Anyone fortunate enough to travel the length of Lake Bennett from Carcross is travelling a voyage of incredible history. Down this 35-mile long lake came cheechakos hell-bent for the gold fields. Their boats were crude crafts made from lumber that they whipsawed on the shores of the lake where a city called Bennett sprang up in 1898.
The Bennett townsite did not last long for no one wanted to stay here between the rugged coastal mountains where sometimes the wind whipped down the long waters like a banshee calling them to certain catastrophe. But stay they did - long enough to head north.
Long enough to build a tent town that is no more. Long enough to build a church that has defied the elements and stood for more than one hundred years.
The church is the work of Reverends Andrew Grant and A.J. Sinclair who arrived in Skagway in 1898. Reverend Dickey had established a church and hospital in the lawless American town the previous year, but had then turned it over to the American Episcopal Church. Grant and Sinclair climbed the steep slopes of the Chilkoot pass and struggled on to Lake Bennett . Here they built a church from the scraps of whipsawed lumber left over from the boat-building activities of the stampeders. The two men had packed stained glass over the Chilkoot trail. The glass which had been hand blown, was donated by a church in Victoria , B.C.. These pieces of glass were fitted into the church windows in solid squares.
By the time the Church was finished in 1901, the town of Bennett was also finished. By now, the White Pass Railway passed by on its way to Whitehorse . And while people tore down or moved the buildings of Bennett to other locations, the church stood alone on the shores of the lake.
Nevertheless, a few stalwarts remained. In February 1901, James Russell conducted a service in St. Andrew's Church and the Bennett Sun, which soon became the Whitehorse Star, was still publishing weekly.
I was fortunate one summer Sunday to travel from Carcross to Bennett in the company of my chum, Willard Phelps. He knew the lakes and the history. That was not surprizing since his Granddad, also named Willard Phelps, has been at this very spot with the other cheechakos on their way to the gold fields so long ago.
Oh what a story Willard and the Bennett church could tell. And did!
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin