith, wife of the Yukon's Commissioner James Smith, christened the brand new British Yukon Navigation Company Limited container ship at the Vickers shipyard.
"I christen this ship 'Klondike'. May God guide her and guard and keep safe all those who sail in her."
Named for the region which had been the scene of the greatest stampede the world had ever seen, 71 years before, it was a $6 million 6,500 ton symbol of the White Pass Corporation's confidence in the future of the north.
Built by Canadian Vickers Ltd. with an overall length of 394 feet, a 70 foot beam, 20 foot draft, the Klondike is powered by two Nohab Polar diesel engines which produce a speed of 13½ knots. The gross tonnage of 8043 tons includes the 258 containers each 8x8x25'3" and 900,000 gallons of petroleum products.
Sailing from Montreal June 6, 1969, Captain R. A. Phelps and Chief Engineer Bill Peters brought the ship via the Panama Canal and docked in Vancouver harbor July 2.
Peters had gone to Montreal the previous February to consult with the engineering firm and had remained there during the final stages of her fitting. The big throbbing engine room, immaculate as an operating room, console panels aglow, is the particular pride of the Chief Engineer who is justifiably proud of his domain and of the men who are responsible for the flow of power needed for the ship's propulsion, lighting, heat, water, crane operation, in fact the life stream of the ship's operation and well being of the 24 men aboard her.
In spite of her departure from the conventional freighter silhouette, the Klondike is an imposing sight as she makes her way out of Vancouver harbor heading north on her 824 mile non-stop, 65 hour journey to Skagway, Alaska.
For the Company people who have been passengers there is a sense of pride in the vessel, and an interest in her crew and working day that one does not experience on a regular passenger or cruise ship.
The Klondike is a working ship. The crew is on hour hour watches and there is a feeling of purpose to the days which pass as the coast line of B.C. and Alaska change - forest, mountains, fiords, glaciers, islands, fishing villages, wood camps, the lights of Campbell River and Prince Rupert, the docks of Petersburg.
The immaculate order is evident everywhere. The accommodation for officers and crew is colorful and comfortable with an owner's suite and the company officers' stateroom kept in readiness. The Captain's quarters are a combination of home and office, with an efficient work table big enough to unroll the charts. The book shelves are filled with technical volumes and the accent the 24 hour responsibility of the Master, there is a phone on the bedside table and another at his desk. The same reminders of 24 hour on call are to be found in the Chief Engineer's suite too. The decor is light wood with chartreuse and navy blue color scheme throughout.
The cook does all the purchasing for the ship's larder and the meals are the finest with a menu for selection. Keeping a watchful eye on the requirements of officers and occasional passenger is Chief Steward Jim McColgan who has had 17 years service with White Pass. The crew is as cosmopolitan as can be found anywhere, Norwegian, Scottish, English, German, Dutch.
The oilers are on constant watch in the engine room, the deck crew do their regular rounds of checking the cargo and gear. The officers go about their duties, quiet efficiency is everywhere. Bill Peters is relaxed when talking about some of the exotic lands he has visited during his years of being at sea, but the slightest variation in vibration, which is not noticeable to anyone else, brings him to an immediate alert.
The Klondike is equipped with the latest navigation equipment, two radars, radio direction finder, echo sounder. During the voyages at one time or another she is out where the heavy roll, high winds, snow and sleet pound at her, then into the channels which narrow to the point where the heavy coastal growth seems to reach out to her very rails. The west coast has claimed many ships over the years and it is more than a matter of form that there are life jackets (with whistle attached) under each berth, and the Captain is on the bridge during storms and unusual seas.
Out of touch with the business world, or so it would appear, yet paper work goes on even at sea.
There is the ship's Official Log with the crew list, draft, boat drills and the general operation of the ship to be entered before leaving port and as required enroute. There is the Pilot House Log which records the ship's actual operation while on the run. Sometimes these entries are hourly. Then there is the Working Log which is to do with maintenance of the ship and the routine checking of cargo.
The Klondike is a self sufficient little world while she is at sea and there is the same anticipation and bustle of pre-docking activities that one experiences upon returning from a long voyage.
There are customs to be cleared, papers to be signed, the machinery begins to hum which means the cranes will start moving the hatches, containers, trays, deck cargo, the discharge of cargo which will be transferred to the White Pass trains. Standing by is the outgoing cargo - trucked to the railhead at Whitehorse from Faro, Clinton Creek, Elsa, Whitehorse, Cassiar - asbestos fibre, silver, lead, zinc, copper - resources from the Yukon and outward bound for the mills, refineries and smelters of the industrial world.
Commissioner of the Yukon Territory, James Smith said in this speech during the christening ceremonies, "Just so the significance of the name "Klondike" will be associated not only with the past, but also with the present, it is interesting to note that the main outbound cargo of this new vessel will be asbestos fibre mined only about fifty miles away from the original gold discovery claim in the Klondike River valley."