Historic boat returns home to the Yukon River

The big boats get all the glory. Impressive sternwheelers have become a symbol of the early transportation system along the Yukon's waterways. But it’s the smaller boats that kept things moving, scouting the routes and clearing the way ahead of their bigger brethren.

The big boats get all the glory.

Impressive sternwheelers have become a symbol of the early transportation system along the Yukon’s waterways. But it’s the smaller boats that kept things moving, scouting the routes and clearing the way ahead of their bigger brethren.

Now one of those work boats has been restored and is a permanent exhibit in the backyard of the MacBride museum in downtown Whitehorse.

The Woodchuck was built not far from where it sits today, at the British Yukon Navigation Company’s (BYN) shipyards. That land is now Shipyards Park.

“What we say is that it had this life on the river, it had some other lives in between and now it has come back to the river,” said Leighann Chalykoff, MacBride’s manager of museum services.

The Woodchuck is a 37-foot tunnel stern riverboat. It was gas-powered and had a propeller that could be retracted.

“So it was made to navigate the difficult Yukon River which is very shallow and has narrow channels and gravel bars all that good stuff,” Chalykoff said.

The boat would have been used at the beginning of the warmer season every year to travel the Yukon River and its tributaries clearing the way for the larger ships, explains Chalykoff.

The Woodchuck was part of a group of work boats, with names like the Loon or the Owl, all charged with hauling smaller loads down the river or navigating the more narrow passages where other boats could not fit.

It was common for the boats to be named after small animals, Chalykoff said.

“I don’t know exactly why. But I think it’s because it’s small and tough.”

But one of the perils of being so small is that it’s easy to go unnoticed.

While documentations and photographs of boats like the S.S. Klondike are relatively plentiful, very little paperwork and even fewer photos exist of the Woodchuck.

As the era of the sternwheeler winded down in 1958, the smaller boats were pulled off the river and sold.

According to research done for the Yukon government’s historic sites unit, Ollie MacDonald, who ran a wood camp in Pelly Crossing, purchased the Woodchuck in Whitehorse in the 1960s. The plan was to use it on the Pelly and Yukon river system, but that never happened.

As far as anyone can tell, it has been on dry land since then.

The remains of the boat were moved to a shelter next to the interpretive centre in Pelly Crossing. Around 2012 the decision was made to move everything to the museum.

“The hull was intact, the bottom part of the boat was intact, and you can still see, sort of, the old wood if you go outside,” Chalykoff said.

“But other than that, it was in pieces. The top part was in pieces.”

A local carpenter rebuilt what was missing based on photos and other historical information.

All the work was done onsite over the summer of 2014.

“It was kind of neat because people could actually see it transform,” Chalykoff said.

The official opening was last month.

Back home to the river where it all started, Chalykoff calls the Woodchuck a jumping off point for the exhibit that talks about all of the territory’s history on the water.

“It has been a lifeline for the Yukon. It was the transportation corridor for decades and now it’s still important in terms of the people who use the river for sustenance and recreation and it’s a key part of our life in the Yukon.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Two people walk up the stairs past an advance polling sign at the Canda Games Centre on April 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
April 12 is polling day: Here’s how to vote

If in doubt, electionsyukon.ca has an address-to-riding tool

Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon addressing media at a press conference on April 8. The territorial election is on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Currie Dixon and the Yukon Party platform

A closer look at the party leader and promises on the campaign trail

Yukon NDP leader Kate White, surrounded by socially distanced candidates, announces her platform in Whitehorse on March 29. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Kate White and the Yukon NDP Platform

A detailed look at the NDP platform and Kate White’s leadership campaign this election

Crystal Schick/Yukon News
Sandy Silver announces the territorial election in Whitehorse. Silver is seeking a second term as premier and third term as Klondike MLA. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Getting to know Sandy Silver and the Yukon Liberal platform

Yukon Liberal Leader Sandy Silver is vying for a second term as… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
This week at city hall

A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its April 6 meeting.

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks to media in Whitehorse on October 30, 2020. Hanley is now encouraging Yukon to continue following health regulations, noting it could still be some time before changes to restrictions are made. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
No active COVID cases in Yukon

Hanley highlights concerns over variants, encourages vaccinations

Most Read