In 1883, American Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka was privately funded by his superior officer, Brigadier General Nelson Miles, to explore a travel route over the Chilkoot Pass and down the Yukon River.
The Chilkoot Pass was opened to explorers and prospectors three years before when the American military promised coastal Chilkat Tlingit chiefs that the newcomers would not infringe on the exclusive trading rights of their people.
Schwatka and his party built a raft at Lindeman Lake and travelled down this chain of lakes and the Yukon River to arrive at the Bering Sea in less than two months.
Charles W. Homan was travelling with Schwatka and he mapped the route by sketch traverses and latitude observation. This was the first survey of the route into the Yukon and the stampeders found Homan’s map very useful fifteen years later during the Klondike Gold Rush. Schwatka ignored the local place names given by First Nations, miners and traders and labelled geographical features along the route with the names of people he admired. Many of these names remain on our maps today.
Explorers Honouring Explorers
Lt. Frederick Schwatka named Bove Island and Bove Lake, now Tagish Lake, for Lieutenant Giacomo Bove, an officer in the Royal Italian Navy.
Lt. Giacomo Bove (1852-1887) was a famous explorer and an expert on ocean currents with a knighthood from Denmark and gold medals from Denmark and Argentina. In 1878-1879, Bove was a member of the first expedition, under the Scandinavian scientist and explorer, Adolf Erik Nordenskiold, to sail the north-east passage from Norway to the Bering Sea. In the early 1880s, Bove caught the world’s imagination with his expedition to map the Atlantic coast of Argentina.
Tagish Lake and Windy Arm are known for their fierce winds. Schwatka named the waters Bove Lake and may have been comparing his experience to the Arctic and Antarctic weather that Bove’s expeditions faced. Bove Island’s leeward channel offers protection from the rough waters of Windy Arm. In the late 1890s, thousands of prospectors sailed through here on their way to the Klondike in makeshift boats that they built on the shores of Bennett Lake. By 1898, the lake was once again known by its First Nation name Taagish.
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