What I’d like to talk about is, a little bit about these sternwheelers and, reconciliation. I’m going to read because it’s a little easier for me right now.
For the First Nation living on the Alaskan interior, the Yukon River has been a transportation corridor and trading route for millennia. The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in here have a special connection to the river and it’s always provided for them, especially with the seasonal gifts of salmon. They are the people of the river. The land provided them with navigating vessels as well in the older days, such as moose skin boats and birch bark craft. With the appearance of fur traders, missionaries and prospectors in the 1860s, sternwheelers started to appear on the lower Yukon. When the peak of the Klondike Gold Rush there could be half a dozen of these steering wheelers plying the in, plying the inland waters of the Yukon daily. Over time, small communities, trading posts, military bases, mines and missions all would depend on the river steamers for their supplies, mail and links to the outside world.
Navigating these paddle wheelers was an art form refined over years of practice, getting to know both the capabilities of an individual vessels, and the conditions of the river. Reading the water was a skill developed from practice, observation, and very importantly the mentoring of experienced men.
The mentors or teachers for the early steamboat pilots and captains in many cases were Native American or First Nation men who knew the river in the regions of their homelands and worked on the boats and shared their knowledge with the new men who came in to run them. Men with experience from rivers such as the Mississippi and the Columbia were of course quick to learn the ways of the Yukon once they became familiar with the river.
Local First Nation had a intimate knowledge of the sections of the river and readily share their experience with officers on the steamboats who with their own experience from the south soon found that they did not need the services of the local pilots. A Lieutenant Cantwell, who captained a U.S. revenue service cutter the Nunivak, controlled the lower Yukon River in the early 1900s. He noted that by the time of his annual report of 1902, native pilots were being replaced as soon as a qualified Caucasian officer could be found. The revenue service cutter assisted stranded vessels and miners in difficulties, kept the peace when rowdy passengers on a steamer got out of hand, and tried to pry, provide relief to the native populations along the river, some of who were suffering horribly from disease epidemics brought in by the whaling ships. Often there was little that could be done besides providing food and the limited medications of the time. Surgeon J.T. White, with the assistance of other officers on board, were taxed to the limit by the situation in some villages, where so many had died that the social and subsistence structure of the communities was severely disrupted, that community members were starving and unable to care for everyone who was sick or in so, some cases bury the dead.
In 1900, Cantwell and his men enforced the quarantine at Saint Michael, preventing smallpox being brought to the Yukon Valley from Nome. Years later a naval ship landed near Seattle, delivering the Spanish influenza to the Pacific Northwest, spreading the epidemic with longshoreman loading steam ships bound for Alaska. As the flu progressed and measures were taken as the word reached the north it wasn’t wasn’t enough. The SS Victoria arrived in Nome in 19… 19. Crewmen unloaded mail bundles, fumigated the mail, but the crew had been in contact with the mail carriers as they packed their sleds, unwittingly delivering flu to villages across Western Ala, Alaska. Nobody in Nome knew the villagers were dying until it was too late.
The Yukon Territory would be spared initially. As the Dawson Daily News reported deaths, Yukon citizens waited with uneasiness and quarantine measures were taken. Even mail carriers had to leave passengers at 40 Mile, just downriver from here. only the mail was brought in by dog team after it had been fumigated. The influenza, flu, seemed to have missed the Yukon until about a year later, the community of Carcross would fall sick. Many of them had been working in Skagway. Shaaw Tláa better known as Kate Carmack, of Tagish First Nation de, descent, was one of the victims and passed away quietly amongst her people.
For a First Nation, there was no chance for advancement when working for a steamboat company. Though there was employment for many, it would consist of working as cooks, deck hands. Longshoremen, labourers or firewood contractors.
Frank Slim, who became known as one of the best pilots in the Yukon, was an exception. Born in 1898 at Marsh Lake, Frank was a self-taught man, learning how to read by reading the labels off Campbell’s Soup cans and traveling the waterways of the North. In 1937 he wrote the exam in Vancouver that qualified him as a steamboat pilot. he would be the only First Nation man in the southern Yukon to become a licensed pilot and Captain. In order to do this, Frank Slim would have to give up his First Nation status, a great sacrifice for him and his family.
Frank worked freighting supplies overland to remote communities in the winter, fur trapping and heavy equipment operating, providing for his family. He would have the honour, of piloting, piloting the SS Keno down here on its last journey in Dawson in 1960. The National word, National Film Board filmed the voyage and we show the film daily on board here. Frank Slim to his dying day was a First Nation who was proud of his heritage, a man who traveled with dignity, quiet reverence.
Okay so next we are going to go to the Old Post Office, and we will speak to the Inception of this region as a National Historic Site. What was the colonial government agenda at that time. And, to make our way there were going to go through this alley right behind me, right beside that RV, across to wuuu … King, and then up to the Old Post Office. Okay.