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Selections from William Meed's Journal

Collection of pen and ink sketches
Collection of pen and ink sketches

William E. Meed Photographs was accompanied by a binder of handwritten notes that includes a narrative history of the steamboat Prospector and annotated captions to most of the photographs, keyed to the numbers Meed applied to them. There are also copies of typed transcripts of some of the articles Meed wrote between about 1944 and 1950 for the Vancouver Daily Province and the Vancouver Sun. About 1953, William Meed apparently assembled his photographs and notes about them; his daughter Edna Meed probably transcribed them as they now appear, at a later date.

The following selections give some of the flavor of the notebook. In addition, the notebook has been selectively used to provide additional caption information for many of the photographs reproduced from the Meed collection.

"At the end of the year 1900, a trapper named Brewster came to my office at the Yukon Dock, Dawson, with his stock of skins and furs. Among them were an immense grizzly bear hide, complete with head and claws, a grey wolf, a wolverine, several beavers, and a number of fine marten furs. Brewster described the Stewart River District. He had poled his canoe against the currents all the way, had portaged around Fraser Falls…, and hunted and trapped in the upper reaches of the river. On the way he passed men who were prospecting for gold. They also had gone up by the hard method of pushing their canoes against the swift currents"

"Impressed by his report, and with previous steamboat experience in mind, it was apparent to me that a steamboat service on the Stewart was warranted. Up to that time 64 steamboats had plied to Dawson; some made one trip only, but not any one of them was suitable for the Stewart. A special boat was necessary with extremely light draft, strong power, and suitable equipment for passing through rapids."

"On December 22nd 1900… the Stewart River Company was formed with the object of building and operating a boat of that class.… The name Prospector was given to indicate the exploratory purpose for which the boat was designed, and also to identify it with those men it was intended to serve: the prospectors of the Yukon Territory."

"The dimensions of the boat were determined. Hull 110 ft. [in] length; the heavy timbers to support the sternpaddle-wheel extended 10 ft., making the overall length 120 ft. The width of hull [was] 22 ft.; the deck extended 2 ft. on both sides the full length of the hull, making the total width 26 ft. at the deck level."

Steamboat Prospector 1901
Steamboat Prospector, 1901

"The vessel was to be a single-decker during the first season; the sides were to be left open for the convenient stowage of canoes which were essential to prospectors who could thus proceed to the districts beyond the head of steamboat navigation. Photo no. 185 shows these features; the figures are the bow indicate the extremely light draft."

"Mr. Richard Stephens, a prominent boat-builder at Victoria was asked to design the shape and form of the hull, then to follow the necessary materials for completing the woodwork at White Horse and launch the vessel there.... Captain James A. Ritchie, my associate in past years, was given command. He engaged the balance of the crew: the pilot, 2 firemen, a cook and a steward to help him, and 4 deckhands. I acted as purser and travelled on the boat throughout the first season. The double crew was the means whereby the vessel could be kept running by day and by night. The shortness of the season and the long daylight in the Yukon were the reasons. The system was watches of 4 hours on then 4 hours off, alternately. The deckhands all turned out and cut wood ashore for fuel whenever necessary. The elderly cook was a very devout man, he invariably knelt and prayed when the boat was passing through dangerous rapids."

"… The first voyage up the Stewart was then arranged. The distance from Dawson is 75 miles up stream to the mouth of the Stewart; from there up the distance to Fraser Falls is 200 miles. That is the head of steamboat navigation. Propectors and trappers were taken on board, their canoes were piled up athwart on the deck, and their outfits and supplies were loaded."

"When halfway up the Stewart, a man on shore was seen signalling. The boat stopped; the man's partner was lying on the shore badly wounded. That morning he had seen a little grizzly bear cub, and incautiously tried to catch it. The mother rushed out of the bush, and before he could climb the tree nearby, she tore all his clothing from him and clawed his body all over; then left him for dead. The other man, in a desperate effort to staunch the blood, had thrown flour into the wounds. Using the boat's linen, he was bandaged and carried aboard. The passengers and their outfits were all put ashore, and a run back to Dawson was made in record time. When he had been taken to the hospital, the boat left immediately to pick up the marooned passengers and completed trip no. 1 to Fraser Falls."

"The bear's victim recovered after several months of treatment, and [the man] not having any money or property, the hospital bill was sent to the owners of the steamer Prospector and paid by them."

"The Pelly River is also an important tributary of the Yukon, entering the latter at the Fort of Selkirk, 175 miles up-stream from Dawson. It was, itself, a tributary [of] the Macmillan River. Neither of these had ever been navigated by steamboats. The maps of that period bore the inscription "UNEXPLORED," and dotted lines were inserted where streams were supposed to run."

"Here evidently was another opportunity for the Prospector to carry out the aims for which it was built: pioneering. A trial voyage was announced. Parties applied for transportation at once, and in August 1901 the Pelly was navigated for the first time."

Pinnacle rock
Pinnacle Rock, Pelly River, Yukon Territory, 1901.

"About 170 miles up [the Pelly] a unique topographical feature showed up in the centre of the channel, a huge mass of rock with a sharp peak. I took a series of photos of this as we approached and passed by it. I named it "Pinnacle Rock." About 6 miles further up the main tributary, the Macmillan was entered. Progress there was frequently impeded by trees overhanging the channel, their roots along the banks having been washed and loosened by the currents. (See photo No. 265.) It was necessary to saw them off and clear a course."

