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Alaska Highway Chronology

Alaska Highway History

An Explorer's Guide to the Alaska Highway ("Alcan")

  • 1787 - the region's first fur trading post, Rocky Mountain Fort, was built at the mouth of Tea Creek, 6 miles west of the present site of Fort St. John.

  • 1867, March 30 - the United States buys Alaska from Russia, for $7.2 million. Pressure to provide reliable transportation to Alaska soon begins.

  • 1896, August 15 - gold is discovered in the Klondike, and strong lobbying begins for construction of a land access route.

  • 1896-1897 - geologist Dr. Charles Camsell conducts a survey of the Liard, Frances and Pelly drainages. This exploration was very important to highway surveyors.

  • 1920, July 25 - four US Army Air Service DH-4B aircraft designed by Geoffrey de Havilland leave New York City for Nome, Alaska. The "Black Wolf Squadron" took 40 days, 4,502 miles, and 50 flying hours to reach Nome. Leaving Nome on the last day of August, the aircraft arrived back at Mitchel Field on October 20.

  • 1920 - exploratory flight through northern British Columbia by R. S. Logan, for the Canadian Civil Aviation Branch.

  • 1922 - a 120-mile trail was cut from Fort St. John to the Sikanni Chief River (Historic Mile 162, now Km 256) by the Topographical Survey of Canada. In 1941 this was extended to Fort Nelson by the Canadian Department of Transport.

  • 1925 - flight to Upper Liard by Lt-Col. J. Scott Williams.

  • 1927 - Yukon aviation begins with the formation of Yukon Airways and Exploration Company by businessman Clyde Wann and pilot Andy Cruickshank.

  • 1928 - Peter Cramer flew over the present highway, en route from New York to Nome.

  • 1929 - E.J. "Paddy" Burke began flying between Atlin and Teslin. Burke died of exposure and starvation after his float-equipped Junkers F-13 crashed on October 10, 1930, while flying between Liard Post and Atlin.

  • 1930, 1931 - Wiley Post flew over current highway.

  • 1931 - At the beginning of the Depression, local officials propose a highway to Alaska to spark economic development in British Columbia and the far northwest. A Congressional committee approves the plan, but the Canadian government rejects it for fear that Americans will claim sovereignty over the Canadian west.

  • 1932, November 21 - Slim Williams begins a trek from Alaska to Washington D.C. on a dog sled to speak with politicians in support of a highway proposal known as Route A. Strongly supported by British Columbia, Washington State and Alaska, the proposed route will connect Vancouver and Alaska, running along a scenic route a short distance inland from the Pacific Coast. During his travels Williams becomes a minor celebrity, and when he reaches Washington, he is immediately invited to speak with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

  • 1933, September - an international commission reports on the feasibility of building what was named the Pacific-Yukon Highway from Seattle to Fairbanks.

  • 1934, July 6 - Charles Bedaux heads off into the northern bush, attempting to take a caravan of vehicles to the Stikine River.

  • 1935 - Pacific Airways begins service from Juneau to Fairbanks.

  • 1935 - aerial survey of routes to the Yukon for the Canadian Post Office.

  • 1937, July 5 - an air mail route is established between Edmonton and Whitehorse - see an envelope carried on that flight here. The first air mail flight back from Whitehorse to Edmonton was 3 days later, on July 8, 1937. The air mail routes expanded beyond Whitehorse the following year, with the first Whitehorse - Fairbanks flight on May 3, 1938, and Whitehorse - Juneau on May 8, 1938.

  • 1938 - the Alaskan International Highway Commission is appointed by the U.S. government, followed shortly after by a Canadian counterpart.

  • 1939, spring - a survey for construction of airports is authorized by Canada.

  • 1939 - At the age of 57, Slim Williams, sometimes riding, sometimes dragging, travels with a 300-pound motorcycle from Fairbanks to Seattle in another publicity stunt to garner support for Route A, connecting Vancouver and Alaska with a highway running a short distance inland from the Pacific Coast.

  • 1939, summer - airport survey begins; finished January 1940.

  • 1940 - Pan American Airways begins service from Juneau to Seattle.

  • 1940, August - formation of Permanent Joint Board on Defence.

  • 1940, November 13 - construction of a modern airway between Edmonton and Fairbanks is requested by Joint Board on Defence. The air mail routes initiated in 1937 and 1938 would become the basis for the new airway, which would have better communications facilities, and a series of emergency air strips.

  • 1941, Feb. 9 - first cats pull out of Dawson Creek for airfield construction.

  • 1941, July 25 - The Canadian commissioners appointed two years ago for the purpose of studying the feasibility of the various proposed routes for the construction of the proposed British Columbia-Alaska Highway, have now completed their report. The U.S. Commissioners do not agree with their recommendations, though. Since it is more than likely that the U. S. A. will be furnishing the funds with which to carry out the construction of this particular undertaking it is almost a foregone conclusion that the choice of the U.S. Commissioners will prevail. Read the entire article here.

