partnership with Stanley McLellan and Ludwig Swanson, two prospectors who had located rich hardrock gold veins a mile above lake level in the high mountains at the south end of West Taku Arm on Tagish Lake, which they called Ben-My-Chree to honour Kate. Otto’s role was to supply the mine site with supplies, including Kate’s fresh vegetables, and wood for cribbing timbers which he delivered with his boats. The mine employed anywhere between 10 and 60 miners depending on the season and type of work.Unfortunately, it was doomed by fate and destroyed during spring thaw in 1911 when an avalanche covered everything, killing McLellan and his wife who lived onsite in a small house made of rocks. The Partridges were unharmed as they lived down on their homestead in the valley, also called Ben-My-Chree, but that was the end of their mining aspirations.After the tragedy, they increased the size of their gardens. Kate planted two acres with over 40 kinds of flowers and shrubs that flourished in the glacial till during the long 17-hour days. It was reported that Kate’s delphiniums grew to ten feet and her pansies and poppies were 5″ in diameter. Otto also increased the vegetable acreage until aerial photos made Ben-My-Chree look like an improbable farm located in a wilderness valley 106 miles from the nearest civilization, which was Carcross.
By 1912, White Pass ships were detouring to the end of the lake to drop off mail and pick up fresh vegetables on their way to the “Switzerland of the North,” which was Atlin. Word quickly spread about the beauty and aesthetics of the Partridge gardens and Otto signed an agreement with White Pass in 1916, in the depth of WWI, to host tourist excursions, from Carcross, that featured Kate dressed like a lady in the wilderness and Otto in formal attire. Kate also entertained in the drawing room on organ and harmonium, and Otto was a natural-born storyteller who loved to tell tales about the Klondike Gold Rush.
By the time they entered the tourist business full-time, Kate was 62 and Otto 59 and they entertained upwards of 9,000 wealthy tourists every season until 1930, with the most famous names in their guest books being Teddy Roosevelt, Lord and Lady Byng and scores of Roaring Twenties celebrities including writers and movie stars. It was not a poor man’s holiday to go sightseeing in the Yukon.In 1930, after Kate had been widowed in mid-summer, the prominent writer Frederick Niven immortalized her forever with a cover story in Canadian Home Journal, including the quote above. Niven was totally flabbergasted by this widow in the wilderness, and his article was the first step in turning the Partridge family story into a mythical northern love affair that was plugged every year as the White Pass bought Ben-My-Chree and continued the tours until 1956 when lake and river travel ceased due to road construction during and after WWII.The “Girl of My Heart” is one of the most well-known and oft-repeated northern tales in Yukon history and is only published here as a reminder to modern Yukoners of how the oldtimers used to age in the North before the onset of Dementia Roadmaps, Grief symposiums, old-age newsletters and “deluxe” care facilities that resembled mental hospitals.And if you dare doubt the veracity of this epic love story, pray tell us who is in second place on this unique Yukon love list? Klondike Kate?