"At 175 miles up, the river divided into forks. That was the end for steamboats. The prospectors and outfits were landed there. The head of one party was N. A. D. Armstrong, and a creek entering the vicinity bears the name Armstrong Creek on later maps."

"At the end of the year after making the last trip to White Horse, the boat was brought down as far as the foot of Lake Lebarge [Laberge Lake] in order to be the first… to follow the ice in the spring break-up. After putting the boat into safe winter quarters, I proceeded to the "outside", bound for my home in London, England. When passing through Victoria, plans and orders for the vessel's superstructure were placed. Returning from England with my wife early in 1902, I had this material conveyed to the Prospector. The last leg of the journey was across the 30-mile stretch of ice on Lake Lebarge. Workmen then completed the construction of the cabins and the superstructure, as shown in photo No. 191. The crew was accommodated as shown in photo No. 260 until the boat was ready."

"When the Yukon broke up, the ice was followed [by theProspector]. At one point an ice jam occurred and choked the river. The water behind it rose rapidly, overflowed the bank, and cut a new watercourse through the woods. There was no alternative but to follow and keep in the water. The new channel became a temporary detour around the ice jam and emptied into the Yukon again lower down, and the boat proceeded. The jam soon after gave way, and then the floes were coming down behind the vessel. That was one risk. Another had been escaped and that was, if the jam had given way when the Prospector was in the detour, it would have been stranded in a forest."

"… In July of the year 1906, up to the head of navigation on the Pelly and then up the Macmillan, the boat went. Prospectors, trappers, members of the Geological Survey Department of Canada were taken. Also big-game hunters who had come afar for trophies: big moose, grizzly bear skins, and bighorn mountain sheep heads. … It was an interesting experience for my wife, who was the first white lady to visit that country. ... The boat returned to Dawson without passengers. Excepting those who were taken up and left, the only occupants of that vast district were moose, bears, nesting wild geese, ducks, and other wildlife. The round trip totalled 1200 miles."

Ice fishing
Chief Isaacs ice fishing

"... [T]he following is an account of a typical "last trip" of the season. Mounted photo No. 191 presents a view of the boat ready to depart on Oct. 19, 1905. Passengers have embarked, food supplies are on board, steam is up, the cargo deck is filled with cordwood and another pile is on the bow. The black patch on the side of the bow, and another like it on the other side, are sheets of iron put on especially for this trip to meet the impact of the ice floes. The river is full of floating ice from bank to bank and the current is strong."

"Then a delay of several days waiting for the weather to get colder. That may sound queer, but the Yukon has many oddities. The effect of a further drop in the temperature was the freezing up and choking of the tributaries above, the Stewart, the White and the Pelly Rivers, and stopping their deliveries of ice into the main river. In that way the total flow of ice is decreased, and as soon as a narrow lane of water shows up, the steamer starts on the "last trip.""

"Soon another effect of the increasing cold was that the spray from the sternwheel accumulated on the paddles, growing thicker and thicker until the wheel was almost a solid cylinder of ice and failed to function. The weight depressed the stern and raised the bow, making steering difficult. The wire cable headline was then carried across the shelf of solid shore-ice and fastened to a tree. Picks and axes were used to clear the ice. The boat proceeded and the performance was repeated when necessary."

"Further up stream, the ice-cakes were not solid and hard, but consisted of accumulations of slush-ice of varying sizes from three to fifteen feet diameters [sic]. These were twirled by the currents, now and again rubbing together until they assumed circular forms, the outer edges being pressed and raised into a well-defined rim. Viewed from the upper deck they resembled gigantic white water lilies, and presented a picture to be seen only under such conditions and on similar occasions."

"The Prospector reached White Horse safely... I was aboard the Prospector on this trip and returned with it at once with a skeleton crew. The other members of the crew went "outside" for the winter. The cold weather continued to get still colder; there was no time to lose. When passing the mouth of the Pelly. I recalled a former and similar last trip. On that occasion, a rifle shot was heard there. Two men were on the shore signalling frantically. The boat headed toward them, pushing through the floating ice. The two men were so distraught that they did not wait for the steamer to land, but waded out waist deep in the icy water and were pulled aboard. After a change of clothing and a hot meal they told their story."

"Coming down the Pelly they were caught by the ice, their canoe was smashed, their outfit lost with the exception of a rifle and a wolfskin coat. For days they struggled through the trackless bush, their clothes were in tatters, and in an effort to alleviate the pangs of hunger they had been chewing at the wolf-skin coat. They reached the Yukon just as the boat was passing in the "nick of time.""

"The water line in the river was getting narrower. There was still 175 miles to go. The boat reached Dawson just when the ice jammed there and was pushed up on the bank…. It stayed in that position during the ensuing seven months of the winter."

"The White Pass and Yukon Railway Co. built a narrow gauge line from Skagway to White Horse. It acquired the fleet of river steamboats of the Canadian Development Co., of which I was the Dawson agent in 1899. The railway company also bought the Yukon Dock at Dawson (photo No. 189) of which I was promoter, part owner and manager in 1900. By this consolidation, a complete transportation service was established from Skagway to Dawson and named THE WHITE PASS & YUKON ROUTE. The company did not have a river boat of the Prospector's type and expressed a desire to own it. A meeting of the shareholders of the Stewart River Co. was held, and feeling that the original purpose had been accomplished, [they] agreed to sell the boat which accordingly added to the river fleet of the White Pass & Yukon Route."

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