Before the Lewes Dam was constructed, ice on Lake Laberge was always frozen hard long after the Yukon River was clear. Every spring, river passengers and freight waited in Whitehorse, or travelled over the frozen Lake Laberge to Lower Laberge at the northern end. The larger sternwheelers could not travel the Thirtymile stretch of the Yukon River during the spring low water levels so some of the smaller boats wintered at Hootalinqua and travelled up to Lower Laberge as soon as the ice was gone. Small boats like the Prospector or the Nasutlin, would load the larger boats at Hootalinqua, allowing them to arrive at Dawson City two weeks before Lake Laberge was navigable.
By 1907, nearly all of the steamers on the upper Yukon River belonged to the White Pass & Yukon Route but there were still a few independent boats. The steamer Quick was purchased in 1905 by a Teslin trader who used it to move freight and passengers from Hootalinqua up the Teslin River to Teslin Lake. The little Quick took most of the freight for the mining community of Livingstone up the Teslin River to the trailhead at Mason’s Landing.
The first shipyard development at Hootalinqua was called the Sifton Ways. The steamers rested on a set of beams, or “ways”, when they were dry-docked. The Sifton Ways belonged to the Dominion Steamboat Co. and were used in 1903 to haul out the steamer Thistle at close of navigation. In the same year, the White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR) Superintendent recommended that the company buy the ways, instead of building new ones, as they were adequate for hauling out small boats and were inexpensive to repair. WP&YR used them to pull up their steamers, starting with the La France, at the close of navigation in 1904. The Sifton Ways were poorly constructed and were abandoned in 1909.
New ways were constructed in 1913, the same year that WP&YR bought out their major competitor, the Northern Commercial Co. The ways at Hootalinqua were scheduled to be built at Carmacks but the shore line at Hootalinqua was better suited. Carmacks became the business point, however, and the steamers picked up their cargoes there in the spring. The steamers Yukon and Canadian were pulled up on the new Hootalinqua Island ways in 1913.
The sternwheeler Evelyn was built in 1908 at St. Michael for the Merchant's Yukon Line with accommodation for 85 1st class passengers. The relatively small Evelyn was able to operate early in the spring and during low water when the Yukon River was at its most dangerous. In May 1911, when five steamers left Lower Laberge with their cargo for Dawson City, the Evelyn, with the largest barge, was one of three to arrive without striking a rock or a gravel bar.
When White Pass & Yukon Route started a rate war in 1913, the Northern Commercial Co. bought the Evelyn and registered it in the United States to work on the lower Yukon as the Norcom. White Pass won the war and purchased the Northern Commercial Co. along with a number of steamers including the Norcom. White Pass ran the Norcom between Whitehorse and Dawson City under a subsidiary company, Side Stream Navigation. Unverified reports say that the steamer was damaged on the Thirty Mile River on a last trip of the season and never repaired. The Norcom was abandoned on the ways at Hootalinqua Island and the internal machinery was put into the steamer Keno.
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