The Hougen Group of Companies - A Yukon Tradition
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Lake Bennett

The most widely known lake in the Yukon is named after an American newspaperman. Of all Yukon lakes, it commands the most respect for its role in shaping the history of the territory.

As with many other Yukon geographical features, Lake Bennett had more than one name. To the Tagish Indians, it was Kusooa - or Windy - Lake. To the early day Klondikers, it was simply known as Boat Lake, the spot were countless thousands of make-shift craft were built by would-be prospectors who had laboured up the Chilkoot Pass.

It was that tireless American Army Lt., Frederick Schwatka, who gave Lake Bennett its name. On his expedition of 1883, from Dyea, over the Chilkoot Pass and down the entire length of the Yukon River, he ignored all previous names and named it after James Gordon Bennett, editor of the New York Herald, which was a supporter of the American expedition.

In 1897-98, the shores of Lake Bennett contained the largest tent city in the world, as tens of thousands of Klondikers set up shop here on their journey to Dawson City. The Bennett Sun newspaper operated here for a little over a year before moving to Whitehorse to become the Whitehorse Star.

The White Pass Railway skirts the shores of the lake from its headwaters to Carcross with one stop on the way, Pennington station, about half way up the lake. Here, the beautiful Pennington Island is the site of two wooden grave markers, with two names engraved below hand-carved crosses. The names, unfortunately, cannot be clearly distinguished.

Lake Bennett, surrounded as it is by snow-capped coastal mountains, is at once beautiful and dangerous. It is hard to imagine that the coastal winds, whipping up waves a meter high or more, did not result in more deaths of gold seekers in their hand-hewn boats. It's also hard to imagine a more picturesque site in the world, when the winds are calm and the lake is flat.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Lake Bennett
Lake Bennett, Click for larger view.

Lake Bennett 1
Panorama of Lake Bennett community looking south. Exteriors of Yukon Hotel, Dawson Hotel, Hotel Victoria, B.L. & K.N. Co. Buildings.
Date: 1899.
Yukon Archives. Anton Vogee fonds, #39.
Click for larger view.

Lake Bennett 2
View of the tents comprising the R.L.T. Co.'s camp near the small pond at Bennett. In the foreground are a gathering of R.L.T. Co. horses and freight wagons. Date: July 6, 1899.
Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #4896.
Click for larger view.

Politics and Population

The Yukon's political evolution has always been closely tied to the territory's population growth or decline, which, until recent times, has been tied to the state of the mining industry.

When the Yukon became a territory in 1898, the best guess at the population would be somewhere around 40,000. Three years later, in 1901, the official census revealed that 27,000 people called the Yukon their home. By 1908, there were but 10,000 people in the territory. Yet that year, federal legislation for the first time allowed for a fully elected council of 10 members.

However, the council wouldn't last long. By 1919, the population had dwindled to a mere 4,000residents, and the elected council was reduced to three members. Also that year, the office of commissioner which had been established in 1898, was abolished. The legendary George Black was the last commissioner until the office was re-established in 1948. The duties were transferred to the gold commissioner, the first being G.P Mackenzie. This remained the all powerful political position in the Yukon and controlled all money bills and legislation.

In the 1930s, there was a further decline in the Yukon's population, and the gold commissioner's position was abolished. In 1932, control of the territorial government came under the office of the Yukon's comptroller George Jeckell, who held the position until 1947. Though the title had changed, the powers, if anything, were greater. Jeckell almost single-handedly ran the Yukon's affair for 15 years.

With the coming of the Alaska highway, however, and the post-war growth of the mining industry, the population was once again on the increase, especialy in the southern Yukon. The office of Commissioner was re-established in 1948. In 1951, the territorial council was increased to five elected members. In 1953, the growing town of Whitehorse became the Yukon capital.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin