Twice A Day the Whistle Blows

It’s 5:00 and I’m sitting at the table in my summer office which, whenever possible, is our

veranda. Seven blocks west and about two north the whistle mounted on the S.S. Keno lets loose with a blast that I can hear very clearly from here.

It’s a tourist season feature, which Parks Canada arranges to sound twice daily, the early blast being at noon. Even locals can be startled by its intensity.

I’ve seen bicyclists and pedestrians beside the sternwheeler suddenly flinch at the sound, even when they know what it is.

Our visitors have even stronger reactions.

This is not a complaint, by the way. Parks started this procedure under the previous superintendent and I think it’s a very nice touch.

For me, of course, it always brings back memories of the onetime ship building town I grew up in back in Nova Scotia. By the time I came along that part of the town’s history had passed and the place boasted three factories that employed most of its people.

There was a gypsum plant, a pulp and paper mill, and another place that specialized in making paper plates. The pulp mill had a whistle that sounded at the start/ end of each of the three shifts, as well as at noon and 9:00 p.m.

In the Annapolis Valley it is pretty much dark by that time, even at the end of June, and that curfew whistle, left over from World War II, I suppose, was the signal that kids under 16 shouldn’t be out on the streets any longer.

The Keno didn’t spend much of its working life in Dawson, being based out of Mayo, it hauled ore on the Stewart River between 1922 and 1953, when it was retired. As the Parks website notes, it was “re-furbished in 1960 and sailed downriver to Dawson where it is managed as a historic site open to the public.”

Prior to the reconstruction of the Palace Grand Theatre and the development of Diamond Tooth Gerties its freight deck was used for some of the same tourist fare that eventually migrated to these buildings.

Damaged in the 1979 flood, it was repaired and brought back into service as part of Parks’ tour offerings around the time of the Gold Rush centennials from 1996 to 1998.

There were other surviving boats, but Dawson’s sternwheeler graveyard is more typical of their fates once the roads took over. Two of the three in Whitehorse burned, as did the one whose skeletal remains still sit in Carcross.

The SS Klondike remains in the capital, and its restoration was accomplished after the proper techniques had been tried out here on the Keno. The Klondike is the larger of the two vessels, but I don’t think it blows a whistle.

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