  • 1941, September 1 - Fort Nelson airport opens. The airway between Edmonton and Whitehorse is officially opened for flight in good weather.

  • 1941, December - airway operational with radio ranges from Edmonton to the Alaska border. From "Canadian Geographical Journal", March 1943: "A natural airport site, high on a bench above Whitehorse, had gradually been improved over a period of years by clearing and smoothing its surface. This work had been done by the joint efforts of the Territorial Government of the Yukon, the British Yukon Navigation Company and Pan American Airways. lt was now completely regraded, paved with an asphalt surface, lengthened and widened up to standard airport specifications. The airway between Edmonton and Whitehorse was, therefore, usable in fine weather and during daylight by the beginning of September, 1941, some seven months after receiving final authority to proceed with its construction."

  • 1941, December 7 - Japanese forces attack the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawai. By the close of 1941 the radio ranges from Edmonton to the Alaska border were in operation so that when the United States entered the war on December 9th, Canada was able to offer them an airway with good airports and radio ranges at 200-mile intervals all the way from Edmonton to the Alaska Boundary. "It had been used for many months before that date by many U.S. aircraft. At the airports housing and messing were gladly made available to their crews for many months till their own facilities could be organized." (Canadian Geographical Journal, March 1943)

  • 1942, January 21 - "With Japanese vessels reported in Alaskan waters, attention is drawn to the proposed Alaska highway which has been under consideration by the United States and Canada since 1929. With from three to fifteen years estimated as the time required for construction of the road, it does not seem likely that it could be utilized to aid Alaska in this war, even if work were commenced immediately. Such a highway has been favored by high government authority as a re-employment project after the war." Read the entire article here.

  • 1942, February 6 - The U.S. Army's Chief of Staff reveals a plan to construct a military supply route to Alaska.

  • 1942, February 11 - the Alaska Military Highway project receives Presidential approval.

  • 1942, February 25 - a U.S. Army commission headed by Col. W. M. Hoge, having travelled the proposed route from Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson, reported that the project was feasible. See a series of articles from the Edmonton Journal that day here.

  • 1942, March 9 - first troops arrive at Dawson Creek, Mile 0 of the Alaska Military Highway. The 35th (Combat), 340th and 95th Engineer Regiments were assigned to the southern end of the project, the 18th (Combat), 93rd (Black) and 341st to the north end (based at Whitehorse), and the 97th (Black) Regiment to Valdez.

  • 1942, March 18 - Canada approves US plans to build the highway.

  • 1942, April 11 - Construction officially begins on the Alaska Highway.

  • 1942, May 17 - Twelve men drown when their makeshift ferry is overcome in a sudden storm on Charlie Lake in British Columbia. In 2008, a monument was erected at Charlie Lake to commemorate the tragedy.

  • 1942, June 1 - After nearly two months of work in difficult terrain, the Army Corps of Engineers has completed only 95 miles of the Alaska Highway.

  • 1942, June 30 - The Army Corps of Engineers speeds its progress in the month of June, building 265 miles of the Alaska Highway.

  • 1942, July - During this month, aided by the good working conditions, the Army Corps of Engineers picks up the pace, and builds 400 more miles of highway.

  • 1942, August 31 - An article in Time magazine heralds the construction underway in Alaska and brings the project to the attention of Americans.

  • 1942, September 24 - Soldiers of the 36th Regiment from the south and the 340th Regiment from the north met at Contact Creek, completing the southern section of the highway.

  • 1942, October 16 - Brigadier General James A. O'Connor has arrived at this frontier settlement on the upper reaches of the Yukon River to head the farthest north service command ever established by the United States Army. Read more...

  • 1942, October 25 - At 4 p.m., the Army Corps of Engineers closes the final gap on the pioneer road that laid the foundation for the Alaska Highway. The D-8 Cats of Private Refines Sims of Company A of the 97th Engineers, working south, and Private Alfred Jalufka of the 18th Engineers, working north, met near Beaver Creek, Yukon (staged photo to the right, with Sims on the left, Jalufka on the right). Civilian contractors managed by the Public Roads Administration continue their work on the more substantial highway.

  • 1942, November 20 - The Alaska Highway is officially opened to military traffic as the first truck makes the trek from Whitehorse to Fairbanks. A widely-broadcast ceremony at Soldiers Summit overlooking Kluane Lake is part of a wartime propaganda effort. In reality, work on the road will continue.

  • 1943, February 15 - a fire started in a barn in downtown Dawson Creek that was being used to house material for the US Army, including a truckload of dynamite. The explosion that resulted, and the fires that followed, did extensive damage, killed 5 people and injured another 150.

  • 1943, June 21 - Bus service begins on the Alaska Highway
    Bus service began on the Alaska Highway when Western Canadian Greyhound Ltd. began a contract with the Northwest Service Command. In September 1944 the Greyhound contract was terminated and the army ran the bus service with 5 of its own vehicles.Read more...

  • 1943, July 22 - Agreement on "Alaska Highway" as the official name for the highway from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Fairbanks, Alaska, was announced today in an exchange of notes between the United States and Canadian governments. Secretary of State Cordell Hull proposed the name as "suitable and in harmony with popular usage," at the suggestion of Anthony J. Dimond, Alaskan delegate in the House of Representatives. Leighton McCarthy, Canadian minister to Washington, replied that his government concurs. Heretofore, the project has been known generally but unofficially as the Alcan.

  • 1943, September 3 - United States and Canadian Officials Participate in Colorful Ceremony as Peace River Bridge is Formally Opened
    Exactly 150 years ago (1793) the great explorer, Alexander Mackenzie, discovered the Peace river when he made his famous trip across Canada. On Monday [August 30th] another historic event was recorded when one of the finest and largest steel bridges on the North American continent, which spans the Peace River 37 miles north of Dawson Creek and forms part of the great Alaska Highway system, was formally opened with an impressive ceremony attended by high ranking military and government officials of the U. S. A. and Canada. Read more...

  • 1944, January 4 - the tote road along the Canol pipeline from Norman Wells to Whitehorse has been completed.

  • 1944, February 16 - the final weld on the Canol pipeline is laid. With more pipeline having been built to Fairbanks, Watson Lake, Skagway and Haines, 25,000 men (and about 150 women) had built 1,800 miles of pipeline and 2,000 miles of road in only 20 months. The final price tag for construction was about $130,000,000.

  • 1945, April 1 - the Whitehorse Canol refinery is shut down. Leaks and spills were common along the pipeline, and maintenance costs were extremely high.

  • 1945, June 22 - Following President Truman's endorsement of a connection to the Alaska Highway as an absolute necessity, two bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives at Washington asking Congress to make immediate arrangements with Canada to earmark $15,000,000 for construction work to connect the existing highway with the continental road system. It is pointed out that only 625 miles of new construction is necessary. This new road will be built from Fort St. James to Tagish to connect with Whitehorse.

  • July 6, 1945 - Imperial Oil has opened service stations at Fort St. John, Trutch, Muncho Lake and Fort Nelson, and others are planned. Read the entire article here.

  • 1945, September 27 - New Bus Service Opens on Alcan Highway, Whitehorse - Dawson Cr.
    A twice-weekly bus service between Whitehorse and Dawson Creek starts October 1. The owners are the British Yukon Navigation Company. Buses will be taken over from the U.S.A. Army fleet. They are modern and have specially built heating systems. Read more...

  • 1946, April 1 - The United States transfers control over the Canadian portion of the Alaska Highway to Canada. In order to reduce future American claims to the Highway, the Canadian government repays the U.S. for the cost of the Canadian portions of the construction.

  • 1947, July - the new steel and concrete bridge over Big Creek at Mile 674 opens, and another at the Little Rancheria River is under construction. The Big Creek Bridge is the first permanent bridge built entirely by the Canadian Army since Canada assumed control of the highway in 1946.

  • 1948, February 13 - Resources Minister J.A. Glen announces in Ottawa that travel restrictions on the Alaska Highway have been removed. Tourist facilities along the highway have been improved to the point that travel for any reason is now allowed, without permits.

  • 1949, June - paving of the Alaska Highway begins at Fairbanks.

  • 1956, May 2 - the new Nisutlin Bay Bridge at Teslin opens. Read more...

  • 1957, October 16 - the Peace River Bridge collapses.

  • 1954 - They warned us about the Alaska Highway...
    People who had made the long overland trip to Alaska called it a "hazardous journey" and cautioned us to take along at least two sets of special heavy-duty tires! Read more...

  • 1957 - The fleet that conquered the Alcan Highway
    Chevrolet sent a fleet of 1957 trucks, from pickups to 5-tons, up the highway, and used the results of the trip extensively in their advertising program. Read more...

  • 1964, April 1 - in a ceremony at the same location in Whitehorse as the one transferring the Alaska Highway from the United States Army to the Canadian Army in 1946, the highway was transferred from the Canadian Army to the Department of Public Works.

  • 1992, May 30 - 50th Anniversary Alaska Highway stamp issued
    The US Postal Service commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the completion of the Alaska Highway with the issue of a 29-cent commemorative stamp in Fairbanks, Alaska. Read more...

  • 2001, June 5 - a huge culvert, the largest of its type ever built, collapsed at Iron Creek (sometimes called Irons Creek), at Km 918.9 of the Alaska Highway, in British Columbia about 40 km southeast of Watson Lake, closing the highway for 2 days. Read more...

  • 2012, November 9 - Yukon portion of the Alaska Highway Dedicated to all War Veterans
    In partnership with the Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 254, the Yukon government today officially dedicated the Yukon portion of the Alaska Highway to all past, present and future war veterans. Read more...