Posted by: cherylyoung | February 29, 2012

Dreamers gladly go here. This is truly a love story

Dreamers gladly go here.

 This is truly a love story

Sitting at the south-west end of the Taku Arm of

Tagish Lake, at the mouth of the Swanson River,

 Ben-My-Chree is a Northern legend.

 Otto and Kate Partridge had come north during the

Klondike Gold Rush, but never made it to Dawson.

Otto got involved in shipbuilding, cutting lumber and

then mining in the Southern Lakes region, and in 1911,

 they started developing property near their gold

 mine as a home.

 Otto named it “Ben-My-Chree,” Manx for “Girl of

 My Heart.”

 A combination of Otto’s story-telling, Kate’s hospitality

 and musical ability, and a spectacular garden in a

 remote glacial valley prompted tourists to start

arriving, and during the 1920s it became a must-see

 for visitors to the Yukon.

Otto and Kate both died in 1930, but Ben-My-Chree

 tours continued to be offered by the White Pass &

 Yukon Route into the 1950s, using the sternwheeler

 Tutshi (seen in the postcard above) to take people

 down the lake system.

 For more information and some photos of Ben-My

-Chree, see Eric Irvine’s site at

The story below, which appeared in Canadian Home

Journal in 1938, describes a trip to Ben-My-Chree in

 the summer of 1930.

 A Lady in the Wilderness By Frederick Niven You

 cannot be presented to the lady in the first paragraph.

The stage has to be set, here, as it was set for us before

 she stepped forth and won our hearts.

 A thousand miles northward from Vancouver to

Skagway we had voyaged, noting, nightly, the Pole Star

 drawing nearer.

We had journeyed on beyond Skagway (the “Gateway

 of the North”) up the spectacular White Pass and heard,

when the train stopped to let us look down on the great

 gorge of it, the roar of all its cataracts like the sound

one hears holding a shell to the ear.

We had seen, mounting onward, fragments of the trail

 of ’98 in the steep gulch alongside, a foot-wide scar

 between the rock-slides that have descended over it in

 the years – as though Nature would fain wipe out the

 memory of it.

 Climbing on, at the boundary between Alaska and

British Columbia we had remarked other evidence that

we were indeed more than entering, that we had entered,

the North, seeing on a blackboard on the wall when

we halted there the imperative command that all

mushers must report.

We were going in.

 Men and women of the North speak of going in,

coming out, not just going and coming.

The phrase is inevitable.

 Here was a far cry from Vancouver.

Here was a far cry even from Skagway as we rolled

on by Lake Bennett that twisted under cliffs and

 round the butt-ends of rock-slides, with only the

 rufflings of passing winds on its surface and the

twinkling pin-points of sunlight, though in ’98 as many

 as four hundred rafts were counted at one time on it,

rowed by sweeps, sculled by sweeps, aided on their wa

y by blankets rigged up for sails on lopped trees for masts.

Going in – indubitably were we going in.

There is a feeling as of having come to another planet

 up there on the divide.

 And at Carcross, sixty miles or so north of Skagway

 (that once had a name more vocal of the land –

Caribou Crossing – changed to Carcross because of

 muddles with the mail caused by the existence of the

district of Cariboo in B. C.’s far interior) one is aware

of the ambient silence and vastness of the Yukon.

The sledge-dogs loafing there in summer-time hint of

 the winter life.

It has a quality like that of a little village on the shore

of a great sea.

It is a jumping-off place for that wilderness, the peaks

 of which keep watch on it, the twisting waters of which

 come to its doors.

When they tell you that Yukon Territory has an area

 of 207,076 square miles – 206,427 of land and 649

 covered by water – you are not surprised.

When they tell you that the Pelly River, lying wholly

 within the territory, is three hundred and thirty miles

 in length and its main tributary, the Macmillan,

two hundred, you are not unprepared for that

 statistical information.

You can quite believe it.

 It feels like that here.

The silence of the great hinterland laps the place as

the waves play among the piles and breakwaters of

 an ocean-fronting village.

Aboard the Tutshi (pronounced Tooshy), thrashing out

 of Carcross to investigate that silence, the realization

 must come to many that the old phrase, the Lure

 of the North, is not just poppy-cock.

Most, I think, must be aware of it and to some of these

 it comes as a call to be answered, to some as a warning;

 better to be gone, they feel, before it has them in thrall.

Of the lady whom we were to see later we had heard

nothing at Carcross.

