A view of the bow of the A.J. Goddard, a Gold Rush-era sternwheeler discovered at the bottom of Lake Laberge last year, shows the windlass used to raise and lower the vessel's anchors. ((Donnie Reid/Institute of Nautical Archeology))

The Yukon government has designated the A.J. Goddard, a Gold Rush-era steamboat found on the bottom of a lake last year, a historic site.

This means the shipwrecked sternwheeler, which remains almost intact at the bottom of Lake Laberge, will be protected from damage or harm by people, according to Yukon government officials.

"We're delighted to see the designation because it shows that not only are shipwrecks important pieces of the past, but that they're also important resources," James Delgado, the Texas-based president of the Institute of Nautical Archeology, told CBC News.

Launched during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898 to carry miners and supplies, the A.J. Goddard vanished in Lake Laberge, north of Whitehorse, in a storm Oct. 22, 1901. Three crew members drowned and two survived. 

An archeological team, which included Delgado and Doug Davidge of the Yukon Transportation Museum, found the steamboat with its hull intact and many of the crew's belongings preserved.

Delgado said he remembers seeing the ship's boiler door propped open, and clothes and shoes were still sitting on the deck of the sternwheeler.

"In this case, this little mini-museum helps bring that Gold Rush to life," he said.

Raiders could be fined

Anyone who wants to explore the A.J. Goddard must now apply for a permit at the Yukon government's historic sites office in Whitehorse.

Under the historic site designation, anyone who is caught raiding the sternwheeler could be fined up to $50,000, said Doug Olynyk, the Yukon government's historic sites manager.

Olynyk said the government is relying on the public to report any unusual activity on the wreck. Officials have taken stock of the artifacts on the boat, he added.

"We'll know what is missing and what has been moved around and whether people are down there with a permit," he said.

Olynyk said the Yukon government's historic designation is likely sufficient to protect the A.J. Goddard. A national historic site designation would not guarantee it better protection, he added.