Although there was plenty of talk about building a highway through Western Canada to Alaska in the 1920’s, it was the lethal attack by the Japanese against the US at Pearl Harbour in December, 1941 that made the Alaska Highway a priority.
Three hundred and fifty-three Japanese warplanes flew in and attacked the US base in Pearl Harbour in two waves on December 7, 1941. They killed 2,403 Americans and injured 1,178. They sank or damaged eight battleships, three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, a minelayer and 188 US aircraft.
It was a devastating surprise attack, with no prior declaration of war. Judged later as a War Crime at the Tokyo Trials of 1946, it led to the involvement of the United States of America in World War II.
After Pearl Harbour, calls and approvals for construction of the Alaska Highway came swiftly from the US Army (Feb.6), the US President and the Canadian government (Feb.11).
The highway would connect the US Lower 48 with Alaska, a potential front-line in the war with Japan. It would open access to, and allow passage through, a huge area of wilderness, set back from the Pacific coast, and running 1,500 miles northwest through the bush and across the mountain ranges of northern British Columbia and the Yukon to the interior of Alaska.
While highway construction was being quickly planned, Aleutians were forced by the US government to leave the Alaskan islands, for fear of attack by the Japanese, who had a military base only 750 miles away.
Construction began officially on March 8, 1942 with tons of construction equipment carried by trains on the Northern Alberta Railways to Mile 0 at Dawson Creek.
By June, the Japanese had bombed Dutch Harbour in the Aleutian Islands and invaded Kiska and Attu Islands, which they held until retreating in 1943. During this invasion, they killed more than 100 Americans and captured others, holding them prisoners in camps until the end of the war.