PT. 3 (MP 0): A brief history of the Alaska Highway

DAWSON CREEK, British Columbia (KTUU) - A lot can change in nine months.

Alaska remained an isolated territory, until 1942. At this point, the 49th state experienced big changes, when it was suddenly connect and accessible to the rest of the United States.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of construction, but the achievement is celebrated every day at milepost zero of the historic route.

“Can you even imagine a road – the permits signed – in nine months, now?” asked Sydney Davies, a visitor information counselor at the Alaska Highway House in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. “I don’t even know how they did it.”

They did it, because they had to. American and Canadian officials had discussed the idea of a road for years, but there had been little movement towards making it a reality. It took an act of war to break ground, and another to speed the process along.

The Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor made the road not a luxury, but a necessity.

The Japanese attacked in December of 1941. By February of 1942, the highway was approved by the Army, Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. And by March of 1942, construction had started.

Road workers included 11,000 soldiers; moreover, one-third of those were African-American soldiers – a huge percentage for the segregated armed forces.

The highway then took on new importance, when the Japanese military attacked the Aleutian Islands Kiska and Attu.

With the combined forces of these soldiers, the highway was completed to the Delta Junction in only nine months. While the final destination was Fairbanks, a road already existed between the two cities.

It was an amazing achievement, but it did not come without sacrifice. Many of the young soldiers had never seen conditions like the ones they were facing. So it made for incredibly rough going.

“They hadn’t surveyed the road, before they originally went up,” said Davies.

Additionally, military issued clothing and supplies were often inadequate. The thin clothes they were issued were not suited for the sub-zero temperatures of the winter months.

The story comes to life at the Alaska Highway House museum, and it is a must-see for history buffs who decide to travel the highway. Here are some key historical sites along the drive:

- Historic Mile 0:Dawson Creek, British Columbia
A great place to start your journey. Make sure to take your picture at the historic sign.
- Kiskatinaw Bridge: 30 km north of Dawson Creek; Mile 20 on the original Highway
Being one of the last drivable sections of the original highway, the bridge is still an impressive feat. While it is off the main highway itself, it is still worth the drive.
- Charlie Lake Memorial: Charlie Lake, British Columbia; Mile 52
A monument marks the site of a boating incident that killed 12 American soldiers, during the highway’s construction.
- Contact Creek: Mile 590
The site where crews working from the north met up with crews working from the south.
- Soldier’s Summit: Mile 1061
Located in Kluane National Park and Preserve, you will not only find great views, but you will also see four different versions of the highway, itself: the original tote road, the military road, the re-routed highway, and the most recent version of the road completed in 2008. To reach the monument, you will need to hike 1.0 kilometer off the road.

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