Vikings-era construction: Parks Canada reinforcing beams in S.S. Klondike

The workers are using a technique that goes back at least as far as the Vikings to make the support planks match the curves of the boat.

Workers are using a technique that goes back at least as far as the Vikings

Parks Canada spokesperson Stella Patera says the agency wants to protect heritage sites like the S.S. Klondike for future generations. (Dave Croft/CBC)

The iconic S.S. Klondike is under renovation in Whitehorse to strengthen the sternwheeler's structure, using a technique that dates back to the Viking longships.

The ship's deck and wall beams need reinforcing, said Parks Canada spokesperson Stella Patera. But the walls and deck are curved, so the crew is reinforcing the ship without using any nails or glue.

Shipwright Terry Karlsen and carpenters have set up a work station on the riverside with a fire, a barrel of water and a steam box.

The steam box can hold up to about 15 yellow cedar planks almost three metres long.

Once the planks are thoroughly soaked, they're moved into the boat and attached to the existing beams so that they match the curve.

One of the workers clamps a wet cedar plank onto a roof beam. The wet board then dries with the proper curve. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

"They are flexible enough, malleable enough, that they can be bent through tight corners," said Patera,

"They can be put into the place we need without using any nails, without using any glue or screws."

The carpenters working with Karlsen are also learning from him in order to ensure his wooden boat knowledge is passed down to a younger generation.

Patera expects more than 900 metres of wood will be installed in the S.S. Klondike as part of the project. She expects the work to take a few months, with workers on site until winter conditions make it impossible.

Terry Karlsen, the shipwright, is teaching his knowledge about wooden boats to carpenters on the project. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Funding for the work is coming from a federal infrastructure program specifically for heritage sites, Patera said.

The boat was moved to its permanent home on the banks of the Yukon River in 1966, and became the centrepiece of the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site.

The S.S. Klondike was the second sternwheeler to carry that the name. The first ship ran aground in the Yukon River in 1936, according to the Parks Canada website.

Carpenters thread one of the soaked planks through to clamp onto a deck beam. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

The current boat went into service in 1937 and was a mainstay of the Whitehorse to Dawson City run.

But its days were numbered when a road was built between the two communities in the early 1950s.

"In August 1955 the Klondike II – the last sternwheeler working on the Yukon River – steamed into Whitehorse for the final time," says the website.

Patera said Parks Canada wants to preserve the S.S. Klondike, "to tell the history of the impact that the stern wheelers had on people living in the Yukon and on the environment of the Yukon."


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