A story or two we had been told, to be sure, of women

 in the North, such as that of the trapper’s wife who

 was brought in by dog-sled in mid-winter to the hospital

 at White Horse, some way further on northward, and

two weeks later departed – with the new baby – for their


 Two other children there were also, whom they had

brought along with them.

On their return journey to their lodge in the wilderness

blizzard assailed them.

The storm continued and the husband built a shelter

in which that woman of the North remained with the

two children – and two-weeks young baby – while the man

 mushed back through the storm for more supplies.

“That,” I suggested, “finished her for the North.”

“Bless you, no,” was the answer.

 ”You couldn’t drive her out with a club.”

I thought of her as the Tutshi slapped with its

stern-wheel on its way into that waiting immensity.

 Here was a land that seemed empty as the sky.

A gaggle of geese passed overhead and, dropping

beyond a range to the southeast, left an added sense

 of emptiness.

A flight of ptarmigan, piebald, white and brown, strung

 across the blue bloom of the dwarfed spruce trees, and

 there was the impression that this was more rightly

 their domain than ours.

We were intruders among mystery.

Beyond that silvery blue of the spruce trees were

 staring cliffs mutely, heedlessly, watching us.

Beyond and above the cliffs were obdurate peaks with

snow in their lower creases and glaciers lying in their

 upper hollows.

 From Tagish Lake to Taku Arm we churned on, the

 uninhabited shores slipping past.

The reflected silvery light off the water touched, as with

 a veneer of unreality, the white-painted boat, the

high pilot-house – and the faces of those who clustered on

 deck looking at this austerity of desolation.

Valleys that we opened up seemed vast as Old

 Country shires.

 The mountains that hung along their far ends might

 have been of stationary clouds.

The airplane, I considered, will make a great change in

 this land.

I spoke the thought aloud, and a man who stood by me

 had a story to tell of adventure and fortitude of the

 pilots of these airplanes that are indeed changing

 the Northland’s life.

This article, however, is not of them but of a lady

 of the wilderness, and I would merely prepare

the stage for her entrance as it was prepared for

 us going in, going on.

When we had dropped Engineer Mountain astern and

 the little cluster of the houses of the Engineer Mine

 dotted along its base had dwindled to the value

of crumbs- “Where are we going to now?” I asked the

 first officer, having been invited by then up into the


He glanced over his shoulder, surveyed me for a

moment, and then replied that he was not going to

 tell me; I was to see for myself without any preparation

 and so have my own uninfluenced impression.

I accepted the decree and sat mute behind him, his

 robust figure, as he stood at the wheel, blotting out a

 section of the everlasting mountains.

 I looked down at the water that came rippling toward

us, as if forever. I looked to the shores, and the

 blue-sifted spruce trees slid past on either side

 – as if forever.

The skipper came up; the first mate departed.

We took a bend into West Taku Arm and at last I saw

what seemed to be the twisting water’s end, and

caught there the gleam of a few roofs, very small in

the immensity.

 Yes, we were indeed, at last, at the end.

But even though these stern-wheel steamers of the

inland lakes and rivers are of shallow draft to make

 landings on beaches, we could not land at the apex here,

 shelving as it did into seepage and quagmire.

We slowed down and crept close to high cliffs to west,

along the base of which lay what I can but describe

 as a floating sidewalk.

 It disappeared round a projection of the cliffs, and as

we drifted alongside a dapper Japanese – I say dapper

advisedly, for he wore a boiled shirt and his trousers

 were creased – appeared at the cliff’s base, as if by

some magic of this land.

He caught the rope thrown down and tied us up to a

 knob of rock.

With the other creatures of my dream – or the other

 incredulous mortals (on each face was an expression as

 of incredulity) – I went down the gang-plank.

With them I passed round the base of the cliffs to

 where that floating side-walk touched land and with

 them, speechless, followed the path beyond.

It brought us to a garden.

“A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot.”

But a garden here – what did it portend?

 How came it?

The flowers were sweet-peas, delphiniums, asters,

 columbines, peonies, pansies, monster pansies, and

 many others besides – a pool of colour under the sheer


 And at the gate a lady stood to welcome us – dressed,

 by the way, as ladies are dressed who welcome us at

garden-gates in the sophisticated hubs.

 As erroneous is it to imagine that women in these

distant places (that is, places distant from wherever is

our own centre) are clad in skins of beasts, as to

 imagine that men who can cope with the trials and

affronts of the wilderness must needs be roughnecks.

Stevenson once remarked that he had seen a London

 lawyer in the cottage of a Hebridean fisherman and not

for worlds would reveal which he thought the greater


There’s a sophistication of the crowded centres that is

no more than a veneer.

