Alaska-Canada Highway

Digital relief map showing Alaska-Canada Highway

The Alaska-Canada Highway was built between January 1942 and late 1943. It extended some 1645 miles (2647km) from the railhead at Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada, to Big Delta, Alaska, reaching a maximum elevation of 4212 feet (1284 meters). It was envisioned as a land route to what some believed would be the decisive theater of the war, immune to naval blockade and protected by the coastal Rocky Mountains. But, by the time the road and accompanying pipeline were completed, Alaska had lost most of its significance as a theater of war. The road to Japan ran through the islands of the central and south Pacific, not the Aleutians and Kuriles.

The route for the Alaska-Canada Highway had been mapped out as early as 1928, but it required the impetus of the attack on Pearl Harbor to turn plans in to action. An agreement was signed between the United States and Canada on 3 March 1942 and the first engineers began to arrive at Dawson Creek 9 March 1942. Overseeing the project was Brigadier General Clarence L. Sturdevant, an assistant to the chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The plan was to construct a rough road as quickly as possible, then gradually turn the improvement work over to civilian contractors. Eventually over 10,000 construction troops, about a third of whom were African-Americans, were committed to the project. The pioneer road was completed in November 1942, and the first trucks from Dawson Creek reached Fairbanks on November 21. However, severe weather made the road impassable again until the next spring, when about 7500 civilian contractors moved in to finish the work. Much of their effort centered on replacing the makeshift Army bridges with more permanent structures, but they also discovered that large sections of the road were spoiled when warm weather melted the newly exposed permafrost. Eventually road building techniques were developed to protect or replace the permafrost around the roadbed.


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