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Alaska Highway or Alcan?

What's the real name, and where does it start and end?

by Murray Lundberg


Northern Highways - Alaska, the Yukon & northern British Columbia

    The Road to Adventure - in a world that gets more crowded every year, the Alaska Highway provides an unequalled opportunity to see wilderness on a scale that has to be seen to be believed.

    As the main access route to a region that was named after the original inhabitants' descriptive names Alyeska ("the Great Land") and Yukon ("The Great River"), the highway offers a unique, never-to-be-forgotten experience for those who come prepared to look and listen carefully.

    Built in 1942 as a miltary access road, the highway stands as a tribute to the determination and resourcefulness of the tens of thousands of men and women who have worked on it, not only during the construction, but through the constant upgrading of the higway,and the maintenance that has, often against enormous odds, kept it open year-round since it was built.

    Called the Alaska Military Highway at first, it then became the Alaska-Canada Highway, which was shortened to Alcan before being finally replaced by Alaska Highway, the name by which it is officially known today. To the people who built it, though, it was simply The Road. For 8 months, the lives of 18,000 men and women were dominated by The Road, and for most, it would remain one of the highlights of their lives.

    Today, there is a lot of confusion about the highway. Many Americans still know it as the Alcan, and claims by communities as far away as Weed, California, that they are the start of the Alaska Highway, make finding the truth tougher than it should be. The photos and descriptions below will hopefully clear up some of the confusion.

Click on each photo below to enlarge it


Edmonton Highway 2 - the start of the Alaska Highway In 1943, Jean Ball stands by the sign marking the start of her Great Adventure. She left Edmonton to work on the Canol Project, and as Jean Kadmon decades later, wrote an exciting novel based on her experiences. You can read excerpts from Mackenzie Breakup by clicking here.

While Edmonton was one of the major supply centres during the construction of the Alaska Highway, it's claim to be the start of the highway is not credible. They also claimed to be the start of a trail to the Klondike goldfields in 1898, and despite the fact that that fraud led to many deaths, they still celebrate it with "Klondike Days".

The traffic circle in Dawson Creek, British Columbia that is generally recognized as the start of the Alaska Highway. Dawson Creek, British Columbia, is the true start of the Alaska Highway, but even there you have to do some digging to find the exact location. This photo shows the traffic circle at the intersection of 8th Street and Alaska Avenue that is generally recognized as the start of the highway. The location used to be marked by a plain four-foot-high post, but it was knocked down by a car in 1946, and a fancy new post was erected downtown.

The Start of the Alaska Highway monument in downtown Dawson Creek, British Columbia This is the most-photographed "Start of the Alaska Highway" monument. Very attractive, but it's in the wrong location - it was put there for visibility, not historic accuracy.

The Start of the Alaska Highway area at NAR Park in Dawson Creek, British Columbia This area at NAR Park (Northern Alberta Railway Park) is as close as you're going to get for a good photo of the start of the highway (and you have to dash across often-heavy traffic to get this shot). There are several signs and monuments about the highway here, including the simple post seen at the top of this article. The former grain elevator in the background now houses the Dawson Creek Art Gallery.

The brass 'Alaska Highway Mile Zero' plaque at NAR Park in Dawson Creek, British Columbia The brass plaque at NAR Park says:

ZERO MILE
and the official starting point of the
GREAT ALASKA HIGHWAY
constructed between 1942 and 1944,
and extending for 1,523 miles from
DAWSON CREEK, BRITISH COLUMBIA
to
FAIRBANKS, ALASKA

However, being cast in brass doesn't mean it's true. See comments below about the errors.

The 'End of the Alaska Highway' sign in Fairbanks, Alaska in the 1960s The Fairbanks business community was successsful in getting the "End of the Alaska Highway" monument erected on the banks of the Chena River at what is now Golden Heart Park. In about 1991, however, it was moved to Delta Junction, 98 miles south. The move was justified by the fact that the Richardson Highway already existed between Delta Junction and Fairbanks when the Alaska Highway arrived. This 1960s sign states the length of the highway as 1523 miles, but sometime later it was changed to 1520 miles.

The original tote road was 1,670 miles long, but it was substantially shortened when it was upgraded to an all-weather highway in 1943-1944.

The End of the Allaska Highway sign at Delta Junction, Alaska The current "End of the Alaska Highway" monument at Delta Junction, Alaska. This is Historic Mile 1422. It is in front of the Visitor Center along with some interpretive displays about the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and across the road is the restored Sullivan Roadhouse.

Historic Mile 1422 is actually about 1,390 miles from Dawson Creek now due to continuing work to straighten the highway.


The Alaska Highway