Construction At The Landing

Boatbuilding at the Athabasca Landing Boatbuilding at Athabasca Landing, 1900.
Provincial Archives of Alberta: Ernest Brown Collection, B2574.

For many years at Athabasca Landing one of the primary industries was boatbuilding. Each spring, feverish construction occurred while the Athabasca River thawed. The boatbuilders, mainly Métis, stayed at Athabasca Landing for only a few weeks, living on the East hill in a work camp of tents or rough lean-tos made from logs, brush-wood, and mud. Many different types of boats were built, the most common was the scow. Constructed of rough lumber, they resembled long, narrow rafts with wooden walls and flat bottoms; most were broken up and used as building timber when they reached their destination. Each scow carried a crew of five or six men, and held about eight tons of freight.

The first steamboat built and launched at Athabasca Landing was the Hudson's Bay Company's S.S. Athabasca (1888). This was rivalled by the Northern Transportation's Midnight Sun (1904) and Northern Light, and later the NTC built the Northland Sun (1909), Northland Call (1910), Northland Star (1911), and Northland Echo (1912).

Athabasca Landing also experienced a unique and short-lived boat building boom in 1897-1898. More than 600 gold seekers taking the "poor man's route" to the Klondike, descended on the Landing where they stayed for a few weeks felling trees, whipsawing lumber, and constructing their flat bottomed scows. Nearly every kind of boat imaginable was built during this frenzied time. As Leslie Wood remarked:

It looks as though every man who ever had an idea that he was a boat engineer was here and had tried his hand, and the result is boats - beautiful, practical, pathetic, ludicrous boats, all the owners, however, with one end in view, and one man's chances are about as good as another's. (Athabasca Historical Society 1986, 63)

The flurry of boatbuilding at the Landing meant higher wages for loggers, sawmill operators and carpenters, and good profits for the boatyard owners. And these new boatyards were constructing more than scows and York boats: "at least four steamboats . . . - the Sparrow, the Enterprise, the Chesrown, and the Alpha - were built by Woods & McNeil, by Fraser & Co., and by the Alaska Mining & Trading Company." (Athabasca Historical Society 1986, 63)

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