Historic barge in Whitehorse due for major repair work

The 85-year-old Atlin barge has been dry docked in Whitehorse for years, and those years have taken a toll.

Parks Canada to spend $425,000 to fix up 1934 Atlin barge that sits by the S.S. Klondike

The Atlin barge was built in 1934 and used for years to move people and cargo around Atlin Lake. After it was retired, it was moved to Whitehorse where it's now dry docked by the S.S. Klondike. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

It may not look like much, but the Atlin barge that sits on the waterfront in Whitehorse is a significant piece of northern history — and Parks Canada says it's due for some TLC.

"This may well be the last intact barge of that era," said Jocelyn Gray of Parks Canada. "It was really important for transporting cargo within the Yukon River watershed."

The 85-year-old barge is set for some major repair work this summer. It's been dry-docked for decades beside the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site, and the years and elements have taken a toll on the aged structure. 

Some of it is warped, wood is rotting in places, and the paint is worn.

"We're going to be dismantling it. So, basically taking it apart piece by piece," Gray said.

Jocelyn Gray of Parks Canada says $425,000 will be spent to make the Atlin 'a wholesome barge that has the correct shape.' (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

"We're going to be cutting out the rot, making sure to keep as much original heritage fabric — so, as much original wood as we can. And then we'll be reassembling it, so that it becomes a wholesome barge that has the correct shape."

Gray said Parks Canada will spend $425,000 on the work.

The Atlin barge was built in 1934 and used on Atlin Lake as part of the British Yukon Navigation Company fleet, to move mining equipment, food, supplies, and people. Waterways provided the only transportation link between Atlin Lake and the outside world, until a road was built in 1949.

Barges were commonly used in Yukon and Alaska from the late 1800s to the 1950s, often pushed by sternwheelers. Barges were cheap to build, could carry a lot of cargo, and were easy to maneuver through shallow water.

Barges were commonly used in Yukon and Alaska in the early 20th century. This one is being used with the steamer Klondike at Eagle, Alaska, in 1943. (Iris Warner / Library and Archives Canada)

"Basically, anything that couldn't fit on the boat would have been hauled on the barges," Gray said.

The Atlin barge was used with a few different vessels over the years, including the Tarahne, which now sits on display at the lakeshore in Atlin, B.C.

In the 1940s, the Atlin barge was moved to Tagish Lake where it was sometimes used with the Loon — a boat now being restored in Mayo — and then retired in Carcross in the 1950s, and later moved to Whitehorse.

The Atlin barge was often used with the Tarahne, which is now on display in Atlin, B.C. (Bruce Arculus/CBC)

Gray said the repair work will be done during the busy tourist season at the S.S. Klondike, so there will be public information sessions about the restoration.

"Parks Canada is really excited about this project," she said.

"It's a good opportunity to provide the public with... to show them, like, what we're doing and how we do it." 

Written by Paul Tukker with reporting by Mike Rudyk


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