Goldrush tunes rise from the depths

Archeologists have identified the music aboard a Klondike Gold Rush sternwheeler that sank 110 years ago. An international team dove beneath the cold waters of Lake Laberge last summer to document the remains of the A.J. Goddard which went down in a severe storm in 1901, killing three of the five crewmen.

Archeologists have identified the music aboard a Klondike Gold Rush sternwheeler that sank 110 years ago.

An international team dove beneath the cold waters of Lake Laberge last summer to document the remains of the A.J. Goddard, which went down in a severe storm in 1901, killing three of the five crewmen.

Among the most surprising discoveries was a gramophone and three seven-inch records stamped into hard rubber.

“It’s an unexpected find for this particular vessel,” said Val Monahan, a conservator with the Yukon government’s Department of Tourism and Culture.

“This thing was kind of like a long-haul truck. It was not like the SS Klondike, which had cabins and a dining room, and you could pay money for a nice trip to Dawson. It was nothing like that.

WATCH VIDEO:Haunting images of the A.J. Goddard.

“It didn’t even have enclosed cabin spaces. It had a little cabin house. And it had canvas to cover the rest of it. It was a small vessel, between 15 to 16 metres. Basically, it hauled freight and firewood.”

“You wouldn’t expect to find (a gramophone), in what was a pretty rough-and-ready circumstance. It’s a little moment of luxury for these guys.”

The records were fairly easy to identify. Information was stamped directly onto the rubber of the disc centres.

The records probably won’t ever be played again. Their grooves are deep, uneven and full of rust. “If you played them, they’re so brittle and full of iron, you’d probably just grind the grooves off,” said Monahan.

But the records were mass-produced, and other copies still exist. So far, two of the three have been tracked down at the American Library of Congress.

The records contain a waltz, an old Irish drinking song and an American minstrel tune.

Lindsey Thomas, a Texas-based archeology graduate student who worked on the shipwreck, calls the records “an incredible find. It’s something we honestly weren’t expecting.”

The gramophone probably cost $15 at the time, she said. That’s “less than most of the gramophones at the time, but still quite a lot of money for an entertainment item.”

Given how the item would be “bulky, large and probably quite delicate,” it probably took “quite a lot of energy” on the crew’s part to ensure it remained safe.

That shows the importance of music to the crews that worked on the Yukon River, said Thomas. She’s dug through archival records to demonstrate how many pioneers valued music to “hold up better under the trying circumstances.”

The A.J. Goddard was among the first sternwheelers to reach Dawson City during the Gold Rush of 1898, said Thomas.

“We believe it originally came from San Francisco, purchased by the Upper Yukon Company, which is made up by Claire and Albert Goddard, and their business partner.

“They carried it over the mountains in pieces and assembled it at Lake Bennett. Then, when the ice broke in the summer of 1898, they rushed downriver with the rest the boats, and were the first small sternwheeler to arrive in Dawson. It’s an amazing story.”

The Yukon Transport Museum is planning an exhibit on the shipwreck this spring. But it will likely have to wait until the autumn for the gramophone and other delicate items to be properly restored by experts at the Canadian Conservation Institute.

Contact John Thompson at

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

Just Posted

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

Most Read