The History of the Alaska Highway
The Alaska Highway, which has been dubbed as the Alaska-Canada Military Highway or “Alcan” begins at Mile 0 in Dawson Creek, British Columbia and leads in a northwesterly direction through the Yukon Territory to Mile 1,520 at Fairbanks, Alaska.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 spurred the construction of the Alaska Highway. The USA Military considered Alaska to be a vulnerable target to a Japanese invasion, and the highway was deemed a military necessity. USA President Roosevelt authorized the construction of the Alaska Highway and the build began five days later in March 1942. The Alaska Highway was completed in just eight short months!
The general route of the highway was along a line of existing airfields from Edmonton, Alberta to Fairbanks, Alaska. But down on the ground, the road followed existing winter roads, old pack trails and rivers. Literally bulldozed through the wilderness, the road conditions along the Alcan were horrific. Construction persevered through the spring as the winter weather faded and crews were able to work from both the north and southern ends. Ninety degree turns and twenty-five percent grades were not uncommon. Construction accelerated after reports of Japanese invasion of Kiska Island and Attu Island in the Aleutians. On September 24, 1942 USA Military crews from both directions met at mile 588 at Contact Creek. The highway was officially dedicated on November 20, 1942 at Soldier’s Summit.
In exchange for the highway’s right-of-way through Canada and other considerations, the USA paid for construction of the highway and turned over the Canadian portion of the Alaska Highway to the Canadian government in April 1946. After considerable improvements, the Alcan officially opened to the public in 1948. Since that time, extensive rerouting in Canada has shortened the Alaska Highway by approximately 35 miles (55 kilometres); mostly by eliminating winding or unsafe sections of the Highway. These improvements are responsible for differences between actual miles between points and the historical mileposts used as location references. When traveling the Alaska Highway today, you will notice historical mileposts along the British Columbia and Yukon sections of the Highway that note some 83 specific locations of interest. Be sure to stop at a few of these locations and get a sense of dedication on the making of the historic Alaska Highway.
The Alaska Highway turns 75! Plan to celebrate with us in 2017. Visit www.celebratealaskahighway.com