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Mining at Lake Bennett, BC

An Explorer's Guide to Atlin, BC

This report about a trip by Provincial Mineralogist William Fleet Robertson is copied from the Annual Report of the Minister of Mines in the Province of British Columbia for 1900, pages 751-753. The steamship S.S. Danube that he sailed on was operated by the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company.



    On August 15th, 1900, the Provincial Mineralogist left Victoria on the C. P. N. Co's. S.S. Danube for the Atlin District, to make a brief inspection of the placer mines in operation and to see to what extent the development work done on the quartz claims gave promise for the future.

    The Danube left Victoria at midnight, proceeded to Vancouver, where the whole of the day of the 16th was spent taking on additional cargo and passengers, and left again at midnight with every cabin filled, the hold full to the hatchways with cargo and the forward deck occupied by cattle, chiefly destined for Dawson.

    The Danube can scarcely be called a passenger steamer, as freight is the first consideration; nor does she make very good time, 10 to 12 knots per hour being the average speed obtained; however, she is B most comfortable boat, steady and seaworthy.

    The steamer arrived at Skagway at 7 am on the 21st, the journey from Vancouver having occupied some 108 hours, including a stop of 6 hours at Ketchikan, Alaska, waiting for the tide to make favourably through the Wrangel narrows.

    The trip is a most delightful one, the course lying almost entirely between the coast range of islands and the mainland. Only twice is the vessel exposed to the ocean swells, when crossing Queen Charlotte sound and at Dixon entrance, and then but for three or four hours. The calm water thus ensured robs the journey of the horror of sea sickness, which might otherwise deter many from taking the voyage as a pleasure trip.

    Only occasional glimpses are obtained of the ocean in its solitude and grandeur, but this is amply made up for by the ever-changing kaleidoscope of scenery, narrow, intricate channels seemingly not wide enough for the vessel to pass through, flanked by rocky islands of all sizes and by mountains which tower up abruptly from the water's edge, their peaks, usually rugged against the skyline, snow-capped and often covered with permanent glaciers which, as one proceeds further north, seem to gradually steal nearer and nearer to the sea till, in the latitude of Wrangel, they actually encroach on the domain of old Neptune, who, resenting such intrusion, breaks off huge masses and casts them adrift, helpless and powerless, to be gradually absorbed in the warmer waters of the Pacific.

    The rugged coastline is frequently broken, permitting glimpses of fertile valleys extending inland for miles and through which flow large and often navigable rivers, the ceaseless tribute of the mountains to the ocean. These valleys, which are covered with unbroken forest extending up to the summits of the mountains and as far as the eye can see in every direction, wind about the feet of monster peaks, each seemingly grander than that nearer, and appearing like an army of giants, rank upon rank, prepared every one in its turn to stop the gap should still another of its fellows fall into the grasp of the ever-encroaching sea. It seemed, indeed, as though these mountains, in the never-ending strife between sea and land, had been met and halted by the mighty deep and that the steamer took its course through a neutral ground between conflicting armies, a district half ocean, half mountain.

    Such is the scene on a fine August day, grand and impressive, and leaving scope to the imagination as to how terrible it must become in winter storms, when the air is a mass of flying snow, and the wind, losing the balminess of the Pacific in summer, takes on its Arctic mood and pierces like a knife through any clothing.

    The coast is dotted at long intervals with small settlements, the nucleus of each seemingly being soome large salmon cannery where, for a short season, a large number of men are employed, but which in winter is relegated to the care of a few watchmen and permanent employees.

    The town of Skagway is situated on the more easterly of the two arms into which the extreme northern and of Lynn canal is divided, and is in territory claimed by both the United States and Canada, but at present under the jurisdiction of the former country.

    On the other of these arms is situated Dyea, &nd it was from these two towns that the trails over the Chilkoot pass and White pass began, the horrors and hardships of which are now, happily, but memories, although matters of only two or three years ago: to-day a journey to Atlin or Dawson is a holiday trip.

    The only excuse for the existence of Skagway is that it is the starting place for Atlin and the Yukon, and the point of trans-shipment from the steamer to the railway. There are three or four good wharves, which are connected with the shore by pile-supported approaches, extending for over half a mile across mud-flats which are uncovered at low water, the tide having a rise and fall of some 40 feet. The only one of these wharves at present in use is that in connection with and used by the White Pass railway. The town has fair hotels and good stores with very reasonable prices: these exist entirely on the trade caused by the traffic to and from the Yukon.

    From the sea to Bennett is a distance of about 40 miles, but the town lies on the further side of the mountain range which divides the drainage area of the western coast from the drainage area of those streams flowing north. The White Pass and Yukon railway, starting from Skagway, crosses this mountain range by the White pass, following a steep but not very difficult ascent for some 30 miles when the Summit (the provisional boundary established between Alaska and Canada) is reached. From here there is a gradual descent for about 10 miles, through bleak and desolate country, to Bennett, which is at an elevation of 2,150 feet above sea level.

    Bennett is situated at the southern end or head of the lake of the same name, the first of a series of great lakes and connecting water-ways, navigable for steamers, the waters of which flow northward into the Yukon river, past Dawson and thence westward through Alaska, finally being discharged into Behring sea. Bennett, also, owes its existence to the Atlin and Yukon trade, for it was here the White pass and Dyea trails came together and from here the second stage of the journey to the Klondike was begun, by boat in summer and over the ice in winter. Here, too, it was that all the scows for carrying freight to the Yukon were at first built, as well as many of the steamers which afterwards largely replaced them, and the saw mills necessary for these enterprises, together with the hotels and stores for the accommodation of travellers, formed the nucleus of the town.

    Early during the past summer the White Pas and Yukon railway was extended past Bennett along the eastern shore of the lake, the arm of which it crosses at Caribou Crossing, and was continued northerly across country till it again struck the Yukon river at White Horse, just below Miles canyon, at which point passengers and freight are now transferred to steamers or scows and thence proceed by river to Dawson.

    Of course, this arrangement has considerably diminished the importance and prosperity of Bennett, and would have done so still more were it not that the rates charged by the railway and connecting steamers on the Yukon are so exceedingly high that much freight of the bulkier and less valuable sort is still taken down by scows. Live stock for the Yukon is also chiefly driven over the trails and shipped from Bennett by scows, of which, too, many more are needed in the fall, when the water is so low in the Yukon as to interfere with steamer navigation, in order to accommodate the rush at the end of the open season when everyone is getting in the last supplies for the annual hibernation.

    Scow-building, therefore, still continues an important industry, but has become more scattered, scows being built at the various saw-mills which have been established along the shores of Bennett lake, Taku arm, and even on Atlin lake. Many of these scows, hovever, go to White Horse empty. This fall there most have been several hundred scows, varying from 10 to 40 tons capacity, much of the lumber for which come from Victoria or Vancouver built and for sale near Bennett; yet it is said the market was not overstocked. It must be remembered. however, that a scow only makes one trip, being broken up at the end of the journey, for it is unprofitable to tow it up stream.

    Bennett was formerly the seat of the Gold Commissioner for what are now the Bennett and Atlin Mining Divisions, but, since the placer discoveries near Atlin became so important, this official has been moved to that town, although Bennett still retains the office of the Mining Recorder of the Bennett Mining Division.

    The steamer Gleaner leaves Bennett twice a week with freight and passengers for Atlin, proceeding down Bennett lake past Caribou Crossing, then up Taku arm to Taku City, situated on the east arm of the lake of that name. At Taku City a transfer is made to a so-called railway, one of the shortest and most high-priced in the world (it is 2 miles long, the passenger fare is $2.00, while the coaches are only flat-cars), connecting the east arm of Taku lake with the west shore of Atlin lake, from which point a steamer runs to the town of Atlin on the east side of the lake.

    Atlin lake is about 60 miles long and 5 miles wide, its length lying nearly north and south, the northern portion being in the Yukon Territory, and the southern on British Columbia. It empties through the Atlin river into Taku arm at Taku City. The lake is at an elevation of 2,200 feet above the sea, and is surrounded by high, bare mountains. It contains some large islands, one of which, Teresa island, rises to a height of 3,000 feet above the lake.

    The town of Atlin is situated near the present mouth of Pine creek, on gradually rising land which was evidently formed by the creek mentioned at some remote period when it must have been a stream of considerable size. The situation of the town is ideal; looking across the lake to the towering mountains on the opposite shore the view is beautiful.

    Atlin is well laid out and substantially built, although, naturally, of wood. The hotels and stores are good, and the prices not exorbitant considering the freight rates from the "outside."

    Atlin is the seat of the Gold Commissioner of the District, of the Mining Recorder of the Atlin Division, and also of the Court of the District.