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Ben-My-Chree, An Outpost in the North

Ben-My-Chree, British Columbia

Ben-My-Chree, An Outpost in the North, 1913
    AMONG the late arrivals in the mining field of British Columbia is the picturesque and extremely fascinating little town of Ben-My-Chree, which, being literally interpreted, signifies "The Lady of Mine Heart."

    Its existence dates back to the summer season of 1910, when two hunters, scaling the snow-clad ridges of the Coast Range mountains hunting wild sheep and goat at an elevation of over 7,000 feet above sea-level, chanced upon a quartz ledge, which subsequent analysis proved valuable as a source of the alluring metals - silver and gold.

    To the prospector, or even the occasional hunter who roams through the mountain solitudes, the first step in the realization of untold wealth is to discover a quartz lode in place, and the second is to stake a claim; hence it was that within a few hours after its discovery Ben-My-Chree received its significance and title.

    During the three short seasons which have followed that discovery much has been done to chase away the silence from the deep mountain gorges in the construction of cabins, stables, roads, trails, etc., including an aerial tramway which. when complete, will convey the ore by gravity from away back a mile and a half over the range to the ore bin in the valley below.

    The cabins which comprise to date the town of Ben-My-Chree are situated in a narrow glacial valley bordering the southern reach of Taku Arm, occupying a considerable portion of Tagish Lake.

    About ten miles from the lake shore, near the head of the valley, projects the most northerly spur of the great Taku Glacier, which stretches over an area seventy miles long, with an average width of about forty miles, clear through to the coast and the shore-line of Alaska.

    From this immense tongue of ice and debris, and the heavy neves which overlie the glacier, two or three glacial streams issue, and, pursuing their meandering courses over wide stretches of sand flats, through swamps and willow brush, past the mining cabins to the lake shore, finally discharge their contents into the icy waters of Taku Arm.

    Ben-My-Chree is, in reality, at the head of all possible navigation and transportation, lying only a few miles south of the provisional boundary between British Columbia and the Yukon Territory, this being the 60th parallel of north latitude.

    On the left and right the valley is screened by precipitous mountains, rising to an elevation of over 5,000 feet above the lake-level. Approach from the rear is prohibited by an impassable glacier, through which a few scattered serrated mountain peaks project as guardians over this last great relic of glacial times. The sole avenue of approach opens from the front through a narrow arm of the lake, navigable for steamers of the White Pass and Yukon River type, as well as for the canoe or small launch of the Indian or prospector.

    The S.S. Gleaner, of the White Pass Railway service - the connecting link between Carcross, Yukon Territory, and the town of Atlin in the extreme north of British Columbia - visits the Ben-My-Chree camp bi-weekly during the navigation season, or between the months of June and October, but during the long winter months, when the days are dark and lonely, communication with the great ocean of the outer world is practically cut off, except when a stray team wanders over the ice for supplies to Atlin, over forty-five miles away.

Ben-My-Chree, British Columbia, 1913

    Though only ten miles removed from one of the largest glaciers in the world, and about 3,000 feet below the line of perpetual snow, visitors to Ben-My-Chree view with no small sense of wonder what appears to be the best-laid-out garden, with as large a variety of vegetable products and as high an efficiency of growth, as can anywhere be located north of Vancouver on the Pacific Coast. Stacks of peas are in bloom in July. Lettuce, radishes, beets, turnips, cabbage, cress, etc. - all products of a native soil - are served in the dining-cabin daily from the middle of June till the end of the season. Potatoes, onions, rhubarb and all varieties of garden flowers grow with elaborate profusion.

Ben-My-Chree, British Columbia, 1913

    Nor is this all the variety Ben-My-Chree can afford to those who appreciate the wilds of Nature. Wild rabbits browse and play unmolested around the cabin doors. Porcupines are met at nearly every turn in the trail. Moose stray over the sand flats and swampy ground at the head of the valley, while above the cabins, in the stillness of the evening, numbers of mountain goat may be seen quietly grazing along the draws and green glades of the hillsides. The grizzly bear and the mountain wolf lie down together. The gopher and the marmot feed with the chicken and play around the roost. Nothing harms or destroys, but each shares with the other the freedom and plenty that Nature has supplied.

Ben-My-Chree, British Columbia, 1913

    Though the summer, with its bloom and sunshine, is as beautiful as complete, yet in the fall and winter, when the snows lie heavily and deep in the shadows and hollows of the mountains, dangers hover over the valley, and immense snow-slides are of frequent occurrence, thundering down the steep gorges and waterfalls, bearing destruction in their pathway to the depths of the valley below.

Ben-My-Chree, British Columbia, 1913

    One such slide occurred in October, 1911, shortly after active development work had properly started, and just when those engaged in the mine workings were most hopeful and expectant.

    The slide had its source at the crest of a glacier 500 feet above the mine tunnels. Below in the gorge stone cabins had been constructed at an enormous cost, and these were completely carried away, while among the ruins one of the owners of the property and his wife were found dead.

    Still later in the fall of last year a second slide tore down from the glacial basin above the valley, laying waste a valuable forest growth and burying beneath an immense weight of snow and debris the house-boat residence of the managing owner of the mines, in which his wife, a lady companion and himself were living at the time.

    Fortunately the momentum of this second slide was spent before it reached the cabin and no loss of life and little loss of property occurred.

Ben-My-Chree, British Columbia, 1913

    Despite. however, the rigour of the winter and the isolation experienced by the few who live in Ben-My-Chree through the long months when navigation has closed and the sun has wandered off to the south, leaving the days in the north dark and drear, the general beauty of the scenery, ideal climatic conditions and the continued change in the daily program of life as lived in a pioneer land, are indeed difficult to surpass. Tourists who stray on shore from the SS. Gleaner in the afterglow of a July sunset and wander up the long, rock-cribbed pier walled by abrupt mountain sides to the cabins and sand flats behind the hills, have much cause to wonder and reluctantly return to the city with its din and strife, only to envy those who enjoy so contentedly the freedom of the hills and the solitudes of the mountain wilds.