The B.L.& K.N. Company are just closing a season of enterprise and daring energy which has been crowned with success from the day the first of their three boats was launched in Lake Bennett. Last winter the North American continent was swamped with a multitude of transportation schemes. There were balloon schemes, steam ice sleds, reindeer transportation companies and steamboat lines by way of St. Michaels, till you couldn't rest. But in Victoria live people in possession of practical information of the upper Yukon and its lakes, so that while vast sums were being subscribed for railroads, all-Canadian routes, all-American routes, etc., Mr. F.M. Rattenbury quietly organized a company to operate on the upper river and contributed heavily himself.
Of all the transportation schemes hatched last winter none have proved the unqualified success of the B.L.& K.N. It was known that boats could not ascend the White Horse Rapids, and again, it was supposed to be impossible to take a steamer up Five Fingers, so the company adopted the plans of Mr. Rattenbury and decided upon building three boats with transfer of freight and passengers at the two points mentioned. The company obtained a timber grant at the mouth of Wheaton river, 20 miles from Bennett and first put in a sawmill - the machinery for the mill and three steamers being hauled over the icy Skaguay trail.
The gallant little steamer Ora, under the able command of Captain Ritchie made the first successful trip from Bennett to Dawson and back to White Horse and then transferred to the Flora for Bennett, making the time of the first complete round trip, Bennett to Bennett, in less then nine days. The captain found that it was possible to climb the Five Fingers at any stage of the river by use of cables, and without any extraneous aid for the greater part of the summer. Thus it has happened that the Ora and Flora have completed the seventeenth trip from Dawson, connecting with the Nora at White Horse and taking out of the country some 1500 people and bringing in about 700. As for freight, the amount handled from the first trip to the last has been limited only by the capacity of the boats. The company is at present besieged with contracts for next season, both for passage and freight and right now could book all the company could handle for a number of the first trips of 1899.
It is seldom transportation companies have such a run of unparalleled good luck right from the inception. Not an accident of importance to mar the season's success. One reason of it all is the disposition of the company to spare no expense in securing the wisest and best posted men to handle the boats. Captain Ritchie, master of navigation and captain of the Ora, is a phenomenal water man and has charted the Thirty-mile river after the fashion of a government chart, for use in the low water of next spring. Every rock, sand bar and hidden danger is correctly marked and it is the intention of this enterprising company to be navigating the river next year from the foot of LeBarge to Dawson long before the ice leaves the lakes.
Mr. H. Temple Fall, who has managed the Dawson end of the line for the past summer, has done much to popularize that line. Contracts made either in Victoria or Dawson have been carried out with such perfect good faith that the Bennett Lake & Klondike Navigation company is now regarded as standard and reliable as the C.P.R. or other great lines. Such public approval can only follow conscientious and able management.
The bringing of the Ora and Flora through Miles Canyon was a critical time for the company. Dixon, the famous police pilot, was secured and given carte blanche for what help he needed. Green logs were securely fastened along the guard rails and into the foaming chasm went the Ora. Should her nose strike in an angle of one wall the stern would swing and jamb against the other and in an instant the rushing torrent would tear her plank from plank. However, she went through like a charm, merely skinning the bark from the logs on one side. It was the occasion for much cheering and self-congratulation when the company found itself with one boat below the rapids. Then the Flora made the run, and with two boats below and one above, the company has been enabled to give uninterrupted service all summer.
Mr. F.M. Rattenbury, the head of the company, is a gentleman who came into prominence some time ago as the architect of the famous government buildings lately completed in Victoria. Another large stockholder is manager Gallettly, of the Victoria Bank of Montreal. The company has made the most distinctive success of any "cheecharko" company organized last winter, and intends to fully keep pace with the transpiring events. The plans for the
coming summer of 1899 includes the building of two and probably three large steamers, which will be built with a special view to securing great power and speed. The 900 mile round trip from Dawson to White Horse and back will be made, if power can do it, in seven days, while the hundred-mile trip from the Canyon to Bennett will be reduced from ten to seven hours.
The company is now firmly established in the public mind as permanent and efficient, and as the pioneers of upper river transportation and certainly deserving of every commendation for the enterprising and courageous opening of rapid transportation
and transit over courses until this year deemed practically impassable to anything but canoes and small boats.
Much of the successful summer's work in the upper river is due to the great river skill and popularity of Captain Ritchie and Captain Martineau.
From the genial Captain Jack Rattenbury, brother of President F.M. Rattenbury, we learn of the intended last trip of the Ora. She will once more make the ascent of the river unless prevented by a combination of the elements. Other boats have been laid up in winter quarters for a month, but "fortune favors the brave" and nature is kind enough to leave the river open and free for weeks beyond the time navigation usually becomes impossible.