Low water in Yukon reveals historical artifacts

The water is low in the Yukon River system these days, and that's left some history exposed. 'Anywhere there's a calm spot, there's a pretty impressive deposit of artifacts,' says one local historian.

Some of that rusty old junk along the riverbank may have historical significance

Low water on the Yukon River in Whitehorse is revealing historic objects in the riverbed. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

Take a walk along the Yukon River in Whitehorse these days, and you might spot things you rarely see — historical objects and structures that are typically well hidden under water or ice.

"Like, there's a log cradle here, or a crib, that was used to support sternwheelers when they were hauled out of the river in the winter," said Yukon government archeologist Ty Heffner, as he walked along the riverbank.

Water in the Yukon River system is very low this spring. Vast gravel bars flank the stream in many areas, and Heffner says lots of artifacts can now be seen in the mud and rocks.

That might include anything from old rusty nails and wooden logs and planks, to iron fixtures.  

"If you think about all the activity that happened here, there were sternwheelers that were built here, there were sternwheelers that burned here. There were warehouses and wharves and all kinds of activity — and the historical evidence here just relates to that," Heffner said.

Government archeologist Ty Heffner says the artifacts can make for an interesting walk along the river, but people should be sure to leave what they find. (Leonard Linklater/CBC)

"People can come down here and have a look at these items, and it just provides that tangible link to the past." 

Murray Lundberg, an amateur historian in Whitehorse, says there's a lot to see. Most of what he calls the "good stuff" — things made of copper or brass — has likely been removed over the years, but there's a lot of wood and steel all over the place.

"Anywhere there's a calm spot, there's a pretty impressive deposit of artifacts, still," Lundberg said.

"One of the problems we have right now is that nothing's ever been catalogued because we've never seen the river this low — so it all has potentially significant historical interest."

'It all has potentially significant historical interest,' said amateur historian Murray Lundberg. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

Lundberg says that's why it's best if people don't pocket the things they find. 

"Collectors have done a lot of damage to sites like this — not just here, but everywhere," he said.

According to Heffner, removing an object could also be an offence under Yukon's Historic Resources Act. 

'People can come down here and have a look at these items, and it just provides that tangible link to the past,' Heffner says. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

"People, you know, might not really think about that or realize that these are protected heritage resources and that they should not take it away," Heffner said.

"These pieces of our heritage are best left where where they currently are."

Written by Paul Tukker, with interviews by Leonard Linklater and Chris Windeyer


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