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West Taku Arm excursion on the sternwheeler Tutshi, 1938

The sternwheeler Tutshi

The White Pass & Yukon Route railroad

Ben-My-Chree, British Columbia

    The brochure below was published by the White Pass & Yukon Route in March 1938 for passengers on this excursion. It describes the points of particular interest along the route from Carcross to Ben-My-Chree.

    CARCROSS is the "jumping-off" place for the West Taku Arm trip, and on reaching there by train we find the steamer "Tutshi" all ready to pull out, and a few minutes after the arrival of the train the cast-off whistle sounds and the "Tutshi" slowly pulls away from the dock. For the first mile or so the water is shallow and the steamer has to pick her way among the buoys. You will notice that no government marks the channel up here. The crew of the "Tutshi" does this with improvised buoys made of empty coal-oil tins disguised with white paint.

    On leaving Carcross you will see off to the left the Choutla Indian School, where Indians of both sexes are taught to face the world more in conformity with the ideas of the white man and where they are innoculated with a higher standard of living. The school is maintained by the Anglican Church.

    Soon after leaving the Indian school you will notice on the right a large white enclosure. This is one of the first fox farms that was started in this country and is owned by Mr. Proux. A few years ago a forest fire surrounded Mr. Proux' farm and when he believed that he could not stay the fire he opened all his pens so that the foxes could run out rather than get burnt. But the foxes knew better than their owner and they dug themselves in and remained safe.

    Almost as the fox farm fades from view you will notice an old steamboat taking its long last rest. This is the "Australian," an old pioneer who would tell you many thrilling tales could she speak. She is an old iron boat and has broken much ice, and was the method of transportation between Bennett and Carcross before the rails were laid along the shore of Lake Bennett.

    But the "Tutshi" quickly passes her pioneer sister and shortly arrives at Windy Arm. Take a look up this well-named inlet and you will see the little deserted town of Conrad, a typical example of the way capital is misspent. Conrad has a lot of good silver-lead ore at its back, but the man whom the capitalist sent out to develop it thought more of building roads and laying out townsites than he did of mining. So Conrad is today a deserted village instead of being a prosperous little mining town.

    About two miles past Windy Arm you will notice on the left a cluster of old cabins. These were built in the early days to shelter men and women "mushing" to the Klondike.

    A little farther on you can see in the distance the beginning of the mighty Yukon, for the lakes on which you are sailing are the headwaters of this great river. They are big lakes. The one you are on is about 120 miles long, with an average width of three miles. These headwater lakes need be big, for the Yukon uses up a lot of water in a year.

    Swinging round to the right and proceeding some few miles down the lake you will notice on the right a group of log buildings. This is Squaw Point. Look at your watch and you will find out that you have arrived here in comfort in about two hours, yet sometimes after a winter blizzard, it has taken men and dogs two days to make this shelter point with the mail.

    The next point of interest is "the line," which is none other than the sixtieth parallel and is the division between the Yukon and British Columbia. This will be most plainly seen on the left. A twenty-foot swath has been cut through the forest and this is plainly visible from the deck of the steamer. The mining laws of the Yukon and those of British Columbia differ considerably, and the "line" is cut to enable a prospector to know which province he is in so that he may govern himself accordingly.

    Just beyond the "line" the steamer passes the mouth of Tutshi River, which flows out of Tutshi Lake, this being the lake after which the "Tutshi" is named. Tutshi Lake is surrounded by heavily timbered hills, so the Indians called it Tutshi Lake, or "dark lake."

    Leaving Tutshi River behind and passing Racine's Falls on the right, you will arrive in about an hour and a half at the Outer Gate, and from here on the scenery changes and becomes more rugged.

