OTD: Alcan Highway officially dedicated at Soldier’s Summit

On today’s date in 1942, the official dedication ceremony of the Alcan Highway was held at Soldier’s Summit, which is located at historic milepost 1061 within Kluane National Park and Reserve.

Working closely with agencies in the U.S. and Canada, U.S. Army engineers officially opened the present-day Alaska Highway as an overland military supply route passing through the Yukon on its route from the prairies of British Columbia to central Alaska. The roadway was more than 2,400 kilometres long and offered Canadians as well as Americans a new route for the transportation of goods on the Pacific coast.

It also provided a sense of security following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and during the escalating hostility in the Pacific region.

The official dedication ceremony for the present-day Alaska Highway was held on today’s date in 1942. (Photo by South Peace Historical Society)

CONNECTING ALASKA

The idea to connect the U.S. with its Alaskan territory was discussed since the 1920s; however, it wasn’t until the Second World War a route was studied in earnest.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt decided the highway should be built, and Prime Minister Mackenzie King agreed—if Canada didn’t have to fund the highway’s construction or maintenance during the war.

The US Army Corp of Engineers began construction in early 1942, and while the road was completed, its maintenance became a laborious effort.

The U.S. government eventually paid $147.5 million to build the highway, which officially opened to the public in 1948.

As of 2012, the highway is officially 2,232 kilometres long. The difference in distance is due to the constant reconstruction of the highway, which has been rerouted—and several of its sections straightened—in the 75 years since the first phase of construction was completed.

Canada Post issued a 42-cent stamp marking the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Highway in 1992.

1967, 1992 STAMPS

Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson’s Alaska Highway between Watson Lake and Nelson was featured on an eight-cent stamp (Scott #461) issued by Canada’s Post Office Department (now Canada Post) on Feb. 8, 1967.

Issued as part of the Centennial definitive series of 1967-71, the stamp was printed by the Canadian Bank Note Co., and its depiction of Jackson’s painting was engraved by Allan Alexander Carswell. The stamp’s lettering was engraved by Gordon Mash.

Twenty-five years later, on May 15, 1992, Canada Post issued a 42-cent stamp to commemorate the highway’s completion.

“The idea of a highway linking the USA to its Alaskan territory had been discussed since the 1920s, but it wasn’t until the deteriorating international situation of the late 1930s that such an expensive enterprise was seriously studied,” reads a press release issued by Canada Post in 1992.

“Fearing a Japanese invasion after the Pearl Harbour defeat, Roosevelt decided that the highway should be built. Mackenzie King concurred, as long as Canada did not have to pay for the building or maintenance of the road during the War. The US Army Corp of Engineers arrived to begin construction in early 1942 and began to battle extremes of heat, cold, wetness and dryness. The machinery continually malfunctioned. Miraculously the road was completed, but it could be a menace to life and limb for years to come. One stretch, known as ‘Suicide Hill’, bore a sign which warned to ‘Prepare to Meet Thy God’. Eventually the Americans paid $147,500,000 to build the highway and it remains a great tribute to man’s perseverance and organizational skills.”

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