CONSTRUCTION OF THE ALASKA HIGHWAY

On February 2, 1942, the United States government decided to build the pioneer road, following Route C. This route would be 1600 miles long. The construction began early in March, 1942 in the town of Dawson Creek, and continued up the winter trail to Fort Nelson. The original work crew contained seven regiments from the US Army Corps of Engineers. By June, there were more than 10,000 American troops working on the road in Canada.

The planning and supervision of the Highway was too much for one man. The work was split between General William Hoge and Colonel James O'Connor, while Colonel John Wheeler was in charge of the actual construction. Work crews were divided into three distinct divisions: the Southern Division, the Central Division, and the Northern division.

The Highway was started for military use only, but was widened for civilian use at a later date. The construction of the Alaska Highway sparked the building of the Canol Project. This was an oil pipeline and a road built in conjunction with the Alaska Highway.

On March 2, 1942, the first troops arrived in Dawson Creek, BC. They started construction, continuing on to Fort Nelson and Fort St. John. The first Yukon community reached by the troops was Watson Lake, 335 miles of wilderness from Ft. Nelson. The highest point of the road was reached at Summit Lake, over 4,000 feet above sea level. Old army trucks, horses, and manual labour were the various means that the soldiers used to push the highway through the seemingly endless tracks of wilderness.


Troops arriving in Dawson Creek.

Due to the lack of modern (advanced) technology, there were many accidents during the course of the construction. At Charlie Lake on May 14, 1942, 11 men drowned when their raft capsized while crossing the river.

The Alaska Highway was completed in a record amount of time: eight months and twelve days. The road was completed on November 20, 1942. Opening ceremonies were held that same day at Soldier's Summit, on the shores of Kluane Lake. Minister Ian Mackenzie and a contingent of the RCMP were present to represent Canada, while General O'Connor and a contingent of American soldiers represented the United States.

ENVIRONMENT

From common observation of the local First Nations people, the men building the highway treated the environment harshly. They shot every animal within rifle range, fished streams to depletion, and polluted ground and water. During the construction, trees were cut down to build bridges and culverts. Logs were also used for heating camps and buildings. To prevent problems arising, such as the thaw of permafrost, trees, shrubs and turf were stripped to preserve the top layer of soil. If it wasn't possible to preserve the soil, gravel beds were laid and the road was built over these beds.

You can still see the relics of the broken down trucks which were abandoned alongside the highway. These trucks were eventually stripped for parts. However, the most lasting damage done by careless and hasty construction were ruined streams and oil spills. The only environmental concern of the workers at the time was forest fire.

Due to over harvest of large game animals, the Canadian Government set up the Kluane Game Preserve in 1942. This preserve protected animals such as moose and Dall Sheep from over hunting. The preserve was the first step in the creation of Kluane National Park, which was recently named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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