 Scratch it and you find the barbarian.

And those who take their good manners and civilization

 into what we call the ends of the earth do not discard

 them there if they are the real thing.

 But this is a deflection from the lady who so charmingly

 met us at the gate of that sanctuary of flowers

 – not that she, memorable though her greeting remains,

 is the lady of this article.

Would we care to walk round the garden?

she suggested. Assuredly we would, and we passed on,

 a little quiet, spell-bound, for we had expected nothing

 like this, wilder wilderness, perhaps, but not a garden

 in it.

And, finding it, the contrast with the scene round us

 made it all the stranger.

Having walked through that oasis of colour we came to

a house beside which was a small conservatory.

 There we clustered, looking back at that tended and

multicolored enclosure, looking up at the contrasting

 severe summits, deeply aware of the quiet ashore here,

 the throbbing of the steamboat’s engine and thrash of

 her stern-wheel no longer sounding in our ears.

It was then that a little silver-haired lady in velvet and

 lace came to the door – our lady of the wilderness

– and bade us enter.

“You must introduce yourselves, she told us, “for you

 know me now, but I don’t know you.

 It was a large main room into which we moved, with

 space for us all.

There was a salver for our visiting-cards on a table

 to one side, cards of our hostess beside it; and a book

 lay there also for us to sign our names as her guests.

 The Japanese servant who had appeared round the

cliff to meet the boat, and another, carried trays among

 us laden with glasses of home-made wine.

When we had all drunk to our hostess she began to speak.

 She told us that this was a place far off to most and

 that it had been her husband’s custom to keep open house

 for all comers.

 He had recently died, but she was here to carry on

the tradition.

 (He and she – from the Isle of Man – had been long in

 the North).

 Stories of the land and the old days, such as those with

which he had been wont to entertain guests, she could

 not tell, but the house, said she, was still open house

 to all, as when he was there.

 And one usage that he had when visitors arrived she

 would ask us to acknowledge:

Here, where all the boundaries were so close – of Alaska,

 Yukon Territory, and British Columbia (into the

northern border of which, by the way, our twining

 inland voyage had brought us again, out of the Yukon)

 – it had been one of his aims to work toward friendship

 between the English-speaking peoples; and would we,

 to commence the evening, sing our two national anthems?

 ”You see,” said she, “he had the two flags side by side

 on that wall.”

 There they were, the Union Jack and the Stars

 and Stripes.

 We were all moved as one is moved , if not inhuman,

by humanity and sincerity, by direct simplicity of

speech and largeness of heart.

In a corner-niche was a little old harmonium – it had

 been in the country close on fifty years I heard later

– and sitting down before it she played, a frail figure

 in velvet, silver-haired, with lace at her throat and


There were about thirty of us in the room and of these

 but five were of British stock – the others all American

 – two New Zealand girls (one of English, one of Scots

extraction), a Canadian (from Calgary), my wife (an

English-woman), myself (a Scot, born in South America).

 ”We bring the Empire together,” the Calgary man

 would say when by chance the girls from New Zealand,

 my wife and I, and he happened at any time to meet.

 Now more than Empire was brought together.

 I was moved, deeply moved. I wished that Ramsay

MacDonald and Hoover might have been there.

It would have moved them I know, this peace-parley

 in the heart of that quiet North, this little old lady

 gathering us together in friendship.

We sang first, in deference to the majority, led by

 our hostess, My Country ‘Tis of Thee.

And when the Americans sang with us God Save

the King I regretted that there were words of their

 anthem of which I had been uncertain, so well they

 knew ours and so enthusiastically sang – to us and to

that lady in the wilderness who kept open house for us.

 After that we had community singing.

 We sang Scots songs that all knew, and old English

 songs, and songs of the war – Pack Up Your Troubles

 . . . , Tipperary – that recalled to some the bitter war

 years and made the spirit of this gathering doubly

 valuable, and plantation songs.

But soon our hostess was prevailed upon by her friend

and companion (who had met us at the gate) to lie down.

 Before she obeyed, however, she had to make another

 little speech, one of apology.

 She said that she had known a lot of trouble recently,

and that very morning she had been upset.

A murmur of condolence passed, and she went on to

 explain that there was a moose she was trying to tame.

It had been coming very close to the door, but that

morning, just as it drew near, an airplane roared

 overhead and frightened it away.

The wilderness with its moose and its caribou and its

 wolves; the wilderness, and this garden, and airplanes:

 that’s the North today.

 I did not know if all was true or but a dream and that

 at any moment I might awaken.

