Yukon Nuggets

1869 Yukon Nuggets

Kusawa Lake - Arkell Lake


As with many place names in the Yukon, Lake Kusawa had more than one name over time. Located just 40 air miles west of Whitehorse, this beautiful high mountain lake is a delight to travel, unless big winds blow in from the north.

This lake in the southwestern Yukon is 45 miles long by about 3-4 miles wide. As a high mountain lake, it can quickly become very windy, sometimes with little warning. This happened to a friend and me as we fished the lake for trout back in the 70s. Caught totally off guard on an otherwise sunny Sunday afternoon, our boat came close to capsizing as we rocked and rolled on the water while the sun shone bright above.

The Lake was known to the Chilcat Indians as Kusawa ... windy water ... and was described as such to an International Surveyor, Dr. George Armstrong by the Chilkat chief Kho-Klux in 1869.

Unaware of the original name, E. Hazard Wells, chief of the Frank Leslie Illustrated News expedition of 1890, named it Lake Arkel after A.J. Arkel, owner of the New York Paper and sponsor of this expedition. Jack Dalton was a member of the expedition and used the knowledge he gained on the trip to describe and run the Dalton Trail. Arkell had sponsored the expedition to the Yukon interior to cash in on news of the rich gold finds in the 40 mile district of the Yukon River prior to the Klondike rush.

In 1897, when the big Klondike strike became world wide news, Arkel instituted a lawsuit claiming all of the Klondike. It was based on the travels of the four men in his expedition of 1890. One of the members of that expedition, A.B. Shantz turned down an offer in New York of 50 thousand dollars for any claim he may have had in the Klondike.

The lawsuit came to nothing and Shantz, who could have had 50 thousand dollars, instead came away empty handed. In 1898, the Canadian geographical names board restored the original Indian name Lake Kusawa. And yes it is, as my friend and I discovered years ago, a big windy lake.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.