WINDING ALONG LAKE BENNETT

The WP&YR train rounds a corner along Bennett Lake on one one of its first commercial trips from Skagway to Carcross, Yukon.

Rail Access to Carcross Restored

Story and Photos
by Casey Dean

The crews are excited, the tourists are excited, the locals are excited. All aboard — the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad is once again climbing all the way from Skagway to Carcross.
For the first time since 1982, train service extends past Bennett, B.C. to Carcross, Yukon. WP&YR’s intent to reopen the train run was announced July 29, 2006, and the first opportunity passengers had to ride into Carcross was Wednesday, May 23. Each day, one northbound and one southbound train make the winding tour, which includes a two-hour stop in Bennett for a meal at the eating house and walking tour of the old city.
According to an Aug. 11, 2006 article in The News, WP&YR spent almost $8 million reconstructing the track, five cars have been restored and five more were purchased for the route.
Crewmembers said the new leg has been incorporated with few problems. Several practice runs were made before passengers were transported along one of the world’s longest narrow gauge railroad. Train guide Jacqueline Taylor said the new sound systems installed in the coaches have required a bit of problem-solving with batteries, and conductor Lee Hartson said the beans didn’t arrive in the kitchen of the eating house until Sunday, May 27.

The train depot is visible from the old church at Bennett Lake, and the view north of what the first stampeders saw 110 years ago.

However, Taylor said the staff was excited during training for the opening of the tracks.
“Everyone was very excited about the return of the railroad up to Carcross and the return of the ... hot lunches at Bennett,” said Historical Research Director and WP&YR tour guide Doreen Cooper. She has been involved with several aspects of the new route, helping write and produce the walking tour brochure for Bennett, speaking during training and working with train agents.
“I think everyone is really pumped up,” she said, adding the system is working smoothly. “We’re all really excited.”
Hartson, who had a first pick on the route based on seniority with WP&YR, said the day trip is more laid back as well as easier with five cars rather than 15.
“It’s nice to go somewhere new,” he added. Several crewmembers joined Hartson in celebrating the free lunch at Bennett as well. Sunday’s menu included beef stew, the first round of beans and apple pie with a slice of cheese.
Eighty-eight northbound passengers joined the crew for the meal on the first Sunday of the service. The five cars have a capacity of 220.
Passengers with Holland America Line, which committed 20,000 of its customers to the Carcross train for the season, find the experience to be a comfortable means of seeing the landscape.
“There are very few trips that you can take that aren’t too strenuous where you can see all the natural beauty,” said Martha Johnson of Chattanooga, Tenn.
Scott and Connie Lai, from Taiwan, said the exposure to the climate of the far north was novel.
“I really enjoyed the trip from the beginning to Bennett because all the views there were just special.... The snow to us is really different,” Scott said.
Johnson added the atmosphere of the tour was exactly as she would expect, though the cars were more comfortable than she anticipated.
“The train was wonderful. You feel like you have stepped back a century, especially with the old stove in there,” she said.

Photo opportunities abound throughout the train tour, and fellow passengers are always willing to help. They are treated to a lunch at the eating house in Bennett, B.C. between Skagway and Carcross.

The commentary provided by train guides throughout the voyage covers the history of Alaska’s gold rush era, in addition to flora and fauna and personal accounts of the local guides.
Other locals on the train include people seeking a different mode of transportation between Skagway and Carcross or just a relaxing afternoon of sightseeing. Pat and Karen Lincoln, of Carcross, packed a lunch Sunday and hopped on the southbound train to Bennett, where they switched trains and returned home with northbound tourists coming from Skagway.
Karen said many Carcross residents have plans to make the trip to Skagway yearly, which train service between the two towns will facilitate. Pat added the train is a relaxing way to travel and there is always something to be learned from the tour guides.
She added that many Carcross residents are connected to the railroad through ancestors or have joined the restored service.
Train guide Peter Carr, who lives outside Carcross, said he jumped at the opportunity to be part of the new route.
“This is a dream job,” he said. “Getting to ride up and down Bennett (lake).”

FIRST PEOPLE PERFORM

The cast poses in front of the Koolseen building behind the Carcross train depot: From left: Charlene Baker, language technician filling in for other performers; Marilyn Jensen (Yadultin, Daklaweidi Clan); Diane Johns, lead drummer; Gary Johnson, dancer and prospector; Samatha Lindstrom, princess; and Jared Lutchman, Raven. Ardyce Czuchna-Curl

Historic Carcross ‘Koolsheen’ hosts dances by local CTFN band

CARCROSS - Raven, played by Jared Lutchman, swooped onto stage with wings spread wide and wooed the first nation princess. Other enthusiastic dancers directed by Marilyn Jensen included Gary Johnson, dancer and “prospector;” Diane Johns, lead drummer and narrator; and Charlene Baker, language technician who was filling in for other performers for the day.

All are members of the Carcross Tagish First Nation.

Admission price for the 20-minute show included a treat of freshly baked bannock, homemade blueberry jam and tea.
This reporter was fortunate to view a premiere performance in Carcross May 24. Diane Johns narrated the story as Tlingit and Tagish Kwaaan actors, singers, drummers and dancers interpreted the traditional myth of how Raven stole the moon, stars and sun to bring light into the world.

First People’s Performances theatre presents “How Raven Brought Light Into the World,” twice daily, six days a week at Carcross in the Koolseen building behind the Carcross train depot and visitor center.

“We’ll be focusing on the train,” said Marilyn Jensen, director/producer, singer and dancer. Train riders will be their target audience as the WP&YR train will be stopping for an hour in Carcross allowing visitors time to view the 20-minute show, but the public are also invited to purchase tickets for the show. Show times are currently 10:20 a.m. and 3:50 p.m. daily in Carcross, Pacific time. – ARDYCE CZUCHNA-CURL