‘Frank Slim: the last of the steamboat pilots,’ and the SS Keno

I always enjoyed talking to the late Frank Slim. I knew him for many years; he saw many changes in the Yukon during his lifetime. Born near Marsh Lake in 1898, he later moved to Lake Laberge.

I always enjoyed talking to the late Frank Slim. I knew him for many years; he saw many changes in the Yukon during his lifetime. Born near Marsh Lake in 1898, he later moved to Lake Laberge. He began working on boats in 1912. Frank Slim was known as one of the best riverboat pilots in the North, piloting many boats including the Yukon Rose, which carried freight for Taylor & Drury stores. On the steamer Keno’s last trip from Whitehorse to Dawson City in 1960, Frank was the pilot.

Photographs are from the Jim Robb Collection.

Thank you very much to Pat Ellis, Whitehorse writer and researcher, for the following information:

Your picture of the SS Keno with the dark, straight-up smoke brings to mind sweaty firemen, industrious woodcutters and muscular deck hands dashing up steep ramps with loaded carts. The covered barge no doubt was loaded with silver-lead ore.

She was built in 1922 at the BYN Whitehorse Shipyards using the engines from the old Norcom especially for the lucrative silver-lead ore haul from the rich mine in Elsa. Stockpiled sacks of ore in Mayo were hand loaded onto a barge and pushed up the Stewart 180 miles, then transferred to another boat on the Yukon, a profitable back haul. The long trip to US smelters was known as the Silver Trail.

I clearly remember the last voyage of the Keno in 1960, an exciting story caught on film by CBC and worth watching. The moving of the boat brought a lifetime of memories for the crew, especially for the two Historic Sites engineers: supervisor Tom Fenton, who, at the last minute, had to hire a replacement pilot for Emil Forrest, who died. Fenton chartered a PWA plane to a hunting camp where, after walking two hours, he found Frank Slim for a replacement.

Clarence Post got the old girl in shape with a complete overhaul to the engines with scrounged parts. At Dawson they decided on a site. More than 20,000 board feet of lumber was used for the ways and three tractors were hired to haul her up. First Mate Henry Breaden was left to supervise the installation and Bob McCrae supervised the carpentry. So that is how the unglamorous Keno ended her days in glory.

Pat Ellis

Whitehorse

Anyone with information about this subject, please write Jim Robb: The Colourful Five Per Cent Scrapbook—Can You Identify? c/o the Yukon News, 211 Wood Street, Whitehorse, Yukon,

Y1A 2E4, or e-mail through the News website, www.yukon-news.com.

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