Radium King (ship)

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Reassembly of the Radium King, 1937.jpg
Reassembly of the Radium King, 1937.
Name: Radium King
Operator: Northern Transportation Company
Builder: Manseau Shipyards
Laid down: 1937
Completed: 1937
Commissioned: as Radium King
Decommissioned: 1967
Status: Museum Ship, Northern Life Museum in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories.
General characteristics
Length: 96 feet (29 m)
Beam: 20 feet (6.1 m)
Draught: 4 feet (1.2 m)
Installed power: 2 x 240 horsepower (180 kW) diesel engines
Crew: 10

The Radium King was built in 1937 to haul ore on the Mackenzie River, and her tributaries.[1][2] This included uranium used in the US atom bombs of World War II. Later in her active career she hauled barges on Great Slave Lake.

The Radium King, and a sister ship, the Radium Queen, were built in the Manseau shipyards in Montreal.[2] They were then disassembled and the pieces were loaded on flatcars for shipment by railroad to Waterways, Alberta, which was then the northern terminus of the North American railway grid, to be reassembled and launched on the Mackenzie River. It required nine flatcars to completely load all the parts of the vessel. The Radium King was staffed by a crew of 10, and could carry 10 passengers.[3]

The shipping season was short during the working lifetime of the Radium King.[4] In 1942 she was to be the last vessel to make the round trip down the Mackenzie River, and had to leave on August 17, in order arrive back on time.[5] On November 16, 1945, the Radium King and the Radium Express were caught by freeze up in Yellowknife. The Edmonton Journal reported in 1953 that the Radium King was the first vessel to cross Great Slave Lake—arriving in Yellowknife on June 8.[6] While the lake's ice had broken up, it hadn't moved out.

Northern Transportation added additional vessels to her fleet, many of which, like the Radium Charles and Radium Yellowknife also bore the prefix "Radium", and the line was known locally as the "Radium Line".[6][7][8]

In 1956 the Radium King survived the explosion of mining supplies on a barge she was towing.[7]

In 1967 the boat was retired. Currently she is on display outside the Northern Life Museum in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories.[9][10] The Radium King was restored, and turned into a museum.

In 2005 Atomic Energy of Canada published a study of the toxic legacy of the mining of radioactive ore at Port Radium.[11] According to the report the Radium King and all the other surviving vessels of the Radium line were found to be free of contamination, with the exception of the Radium Gilbert.[1]


  1. ^ a b Peter C. Van Wyck (2010). Highway of the Atom. McGill-Queen's Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-77358-087-9. Retrieved 2018-01-13. There is material leakage all along the sides of the Highway, as well as on the vessels and barges used to traverse it. The merchant fleet Radium line: the Radium King, the Radium Queen, the Radium Lad, the Radium Express, and of course, the Radium Gilbert ... and so on. The rest of the list: Cruiser, Prince, Gilbert, Charles, Scout, Yellowknife, Franklin, Dew, Prospector, Trader, Miner. 
  2. ^ a b "Radium King en route: Eldorado Subsidiary's Ship Leave for West by Train". Montreal Gazette. 1937-04-15. p. 20. Retrieved 2012-05-31. Both ships were built for the Northern Transportation Company, a subsidiary of Eldorado Gold Mines, Limited, and will ply the Mackenzie and Athabaska rivers, 1,600 miles north of Edmonton. 
  3. ^ David Oancia (1956-08-24). "Life Far From Easy For Those Who Man Northern River Transport Services". Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. p. 12. Retrieved 2012-05-31. Life seldom gets monotonous for the crew of nine or 10 on each of tugs. For practically the entire summer the lives of these men are a series of six-hour watches and six-hour off periods. 
  4. ^ "Set Closing Date North Navigation". Edmonton Journal. 1942-07-23. p. 23. Retrieved 2012-05-31. Northern Transportation company announced Thursday its last boat of the season will leave Fort Smith Aug. 17 for points on the Mackenzie river north of Fort Norman and for Snowdrift and Fort Reliance. The boat will be the Radium King. 
  5. ^ "Boats Are Caught In North Waters". Edmonton Journal. 1945-11-16. p. 14. Retrieved 2012-05-31. Both the Radium King and the Radium Express are frozen fast in ice just off Joliffe Island, a stone's throw from the town of Yellowknife. With them are their three barges, being unloaded at the Negus mine dock when freeze-up caught them deciding to make the last short haul as far as Yellowknife's dock, the boats nearly made it, but were caught just a few hundred yards offshore. 
  6. ^ a b "Vessels Fight Ice, Low Water In Northern Supply Trips". Edmonton Journal. 1953-06-08. p. 43. Retrieved 2012-05-31. On Great Slave Lake, the first boat to attempt the crossing this year was 13 miles south of Yellowknife Tuesday morning. It was the MS Radium King, expected to reach Yellowknife later Tuesday. The ship is owned by Northern Transportation. F.W. Broderick, manager of Northern Transportation, said that at last report the Radium King was encountering heavy ice. The ice in the lake has broken up, but has not yet moved out. 
  7. ^ a b B.T.R. (1958-09-14). "Wind Blows Hard On Great Slave". Ottawa Citizen. p. 80. Retrieved 2012-05-31. There was the time two years ago when a sister ship, the Radium King, had a barge load of explosives and supplies catch fire in a heavy storm out on Great Slave Lake. The blast exploded another barge, and Captain Garvie saved his ship by cutting the tow line. 
  8. ^ B.T.R. (1958-09-14). "The Bearded Mayor of Res Delta". Ottawa Citizen. p. 40. Retrieved 2012-05-31. There was the time two years ago when a sister ship, the Radium King, had a barge load of explosives and supplies catch fire in a heavy storm out on Great Slave Lake. The blast exploded another barge, and Captain Garvie saved his ship by cutting the tow line. 
  9. ^ "Early Artifacts To Be Organized". Leader Post. 1971-11-17. p. 50. Retrieved 2012-05-31. The 12,000 items would go on display in the proposed $300,000 building while larger exhibits such as the early freight ship the Radium King, and ancient German tractors used to portage ships around the dangerous 16 miles of rapids of the Slave River, would be displayed outside. 
  10. ^ "North Life Preserved". Leader Post. 1972-06-14. p. 2. Retrieved 2012-05-31. The outdoor display area will contain: the Radium King, the first steel boat built in Fort Smith in 1937, for the discoverers of the Radium Mines on Great Bear Lake; 
  11. ^ "Status Report for the Historic Northern Transportation Route redacted colour" (PDF). Atomic Energy of Canada. December 2005. p. 86. Retrieved 2018-01-13. Ships were used along the NTR to move barges loaded with uranium ore and concentrates (among other materials and supplies). Some vessels also transported cargo on board. Fifteen Radium Series vessels used along the NTR were identified in SENES (1994). Three were ddetermined to have been scrapped, and the disposition of one, the Radium Cruiser, was unknown. Radiological investigations were conducted on the other eleven vessels. Only one, the Radium Gilbert, showed any evidence of contamination. 

External links[edit]

  • Pictures of the Radium King.
  • "Barges vital to North Country". Saskatoon Star Phoenix. 1955-11-18. p. 21. Retrieved 7 May 2016. EVERYTHING in Canada's north must be transported either by barge or airplane. More than 125,000 tons of supplies were transported in the 1955 shipping season. Here the Northern Transportation Company's Radium King pushes five barges, loaded with empty oil drums, out of a northern port for a long run south.