Save Our King!

Save Our King!

Organization: Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre

Province: NWT

City: Fort Smith



Twitter: @NorthernLifeMus

About This Project Idea

The proud, strong silhouette of the Radium King stands boldly in the northern sunrise, just as she would have in 1937 when she was first assembled downriver from the Rapids of the Drowned on the Slave River by Fort Smith, NT.  As the sun climbs higher in the sky, the wear of the long years becomes evident.  She looks care worn, a little shabby, with her rust streaked hull.  We want to make the Radium King glorious again.  But we need your help.

From the boatyards of Montreal in 1937 to her decommissioning in 1967, the Radium King served us well.  She survived a near fatal explosion in 1948 when a barge she was hauling exploded in storm on Great Slave Lake.  She has been frozen into the ice when winter came too fast. She has reunited families when the only “highways” home were the rivers.  Now the Radium King rests precariously on rotting timbers, rusting away to a memory.  If we can do nothing, if we cannot raise the money to give her new supports and a paint job, this once proud boat will become mouldering scrap.  This last remnant of the great shipping history of the North deserves to be available for generations of northerners and visitors to our territory.  She has earned our care.

As a first and most important step, the Radium King needs to be lifted, placed on new supports and her hull needs to be cleaned, sanded and painted.

Community Impact

The Radium King serves as a dramatic landmark in the small northern town of Fort Smith, NT.  It draws locals and tourists alike off the street and into our museum. In recent years though people have expressed concerns over the condition of the Radium King – concerns the museum shares but has been ill equipped to address due to a lack of funding. This vessel is only available to the community as an “arms-reach” relic that one can be viewed only from a distance. Ultimately, we would love to restore the boat to a state where visitors could explore the interior and the decks – engaging with the boat and its history on an experiential level. This project will help us get one step closer to this goal by ensuring the integrity of the boat for future generations. With the upcoming 80th birthday of the Radium King, the community welcomes this chance to celebrate and acknowledge the importance of this vessel and the role Fort Smith has played in the history of northern transportation. Our project partner, the Town of Fort Smith, is eager to see such an important focal point of the community’s tourist attractions restored to an inviting condition. With the help of This Place Matters we hope the museum will be able to better showcase the proud heritage and rich story of the shipping marvel that is the Radium King.

The rallying cry of voting and donating as part of This Place Matters crowdfunding project will create a common goal for our community. And with common goals comes opportunities to develop partnerships with individuals and organizations which will last past the completion of the project.   As part of the facelift portion of this project we hope to bring together members of the community by encouraging them to get involved with saving the Radium King and celebrating its history while also actively engaging them in the museum. By designing the painting of the Radium King as a community project, we will be bringing together multiple generations, including the community’s youth as well as the elders who can remember the Radium King when it still plied the waters of the Slave and Mackenzie Rivers and Great Slave Lake. The boat will become a beacon for the community to create this generation’s stories and to learn anew the tales of the past.

About this place

Fort Smith exists because of the Slave River.  We are down river from a set of 4 rapids which form the only non-navigable section of the route from Fort McMurray to the Arctic Ocean.  From time immemorial, people have portaged around these rapids and to this day the river plays a large role in the minds, recreation, and economy of our community.  The legacy of “working the boats” is woven into the history of many local families.  The Radium King and other boats like her form a large part of our history and the history of the North.

The Radium King is the last survivor of a fleet of 12 boats in the Radium Line.  The specially designed shallow draft vessels were commissioned by the Northern Transportation Company to meet the needs of expanding economic development of the North.  For 30 years, our “King” plied Northern rivers and lakes carrying foodstuffs and people, pulling barges of household needs and industrial goods north from Fort Smith to the Arctic Ocean and all points in between.   For the return trip, the barges were loaded with pitchblende, a source of radium salts highly prized for cancer treatments in the 1930s.  During WW2, uranium ore from the same Eldorado mine at Port Radium on Great Bear Lake was moved south by the Radium Line.  This ore would eventually be refined for use by the Manhattan Project to create the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. 

Boats provided the best, and for some items only, way to move freight in and out of the North until the early 1950s when an all-weather road finally reached the shores of Great Slave Lake.  There was still plenty of work for the Radium King. Uranium, zinc and gold mines still had to get their ore to Hay River to be transported south for processing. Furs still needed to get to market. And goods still had to get to communities without roads.  Our Radium King continued to transport supplies until she was decommissioned in 1967.  The newly established Northern Life Museum purchased the Radium King in 1973 for one dollar. 

Why Give?

Fort Smith is a passionate community – passionate about sports, history, families, politics.  We are dedicated to supporting whole-heartedly any idea that will make our home better but we will need your help to reach our goals.

We have created a schedule of projects needed to bring the Radium King back to her previous glory. 

Our first task is to create and install a new cradle to support the boat safely.  The timbers she rests on were placed under her in 1973 when she first came to us and they are rotting.  They will soon collapse and imperil the ship and the safety of those working near her. 

Secondly, the metal of the hull needs to be stabilized.  The hull needs to be sanded, coated with rust inhibitor and then painted.  

With a successful crowdfunding campaign, we hope to be able to complete both these projects.

If we get the opportunity to fund all our dreams for the Radium King, we will follow our schedule to replace the decks, then the forecastle, and to rebuild the cabins under the deck.  At this point the Radium King would be able to be fully open to the public.