Highway #4 - Robert Campbell Highway, Km. 555

The Columbian Disaster

Photo from The Columbian Disaster

The worst accident in the history of the territory's riverboat travel occurred here at Eagle Rock, on the Yukon River. In September 1906, the sternwheeler "Columbian" exploded and burned, killing five men and badly burning another. The steamer was carrying a crew of 25 men and a full cargo, including cattle and three tons of blasting powder destined for the Tantalus butte coal mine, 30 miles downriver.

The fire started when Phil Murray, the deckhand, showed his loaded gun to Edward Morgan. Morgan, ironically, the fireman on watch, accidently fired the weapon into a load of blasting powder stored on deck. The powder exploded and a sheet of flame swept the boat.

Captain J. O. Williams was protected in the wheel house, but could not work the steering or communicate with the engine room. He raced down to the freight deck and told the engineer to stop the engines. As they headed into a bend in the river, he ordered the engines started again to ram the bank. After the bow hit, the stern swung around in the current and Williams ordered full astern to back the vessel up on the shore. His quick thinking allowed the crew to jump ashore and prevented the disaster from being much worse.

“The explosion blew out the sides of the vessel, scattered men and cargo in the water, and in less than five minutes had involved the whole inside of the ship in a mass of seething flame.” (Dawson Daily News, Sept. 26, 1906)

Ts'àl Cho Awn

A prominent feature on the Yukon River is Eagle Rock, named by the coastal Chilkat traders. The Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation people call it Ts'àl cho awn, giant frog's den. According to Little Salmon-Carmack's legend, travellers would lie down quietly on their rafts when they passed by, so the frog would not jump up and tip the raft over.

Ice-age Survivors

A Swedish botanist, Eric Hultén, coined the term Beringia when he compared plants on the coasts of Alaska and Siberia. Beringia was an ice-free refuge defined by the limit of the last ice age glaciers. When lower sea levels exposed the floor of the Bering Sea, Beringia stretched across Siberia Alaska and Yukon to the Mackenzie River.

While most areas in Canada were buried under ice, plants and animals (such as the Arctic Ground Squirrel) have lived here continuously for thousands of years. See how many Beringian plants you can identify on the slope before you.

Fossil pollen shows that wide-spread plants supported a meadow-like ecosystem, called “mammoth-steppe” after the largest grazing Beringian mammals. A range of plants, such as Cinquefoil, flourished in the cold dry steppe conditions.

Some Beringian plants, like Prairie crocus, have not spread far from their Beringian home, growing in Yukon, Alaska and northwestern British Columbia.

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