    Six miles from the Outer Gate is Golden Gate, and here a few years ago happened one of the tragedies of the north. Government mail carriers were making their way over the lake ice with the mail. While the Government naturally does not expect lives to be unnecessarily risked in carrying its mail, the code of the mail carriers makes it a point of honor to let nothing stop them once they take hold of the mail and start out. So in this case, though the ice was thin and treacherous, they were taking the chance, little thinking fate was against them. In crossing from the little island to the shore, the ice broke and they found themselves a struggling mass in the icy waters. The men doubtless soon succumbed, but the dogs managed to pull the sled ashore, but not being able to free themselves from their harness they froze to death and were found on the little piece of beach which you pass close to, a frozen tribute to the perilous duty of carrying the mail in the winter time.

    Just as you pass by the "Gate" you will observe on the shore to the right a little white cross and this marks the spot where another northerner answered the last call in a heroic way, placing duty higher than life itself. Jack Fox, an old-time resident of the north, was carrying an important letter from the Engineer Mine to Atlin. It was the spring of the year and the ice was rotten, and in rounding a bluff the ice gave way beneath him. Nobody ever comes to the surface in these lakes, so old Jack's body was never found, but before he sank he managed to tie the letter to one of his snowshoes and slide it some distance away on the ice, so that when the search party came to the scene of the accident they found the snowshoe with the letter tied to it. Even as he died Jack had delivered his letter.

    A little farther down, Engineer Mine comes into sight. This was one of the most spectacular properties in British Columbia and has been the cause of endless litigation.

    Three-quarters of an hour from the Engineer Mine, the "Tutshi" turns into the West Taku Arm, and as it turns a corner a magnificent piece of scenery bursts into view, with the Glacier for a background. You must yourself see these grand, rugged old mountains burdened with ice and snow to appreciate them. This is too big a scene to describe. They look as though they were but created yesterday. Oftentimes marvelous reflections are mirrored in the glassy waters of the Arm and fortunate indeed is the traveller who looks upon the scene under conditions of perfect calm.

    It is difficult to realize that West Taku Arm is actually some two or three miles farther south than Skagway, and that these two points are only about thirty miles apart in an air line. The entire trip of approximately 150 miles has described a rough horseshoe, with Skagway at one end of the shoe and West Taku at the other.

    About seven o'clock in the evening, the steamer comes to a stop, at the end of the Arm, right at the foot of a towering bluff and everyone goes ashore to meet the host and hostess of Ben-My-Chree. All admit that this visit is a most unique experience and return to the steamer filled with amazement at what they have seen and heard in this remote corner of the north. After about two hours spent amidst the beauties and novelty of Ben-My-Chree, the steamer commences its return trip, and arrives in Carcross generally about 9:00 in the morning.

    It may be that there will be an hour or two to wait for the train. There is plenty to do in this short time. Firstly, there is an excellent hotel here, with a typical northern hostess, good meals and nice comfortable rooms, the walls of the sitting room being covered with the skins of many of the animals caught in this country. At Carcross also there are several fox ranches, which can usually be visited on payment of a small fee. There is also a most interesting museum of Indian curios and relics. Indians explain everything to the visiting tourist and show them how the Indians managed to catch animals and fish before the white man introduced firearms and fishing rods. A half hour’s walk brings you to the Choutla Indian School, which is most interesting and well worth a visit, or if you prefer you can cross the narrow piece of lake by the bridge and go down to the Indian cemetery, where are buried many of the discoverers of the Klondike. But whatever place you visit keep an eye on the time, so as not to miss your train.

    For your convenience you may check your hand baggage at baggage room, Carcross, through to your steamer at Skagway and it will be found in the Social Hall of your steamer.

    Upon arrival at Skagway, there is usually ample time for passengers returning from the West Taku Arm trip to see some of the beautiful home flower gardens and visit the curio shops, before going to the ocean steamer. Skagway flowers are famous. Dahlias, asters, snapdragons, gladioli, sweet peas, pansies, delphiniums and many other flowers grow in riotous profusion. It is doubtful if they can be excelled anywhere for size, brilliance and all-around perfection.