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