1955 Yukon Nuggets
It was a kinder and gentler time, and everyone agreed there were no kinder nor gentler Yukoners than Otto and Kate Patridge. Their home at Ben-My-Chree was a garden oasis in a vast wilderness.
Otto Partridge was born on the Isle of Man, emigrated to the United States, and eventually made his way to Lake Bennett during the Klondike Gold Rush. There he formed the Bennett Lake and Klondike Navigation Company, and built the first three sternwheelers in the Yukon. When the White Pass Railway began operations in 1900, Otto and his wife Kate moved on to Milhaven Bay, on Lake Bennett near Carcross, where they lived on a houseboat.
At Milhaven, they set up a sawmill and supplied the White Pass with railroad ties. She was a gifted musician; playing a portable organ that she had carried on her back when she climbed the Chilkoot Pass.
Otto became interested in mining when a prospector named Stanley McLellan staked a promising gold find near the southern tip of the remote Taku Arm, in the isolated northerneastern corner of British Columbia.
Otto agreed to provide supplies in exchange for a stake in the mine. In the summer of 1911, the Partridges sailed their houseboat down Taku Arm and started a mining operation at the spot they named Ben-My-Chree, Manx for "girl of my heart".
Stanley and his wife Anne McLellan lived near the mine shaft in a small stone house, about a mile above lake level, while the Partridges lived in a log cabin near the lake shore. The Ben-My-Chree mine employed between 10 and 60 men. On October 5, 1911, tragedy struck. An avalanche roared down the mountain and buried the Ben-My-Chree mine. The McLellans were killed instantly.
That was the end of mining for Otto and Kate Partridge, but they were not about to leave Ben- My-Chree. They built a homestead, including a fine two-storey home, and planted flowers and vegetables. By 1912, lake sternwheelers were delivering mail. In 1916, the Partridges began hosting guests who were brought to Ben-My-Chree from Carcross by the British and Yukon Navigation Company, or BYN as it was known locally.
In June 1917, the company launched the steamer Tutshi, with accomodations for 110 passengers, and began twice weekly excursions from Carcross to Ben-My-Chree. The vessel offered cruise-ship-like luxury.
At Ben-My-Chree, a long gang plank extended out into Taku Arm. Kate, dressed in long formal gowns, welcomed visitors at the garden gate, and Otto would take them on a tour of the impressive grounds.
Kate entertained with organ music and Otto captivated tourists with stories from the gold-rush days. Ben-My-Chree was considered an essential place to visit by the social elite in the 1920s, including the Prince of Wales, U.S. President Roosevelt, and movie stars from the silent-film days. One year, the steamer carried more than 9,000 passengers.
Then, in the winter of 1930, Otto died suddenly in Whitehorse. His wife Katie survived him by just five months. Both are buried in Whitehorse. The White Pass bought the buildings from the B.C. government and the SS Tutshi continued its regular summer excursions until 1955.
Today the old homestead and several other buildings still stand, surrounded by fir trees planted by the Partridges as a wind break. The wishing well is still there and wild flowers (including arcticpoppies) grow, but Ben-My-Chree is no longer a public place. The long voyage down windy Taku Arm make the area very difficult to approach, but the pioneering spirit of Otto and Kate Partridge is still being felt.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.