B.C. RESEARCHERS DISCOVER GOLD RUSH GHOST SHIP
November 23rd, 2009
A B.C.-led team of archeologists has discovered the wreck of a Klondike Gold Rush steamer perfectly preserved in the icy waters of Lake Laberge.
The vessel A.J. Goddard sank in a winter storm 108 years ago, leaving behind a snapshot of life during the frenzy of prospecting and mining that engorged the Yukon Territory and enriched the ports of Vancouver and Victoria during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The detritus littering the deck of the vessel tells a harrowing tale of shipwreck and death, said Vancouver marine archeologist James Delgado, president of the Institute of Nautical Archeology.
"The boiler door is open and the firewood they tossed in to get try to get up enough steam to get out of trouble is still in there with charring on it," Delgado said. "Somebody shrugged off their coat and kicked off their shoes as they tried to swim for it and that's still lying on the deck."
Three men perished in the wreck, their bodies later buried by the North-West Mounted Police,after they washed ashore.
As the vessel sank two crewmembers were left clinging to the tiny pilothouse that was torn away. They were spotted by a trapper camping nearby who came to their rescue.
The vessel was found after more than 100 years by a team of researchers led by B.C.-based project-leader John Pollack and transplanted British Columbian Doug Davidge, president of the Yukon Transportation Museum. The diving mission to the wreck was photographed by Vancouverite Donnie Reid.
The iron sternwheeler was built in San Francisco in 1898 for Seattlite A.J. Goddard and shipped in pieces to Alaska where it was hauled inland, over the Chilkoot Pass in B.C. and assembled for ferry duty on Lake Laberge in the Yukon.
"It was a pre-fab ship, so it was likely carried on another ship up B.C's inside passage to Alaska and carried over those mountains," said Delgado. "Talk about an amazing feat."
For three years, the A.J. Goddard served as a ferry for stampeders who flocked by the thousands to Whitehorse at the south end of the lake on their way to Dawson City and points north.
Southwestern British Columbia was the first staging point for the tens of thousands of miners who swarmed up the gold rush trial through Hope, Lytton and Cache Creek to the Klondike.
"Vancouver and Victoria all boomed as a result of that gold rush and a lot of supplies come out of here and a lot of businesses thrived," Delgado said. "That link continued through the First World War and beyond."
Unlike wooden wrecks of the era, the A.J. Goddard is in excellent condition.
"This ship may have gone down 108 years ago, but it looks as if it had just gone down the day before," Delgado said.
"This craft was self-sufficent and that reflected the crew, Delgado said. "It had its own repair shop, a blacksmith's forge, an anvil and a workbench."
The stove was out on deck along with the remains of a pipe frame covered with canvas.
"That canvas wasn't just for the bugs in summer it was for winter, too. They are cooking and living their lives out in the open on the deck," he said.
Space beneath deck was only one metre high and filled with supplies and firewood.
"They were making a go of it on the frontier, very tough self-reliant guys," he said. Their dishes and tools are scattered on the deck and in the mud alongside the ship.
"It literally is a ghost ship," he said.