 From her friend I heard of how, lately, our hostess

 (Mrs. Partridge) had been widowed but, loving the

 place and its memories, and all that had been made of it,

 hoped to stay on, with these memories.

Twice a week in summer the steamer from Carcross

called and everybody came ashore, as on that day.

They had a motor-boat that the gardener ran.

 In winter they had their dog-team.

They had their books. To my wife Mrs. Partridge said

 that perhaps, for this winter, she might go out.

That, thought my wife, might presumably mean

 Vancouver, Victoria, or at least Skagway.

“Oh, no,” was the response; “I might go out to White


Even in that reply was something of the charm of it

 all, the sense of other-worldliness, the spirit that made

 this visit memorable, an event of one’s life, an

experience so unexpected that even now I wonder at

 times if it is something I have dreamt or imagined.

A glance at the map will show how far out is White Horse,

that tiny metropolis of the Yukon.

When gold was found in place in the neighbouring

mountains Mr. Partridge built here a home that would

 be worthy of a woman of civilized refinements, and

 banked it round with flowers.

Ben-My-Chree he called it, which is Manx for Girl of

My Heart.

 And still his widow lingers here with her happy

 memories – to carry on, carrying on.

After the singing there were new odours in the room

and the servants brought among us trays of tea, coffee,

and cakes.

 I need hardly tell you that before we left we all trooped

past that couch where our hostess lay, to give her our

 sincere adieux.

 And then I stole off alone beyond the house, up the

slope a little way (past a cluster of trees, the very

 boughs of which seemed to hold the hush), to look at

 the place where she lived.

I got beyond the voices.

I felt the enfolding silence, the silence one reads about,

the silence of the Yukon.

The sense of all being but a dream within a dream

 caught me; the strangeness caught me; the silence

caught me.

In fact what I felt there was perhaps that spell of the

North of which I had often read.

I realized that, for better or worse, it might easily

 take hold of one – till death do us part, as it were –

and it was a spell, it seemed, at one and the same time

 tranquil and sinister, beneficent and terrible.

I understood the Lure of the North, that Lure other

 than the one that is in the hope for sudden fortune in

 the gold of its rocks and sands.

 These phrases one reads – “Come and find me;” “What

 lies beyond the ranges;” and so forth – are not mere


I tore myself away from that arresting and detaining

quiet, that spell, and joined the others below.

Our heels sounded muffled on the floating side-walk

 as we returned to the boat.

It was well on in the evening by the evidence of our

 watches but day lingers long in these high latitudes in

 summer, and even after we had cast loose and backed

 away from the cliff the sky above us was full of bright

 memories of day – and would hold them almost till a

 new day dawned.

In the water through which again we thrashed the day

 had not gone.

 It clung there, beautiful and a little sad.

But in the place we had left, under the towering

 precipices, lights were being lit.

Yes, Ben-My-Chree was real. It was true, and we were

leaving it alone there as the night of the valleys

 brimmed round it.

I watched the lights diminish in size beyond our grey

 wake in the spectral water, watched till they were

 eclipsed at a bend, and then climbed again to the

 pilot-house in that queer drizile of lingering day

 through the gathering night.

 The first officer was there. He looked at me as I entered,

raising his eyebrows in an inquiry.

But, somewhat as he had wanted to give me no word

of preparation for what I was to see, I felt unable to say

 anything to him in reply to that lift of his brows.

 And I think he understood. Of course he understood.

I shall never, so long as I live, forget that lady in the

 wilderness, the lady of Ben-My-Chree.

Reprinted from Canadian Home Journal, 1938.

 FOR BEN-MY-CHREE There’s a dear place in the Yukon,

 Where my heart is ever homing, When the birds return

 with springtime From the south; And I long, as flowers

 for sunlight, For that golden Northern gloaming, And

 the touch of Tagish waters On my mouth.

I could tell you how the moose drink In the starlit

 upland meadow, Where the beaver builds his dam

Across the stream; How the little fox slips swiftly

Ere the moonbeams catch his shadow, When the lakes

 enchanted lie In winter dream.

 Of those mountains in the moonlight Words can never

 paint the glory- Pendant glaciers gleam like diamonds

Viewed afar.

Monarchs, they, of many winters And their snow-bound

 heads are hoary, Laved in northern lights Or golden

 evening star.

Silver mists at dawn and twilight Drift above the

sapphire water, Wreathe with haloed grace the site Of

 Ben-My-Chree; Though the Wilderness returns there,

Takes her own I and gives no quarter, Dreams immortalize

 its loveliness For me. Kathleen Keats White.





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