Alaska Highway
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10 part series

WaterfallsThere's a land where the mountains are nameless
And the rivers all run God knows where.
There are lives that are erring and aimless
And deaths that just hang by a hair.
There are hardships that nobody reckons
There are valleys unpeopled and still.
There's a land - how it beckons and beckons
And I want to go back, and I will.
Robert W. Service.


The Alaska Highway
by Jerry W. Bird

Imagine you are a time traveler. The year is 1942. The month is February - and our whole world is gripped by total war. For the moment, Axis forces hold the initiative, and for weeks following the Pearl Harbor disaster, every ship leaving North America's Pacific ports is threatened. The president's directive is clear: Furnish a supply route to the network of northern airfields - an overland route to supplement our air and sea lanes; one secure from attack." Approval comes swiftly, and the task begins, with end points set up by the military at Dawson Creek, BC. and Big Delta, Alaska. Overnight, the entire North mobilizes, as the rugged Trail of '42 rivals the famous Trail of '98 in worldwide focus. Those of us living in the Yukon at the time felt suddenly in the forefront of the action. What some called North America's greatest construction project since the Panama Canal began as a marvel of mobility at the time. U.S. Authorities combed the entire coast, seeking available water transportation, creating a patchwork flotilla of yachts, cargo vessels, tugs fish boats and barges.

The Alaska Highway was also a massive sea-bridge, spanning the coastal fjords of the Inside Passage to historic Skagway, then over the
White Pass by narrow-gauge railway to Whitehorse on the Yukon River, or up-coast to Valdez, Alaska, near Anchorage.

Inland, a 500-mile connection existed via rail and dirt road, from Edmonton to the staging point at Dawson Creek, BC. Mere dots on the map soon became feverish anthills of activity, as mountains of supplies and acres of equipment were stockpiled along the way. The fleet of paddle wheelers that plied the Yukon since the Gold Rush of the 1890s was pressed into service, since there were no real roads connecting the territory's main communities.

This is the opening of a video, written by BC Scene Editor Jerry W. Bird on hehalf of the Canadian Government for the Alaska Highway's 50th Anniversary

Brutal Climate: Reconnaissance, location work and a massive construction effort began simultaneously. By float plane, military aircraft, on foot, by pack horse, cat-train or dog sled - they traversed hundreds of miles in a few frantic months - up around, through and over some of the world's toughest terrain. The climate was brutal as anywhere on the globe. Elsdon Gladwin, first Canadian Army officer to drive the Pioneer Road described it to me.

"Those U.S. troops - I felt sorry for them to begin with - then was amazed at what they did. If you weren't there, you just couldn't understand it. I saw fellows so tired, they were ready to drop in their tracks. It was rush-rush-rush! Fellows were doing 18 to 20 hours a day on bulldozers. One was up to his neck in ice water repairing timbers in subzero weather. God, I admired them! Most were southerners - they'd never experienced cold like that. And in the summer, it was mosquitoes - like they'd eat you right there, or pack you away to eat at home."

In spite of muskeg, mountains and permafrost, the pace continued unabated. It was a partnership between army and civilian contractors of an unsurpassed scale -leading to the final breakthrough at Beaver Creek, near the Yukon-Alaska border. A formal ceremony at Soldiers Summit by Kluane Lake marked the event. The move by FDR earlier that year proved to be more than an eleventh hour decision. By December of '42, as convoys rolled up and down the Pioneer Road, forces of the Japanese Empire were already dug in on Alaska soil, preparing for the assault we all expected.

The preceding is from a half-hour documentary video, "Alaska Highway - the First 50 year," written by Editor Jerry W. Bird for the Alaska Highway's 50th Anniversary. This historic event was celebrated along the entire route, through British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska. Thousands of veterans, both army and civilian workers who participated in building the "Trail of 42" plus others involved in upgrading the highway to its present status, joined the reunion.

This world scale project helped create a vast air bridge to Russian Siberia and the Orient - the foundation for today's Air Highway to the Pacific as envisioned by Grant MacConachie, and early bush pilot from Edmonton, who later founded Canadian Pacific Airlines. Many airport locations, such as Dawson Creek , Fort St. John and Whitehorse were mere dots on the map at the time. All of them are profiled in Air Highways Magazine.As a guide to the area's attractions, the Air Highways Supermap traces all routes by land, sea and air. This includes the Overland and Marine Highways to Alaska, the Cassiar, Klondike, Dempster and Mackenzie. Connecting airline routes and ferry routes are also included.

More Great Journeys
Yellowhead Highway- Lake Manitoba to Haida Gwaii
Columbia Valley Route- East Kootenays to Jasper
Sea to Sky Highway- to Whistler and beyond
Klondike Memories - Yukon Riverboats and Steam Trains.


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