THE LAST FRONTIER
OF THE HIGHWAY
The Alaska Highway, formerly known as the Alcan (Alaska-Canadian) Highway, winds its way through wilderness connecting Dawson Creek, British Columbia and Fairbanks, Alaska. President Herbert Hoover considered an overland link from the lower 48 to Alaska as early as 1930.
However, it was not until the bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941 that construction of the highway was deemed a military necessity, as a supply road to defend North America against the Japanese. President Roosevelt authorized construction of the Alaska Highway on February 11, 1942. The U.S. secured rights-of-way through Canada in March. The formal agreement between the two countries stipulated that the U.S. pay for construction and turn over the Canadian portion of the highway to the Canadian government after the war ended. In turn, Canada furnished the right-of-way; waived import duties, sales tax, income tax and immigration regulations; and provided construction materials along the route. Officially, the highway began on March 8, 1942 with a group starting north from Dawson Creek, a small town of 600; the highway was completed eight months later on October 25, 1942.
More than 11,000 American troops, including 7 regiments of engineers, 16,000 civilian workmen from Canada and the United States and 7,000 pieces of equipment were thrown into the herculean task of penetrating the 1500 miles of mountains, muskeg and mosquitoes.
For the soldiers and workers it was a difficult life. Fatigue, hypothermia and accidents were a part of everyday life as the workers set down eight miles of road a day, seven days a week.
The general route of the highway was along a line of existing trails and airfields from Edmonton, Alberta to Fairbanks, Alaska. This chain of airfields was known as the Northwest Staging Route.
On September 24, 1942, soldiers met at Contact Creek, near the British Columbia – Yukon border marking the completion of the southern sector. The road was literally bulldozed through the wilderness. Road conditions of the Alcan were horrific with 90-degree turns and 25 percent grades.
Then on a cold November 20, 1942, 250 soldiers, civilians and Royal Canadian Mounted Policemen watched as officials from the United States and Canada cut the ribbon to officially open this major road link. The ceremony took place at Mile 1061, known as “Soldiers Summit”. The highway was officially opened to the public in 1948. A monumental achievement even by today’s standards, the Alaska Highway was literally carved out of the wilderness in only eight months at a cost of $140 million dollars.
On September 28, 1996 at a ceremony in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, the Alaska Highway was designated as the 16th International Historical Civil Engineering Landmark.
Today the Alaska Highway is a scenic route that is completely paved and is open year round.