The Alaska Highway Community Society (AHCS) in British Columbia and the Alaska Highway Heritage Society (AHHS) in Yukon are collaborating through the Alaska Highway Heritage Project to get the Alaska Highway “recognized, appreciated and developed” as one of North America’s most important historical routes.
These organizations have identified 12 leading places of serious interest from a heritage standpoint.
If you’re traveling the Alaska Highway in 2017, or any time for that matter, you’ll gain a deep appreciation of the area’s heritage by learning about, and visiting, these intriguing locations.
1. Northern Alberta Railway (NAR) Station, Dawson Creek
The old Dawson Creek Train Station now houses the South Peace Historical Society Railway Station Museum and the Dawson Creek Visitor Centre. Situated within Northern Alberta Railway Park, the train station has been retrofitted to more or less assume the personality it exhibited at its inception in 1931, shortly after it became the western terminus of Northern Alberta Railway in 1930. When the railway arrived in the area and this station was built, the town was some distance away. Since the railway was the major mode of transportation in and out of the area, the town simply moved to the locale of the station. Source: waymarking.com
2. Watson Lake Air Terminal Building
The Town of Watson Lake owes its existence in part to the construction of the Watson Lake airport. Built privately in the 1930’s the original airstrip was expanded when, in August 1940, the Canada-US Permanent Joint Board of Defence was appointed to address mutual interests, including the defence of Alaska. Throughout the 40’s, Watson Lake was upgraded as part of the Northwest Staging Route, a series of airfields connecting Edmonton, Alberta to Fairbanks, Alaska. Source: ouralaskahighway.com
3. Historic Kiskatinaw Bridge
Take a short detour from the Alaska Highway and see the unique curved, wooden bridge that was key to the building of the Alaska Highway 74 years ago. There’s room to pull over and have a close look or go to the campground below the bridge on the south side and walk under the bridge to see how it was built decades ago. This is a great detour for anyone interested in the history of the highway and engineering. Source: tripadvisor.ca
4. Old Fort Nelson (Tthek’eneh Kúe) Warden’s Cabin
The former Warden’s Cabin is located in Old Fort Nelson, along with Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Mission, a cemetery and private residences. The Game Warden position was established in January 1927 as an administrator and police officer. John Seymour Clark arrived in 1928 and spent 10 years at Tthek’eneh Kúe as a policeman and game warden with Archie Gairdner and, later, Baptiste Villeneuve. They recorded births and deaths, issued relief rations and licenses, enforced laws, revised maps and aided local First Nations people and trappers in emergencies. Source: ouralaskahighway.com
5. Old Alaska Highway Trail at Muncho Lake
This trail delivers excellent views of the entire lake. A 4 km trail starts easy with a long, gradual elevation gain toward the viewpoint of Muncho Lake. From the trailhead sign at the Strawberry Flats campground, the trail crosses and continues on the east side of the highway. Follow the trail markers across the alluvial fan until the old highway cuts into the side slope of the hill. The trail continues for 2 km to where the old highway meets the new highway. Source: northernrockiestourism.ca
6. Liard River Hot Springs
As you begin your Alaska Highway road trip, make sure you stop at steamy Liard River Hot Springs! It’s at mile 475 (km 765) between Fort Nelson, BC and Watson Lake, Yukon. In addition to being an absolutely beautiful setting for a break from the drive, this is the site of the second largest natural hot springs in Canada. Water temperatures run from 42C to 52C which makes this a comfortable dip in all seasons. The result is a northern oasis of lush plant life. There are 14 species of wild orchids here and it was originally known as the Tropical Valley. In 1942, it was the site of a major construction camp. Workers built the first boardwalk and pool here, and used the natural hot springs daily. Once a week, though, they cleared out to allow the women of the camp to enjoy a soak.
7. Watson Lake Sign Post Forest
Watson Lake, Yukon is a good place to get lost…because there’s plenty of signage. In the Signpost Forest, visitors have contributed almost 80,000 signs pointing to their home towns, making it Watson Lake’s most famous attraction. The first was posted by a homesick soldier working on the Alaska Highway. It pointed to his home town. Travelers from everywhere have been bringing signposts from their hometowns since 1942. While in the Forest, see if you can spot equipment used during the construction of the Alaska Highway. It’s not hard to miss.
8. Charlie Lake Cave (Tse’K’wa)
Visit a cool site from the last ice age! Tse’K’wa, formerly known as Charlie Lake Cave, has been frequented by people for more than 12,000 years, and this site now preserves a record of human activity that starts with some of the first people to live in the Peace River region, when the last ice age was coming to an end, and concludes with the construction of the Alaska Highway in the 1940’s. Source: summit.sfu.ca
9. White Pass & Yukon Route Railway Depot, Whitehorse
This is the starting point for a wild, narrow gauge rail ride across treacherous mountain terrain to the coastal town of Skagway in Alaska. The town was the site of outright, gangster-led lawlessness during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-’98. At that time the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway was not yet constructed. The route of the day to the goldfields was the Chilkoot Pass, now world famous for the grainy black and white photos of the lineup of stampeders summiting the snow-capped peak. The White Pass and Yukon Route Depot is a municipally designated historic site consisting of a beautiful, two storey building on First Avenue, at the foot of Main Street on the Yukon River waterfront in downtown Whitehorse. Source: yukonhistoricplaces.ca
10. Former Northwest Highway System HQ Building, Whitehorse
The Former Northwest Highway System (NWHS) Headquarters, also known as Building 200, was constructed in 1952, and is situated on the former Camp Takhini military base. The great influx of American armed forces and civilian contractors during the construction of the Alaska Highway was accompanied by a great sprawl of hastily-built, flimsy, temporary camps and housing around the edges of Whitehorse. Built to a Department of National Defence plan, Building 200 showed a commitment to the Yukon’s future and the status of its new capital city. Source: ouralaskahighway.com
11. Soldier’s Summit, Kluane National Park and Reserve
Soldier’s Summit is at km 1650.8 (historic milepost 1061) on the Alaska Highway, in Kluane National Park and the traditional territory of Champagne and Aishihik, Kluane, and White River First Nations. Reach the interpretive display, opened in 1992, via a 1 km walking trail. The trailhead is located at the Tachäl Dhäl (Sheep Mountain) Visitor Centre. The site offers vistas of Kluane Lake and the Slims River delta. At one point you’ll see four different versions of the Alaska Highway: the original tote road, the 1942 military road, the re-routed highway along Kluane Lake, and the new Shakwak Project highway, completed in 2008. Source: ouralaskahighway.com
12. The Donjek Route, Kluane National Park and Reserve
One of the most popular hikes for wilderness enthusiasts is the Donjek Route. Rising over the vast alpine of the Burwash Uplands and then descending to the toe of the Donjek Glacier, this hike typifies “pristine mountain wilderness”. It’s a recommended eight to 10 -day jaunt that starts where the Duke River meets the Alaska Highway. It travels over Hoge Pass to the Donjek River before turning past the Donjek glacier to Bighorn Creek. It then crosses the Atlas pass, continues to the Duke River before following Copper Joe Creek (still marked as Halfbreed Creek on some maps) out to the Highway. The estimated distance is 100-120 km, about half of it outside park boundaries in untamed wilderness. Route finding abilities and solid wilderness experience are strongly recommended (by anyone you ask, including Parks Canada) for this challenging route. Source: pc.gc.ca
Cover Photo By JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons