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The Alaska Highway and Whitehorse, Yukon, in 1946

The History of the Alaska Highway

An Explorer's Guide to Whitehorse, Yukon

Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, Montana), Sunday, April 14, 1946, Page 19

Alaska Highways brings impetus to bid by Whitehorse as territorial capital
By W. P. (Luke) Wright

    WHITEHORSE. Y. T. - Whitehorse, long the commercial capital of the Yukon, now in making a determined bid to become the political capital as well.

    Pointing out that Dawson, the seat of government since the gold rush days, is isolated except by air and river navigation a few months each summer, Whitehorse residents, already promised a new government building, hope to convince Ottawa that the territorial offices should be moved here and that a more democratic form of government should be introduced.

    The Yukon is the only one of the territories with representation in the dominion parliament but actual control of the day to day development rests largely in the hands of a controller appointed by the dominion department of mines and resources. The Whitehorse men's council is asking that the three-man territorial council be given more authority to carry out the will of the people.

    The urge for change is not new in Whitehorse but the present impetus can be traced to the increased importance of this community as a result of the building of the Alaska highway and other joint defense projects.

    Whitehorse was born when the stampede to the Klondike started shortly before the turn of the century. its commercial importance in a territory larger than any American state other than Texas became assured when the White Pass & Yukon narrow gauge railroad was built through to the head of navigation on the Lewes river from salt water at Skagway in 1902.

    Long before men thought of a military air route to Asia, bush pilots were operating out of this town, serving numerous mining camps.

    Then in 1942 the military highway was constructed and the airfields enlarged. The Northwest Staging route, the chain of large airfields built to accommodate the biggest planes, is supplemented by a series of landing strips along the highway itself, thus providing a constant guide to the pilot of the small plane that may not be equipped with a radio direction finder.

    Those who expect the highway and landing fields to grow up into bush again in a few years appear to be doomed to disappointment.

    Canadian Pacific Airlines now flies a daily schedule both north and south through Whitehorse. Pan American Airways has a less frequent schedule but maintains a permanent traffic office here.

    The 0'Harra bus line makes twice weekly trips along the highway from Fairbanks to Whitehorse and the British-Yukon Navigation Co. has just taken delivery of three new 21-passenger busses to continue, as a private venture, the service it previously has operated between Whitehorse and Dawson Creek, B. C., under contract with the United States army.

    While the highway, renamed the Northwest highways system when it was taken over April 3 by the Canadian government, will be under the jurisdiction of the Canadian army for the present it would be improper to infer that the route is barred to civilians. Canadian authorities have made it plain that they cannot be responsible for the safety or comfort to the horde of tourists that has indicated a desire to travel over the road this year. But commercial truckers are increasing.

    The bus lines report a large share of their business is from travelers who go only a hundred or two miles rather than from one end of the route to the other. This sort of travel eventually must lead to the establishment of additional facilities for overnight stops, gasoline and automotive service. The Canadian government has said it will open the road to ordinary civilian travel by sections as these facilities are developed.

    The Canadians are taking over maintenance of the road just as soon as the spring thaws become evident. No matter who is in charge, some difficulties are to be expected. But the new caretakers have the advantage of a system of maintenance camps previously set up by the Americans and manned by Canadian citizens so it is to be expected that they will have no difficulty in preserving the record of no blocking of any section of the route for more than 48 hours.

    The betterment program carried out by the American army engineers since the route was turned over to them by the public roads administration late in 1943, is to be continued, Canadian authorities here say.

    Since last September two new steel bridges have been erected across streams between Whitehorse and the Alaska border and steel for others lies in stockpiles here, having been turned over by the American forces with the understanding that it would be used for the purpose for which it originally was intended.

    The Americans did not lose a bridge in the spring breakup of 1945 but are frank to admit this was a lucky break. Engineers say it is amazing that more bridges have not been lost considering the lack of high water data available when the original survey was made. They are sure the Canadians, with the additional information now at hand, will be able to locate new bridges and to speed the realinement of certain sections of the highway so as to make a better road than if all the work originally planned had been carried out the first year.