History of the Highway

For over fifty years, the famed Alaska Highway has been a significant draw for visitors and residents alike. The building of the Alaska Highway is an epic tale that involves mystery, romance, and intrigue.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. This significant event forced the American and Canadian governments to reevaluate their security. There was an obvious need to shore up and protect the sovereignty of North America.

In response, a secure land transportation link was needed to transfer goods, materials, and men from the lower 48 states to Alaska. As one part of the wartime measures,1500 miles of road needed to be punched through the vast untamed wilderness of northern Canada and Alaska. Building in these northern areas would not be an easy feat; men and women would battle the mountains, muskegs and mosquitoes for eight months to finish this vital artery.

On March 9, 1942, Dawson Creek, a small northern Canadian community with a population of 600 people, bustled and swelled with activity when the first train carrying 

American troops arrived. In a matter of weeks the town’s population exploded to 10,000. Seven regiments of American engineers (approximately 11,000 men including three regiments of men with African American heritage) 16,000 civilians from Canada and the United States, and 7,000 pieces of equipment were thrown into action against some of the toughest and most unforgiving wilderness in the world.

On November 20, 1942, after little over nine months of intense construction, 250 soldiers, civilians, policemen, and government delegations from Canada and the United States, met at mile 1061, known as “Soldiers Summit”, where they cut the ribbon officially opening the “Alcan” Highway. The total cost for the construction of the 1,523 mile route, which also includes 133 major bridges and more than 8,000 culverts which, if placed end to end, would stretch over 57 miles, was about $140 million U.S. dollars.

This remarkable achievement has developed into a major transportation link in North America, stretching from Mile ‘0’ at Dawson Creek, British Columbia through the Yukon Territory and into Alaska. In 1946, reconstruction and upgrading was carried out under Canadian Army supervision.

On April 1, 1971, the Canadian Federal Government turned over the maintenance of the Yukon section of the Alaska Highway to the Yukon Department of Highways and Public Works. Ever since the Alaska Highway was completed in the 1940’s, a continuous program of upgrading, widening and straightening has been underway. Virtually 100% of the Alaska Highway is now paved. The Alaska Highway, once an emergency wartime road, has developed into a vital link between the giant industrial regions of the U.S. and Canada and the natural resources of the Alaska and Yukon. But, aside from the economic aspects of the highway, it also represents a permanent monument to the resilient and enduring friendship between two great nations. On September 28th, 1996, a ceremony was held in Dawson Creek, at this time the Alaska Highway was designated as the 16th International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

For more information on local history please visit: www.calverley.ca

Images on this page courtesy of the South Peace Historical Society.