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Found: a Klondike Gold Rush shipwreck

It was a discovery for which Doug Davidge had been waiting two decades.

Through the green water of Lake Laberge, the maritime history enthusiast and diver could see the wreck of the 50-foot iron sternwheel steamboat A.J. Goddard, untouched since it sank in 1901. As the rest of the dive crew watched and photographer Donnie Reid took a photo, Davidge reached out and reverently touched the vessel, its first human contact in more than 100 years.

"It was certainly everything that I thought it would be in terms of how well-preserved it is," says Davidge, an environmental assessment officer with Environment Canada who has been diving as a hobby since 1981. "It is positioned upright and all the goods on it are still there."

The A.J. Goddard operated as a passenger and freight boat on Lake Laberge and the rivers that led to Dawson City, Yukon, during the gold rush that began in 1897. The lake was a staging point for miners heading to Dawson City. The steamboat also operated as a repair shop, forge and kitchen - a self-sufficient depot on the Gold Rush frontier, according to information on the Institute of Nautical Archaeology website.

A mercurial lake

Lake Laberge, captured in history by the poem "The Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert W. Service, is a widening in the Yukon River 23 miles north of Whitehorse, Yukon. It is more than 31 miles long, about 1 to 3 miles wide, and is known for its mercurial weather.

Dim lights

Click here to visit the wreck of the A.J. Goddard and see some of the faces from the Klondike Gold Rush, as James Delgado recites the Robert Service poem that made Lake Laberge famous. Mobile users can click here to view it on YouTube.

The A.J. Goddard sank in a storm Oct. 11, 1901, according to an account in the Daily Klondike Nugget. The vessel was engaged in a tow and, as the gale kicked up, waves broke over her and doused the fire in the boiler. The steamer went over when it lost propulsion and her five crewmembers were left in the water. Two of them survived by clinging to the pilothouse for two hours before they were hauled into a small boat by a trapper who was camping on the shores of the lake.

An elusive hunt

The vessel was found in 2008 during a survey of Klondike Gold Rush wrecks led by Institute of Nautical Archeology research associate John Pollack. An underwater camera that Davidge, a member of the survey team, lowered in July 2008 revealed the paddles of a sternwheel. Footage also was captured by Davidge's remotely operated vehicle. The video was compelling enough to prompt the INA to seek funding to continue researching the wreck.

Davidge and the Yukon River Survey team, a division of INA, returned to the site this year, conducting more than 130 dives from June 3-11. Eight divers scanned the wreck with BlueView sonar technology, and 28 artifacts were salvaged.

On June 9, the wreck of the Goddard was designated a Yukon Historic Site.

Visit the Institute of Nautical Archaeology website for information. Search keyword "Goddard."

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