Alaska Highway History
Nowadays the aura of the Alaska Hwy is psychological rather than physical. In every way it's a modern two-lane road, with smooth curves, broad sight lines and paving from one end to the other, but that has not always been the case. A famous 1943 photo shows a jeep seemingly being sucked down through a morass of mud while soldiers look on helplessly.
With the outbreak of WWII, Canada and the US decided that years of debate should end and that a proper road was needed to link Alaska and the Yukon to the rest of Canada and the US.
That a road – any road – could be carved out of the raw tundra and wilderness of the north in a little over eight months was a miracle, although unlimited money and manpower (11,000 soldiers and engineers and 16,000 civilians!) helped. The 2450km gravel highway ran between Dawson Creek in British Columbia (BC) and Fairbanks in Alaska. The route chosen for the highway followed a series of existing airfields – Fort St John, Fort Nelson, Watson Lake and Whitehorse – known as the Northwest Staging Route.
In April 1946, the Canadian section of the road (1965km) was officially handed over to Canada. In the meantime, private contractors were busy widening, graveling and straightening the highway, leveling its steep grades and replacing temporary bridges with permanent steel ones – a process that has continued since, creating the modern road you drive today.
Known variously as the Alaskan International Hwy, the Alaska Military Hwy and the Alcan (short for Alaska–Canada) Hwy, it's now called the Alaska Hwy. It has transformed both the Yukon and Alaska, opening up the north to year-round travel and forever changing the way of life of the Aboriginal populations along the route.
The Alaska Hwy begins at 'Mile 0' in Dawson Creek in northeastern BC and goes to Fairbanks, Alaska, although the official end is at Delta Junction, about 155km southeast of Fairbanks.
Mileposts long served as reference points, but improvements shortening the road and Canada's adoption of the metric system have made mileage references archaic. Historic numbers persist in the names of some businesses and attractions.
For more on the Alaska Hwy and its harrowing past, check out the Watson Lake Visitor Center, the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse, the Soldier's Summit Trail in Kluane National Park, and the Alaska Highway House in Dawson Creek, BC.
For a detailed guide to every feature, including seemingly every pothole and moose dropping, look for the Milepost, a legendary annual publication.