The Alaska Highway corridor provides a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience, with spectacular scenery, adventures and surprises waiting around every bend.
Whether you approach the Alaska Highway from the United States or Canada, the roads that lead you to it are an important and exciting part of the journey.
In British Columbia, they take you through the Rocky Mountain foothills en route to Mile Zero, where the Alaska Highway construction began in World War II. There’s plenty of history here, and the beauty of rolling, elevated plains — interrupted suddenly by the looming front ranges of the Rockies — is unsurpassed.
The Alaska Highway’s official terminus is almost 1,500 miles (more than 2,200 kilometres) away from Mile Zero at Delta Junction, Alaska.
And a short distance beyond the highway’s end, you’ll find one of the surprises we’re talking about, and an especially great one if you’re travelling with kids: It’s the surprise “outpost” home of Santa Claus. The name of the town? You guessed it: North Pole, Alaska!
Here’s the official story of the place, as it appears on the Santa Claus House website:
When Con and Nellie Miller arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1949, they had $1.40 in cash and two hungry kids. Determined to carve out a living in the new territory of Alaska, Con soon became a merchant and fur buyer in the surrounding villages. Donning an old red Santa suit each Christmas, Con earned celebrity status as Santa Claus in the eyes of the village children – the first St. Nick many had ever seen.
By 1952, the Millers had decided to build a trading post thirteen miles south of Fairbanks, in an area newly dubbed “North Pole.” One day, while hard at work on the new store, a young Alaskan boy recognized Con and asked, “Hello, Santa Claus! Are you building a new house?” Inspiration clicked, the new store would be called “Santa Claus House!”
In those early days, however, Santa Claus House offered more basic necessities than it did Christmas treasures. Situated between two military installations and right in the middle of developing North Pole, Santa Claus House became an impromptu gathering place for area residents. In addition to purchasing their groceries, locals could mingle at the soda fountain or pick up their daily mail, as Santa Claus House, under the direction of Postmistress Nellie Miller, was a mail contract station and served as North Pole’s first Post Office for almost 20 years.
As the community grew and changed over the following years, so did Santa Claus House. In 1972 the state rerouted the Richardson Highway, bypassing the store’s location. Undaunted, the Millers built a new storefront on the new four-lane highway, which is the store’s location to this day. Inside, the store’s emphasis on Christmas delights slowly replaced the aisles of well-stocked canned goods.
Although Santa Claus House changed, the Miller family’s commitment to the community of North Pole did not. Con Miller served as the mayor of North Pole for 19 years (the city’s longest serving mayor) while Nellie Miller acted as Marriage Commissioner for the community, marrying thousands of couples inside Santa Claus House.
The years passed, and Santa Claus House saw the addition of a new wing – as well as a 42 foot tall, 900 pound, three-dimensional Santa Claus statue, perfectly placed just outside the store to welcome both the young and young-at-heart to Santa Claus House.
Built in the 1960’s by Wes Stanley of Stanley Plastics, the Santa statue was the prototype for three giant Santa statues constructed that year (the whereabouts of the other statues is unknown). After the statue had made its way to Anchorage, Alaska, Con Miller purchased Santa in 1978 for $4,500. Santa was then driven by truck in four pieces (so he could fit underneath the overpasses on the Parks Highway) to North Pole. Sadly, upon his arrival, Santa was found to be in very poor condition. However, after extensive repair, Santa was soon smiling again, finding his permanent home at Santa Claus House in 1983.
Santa Claus House has also received international recognition and publicity from writers, newspapers, and television programs the world over.
The Santa Claus House family tradition, begun over 50 years ago by Con and Nellie Miller, continues as following generations of Millers build on the past and look forward to the future. If you should happen to be one of the thousands who visit Santa Claus House each year, you just might catch a glimpse of the Millers as they dash about performing their endless duties. But, whether sending Santa letters to boys and girls around the world, or greeting visitors to Santa Claus House, you know that when they wish you a “Merry Christmas!” they know what they’re talking about!
Header photo credit – neverbutterfly