The Alaska Highway (also known as the Alaska-Canadian - or Alcan - Highway), was built in eight months in 1942. The international roadway - which extended 1,523 miles (2,451 kilometers) northwest from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska and navigated through some challenging virgin territory - was nicknamed the "Oilcan Highway" by the United States servicemen who built it, discarding empty oil containers along the way. Sources at Answers.com>>Alaska Highway report: over 10,000 American soldiers, approximately one-third of them black, constructed the highway as "an emergency war measure to provide an overland military supply route" to military forces in Alaska during World War II.
Completing the Alcan Highway, in record time, "was a significant engineering feat because of the difficulties of terrain and weather." On the human side, bitterly cold temperatures and frostbite sent some troops searching for warmer clothing and shelter.
During one such foray, recounts Modern Marvels: Alcan Highway, some black soldiers stumbled upon a Canadian Indian village. They left a lasting impression. Years later, one villager remarked: "The first white man I ever saw was black."
As this is Black History Month, and I am a Veteran's History Project Official Partner, I highly recommend watching this informative, inspirational History Channel program. Modern Marvels: Alcan Highway shares many incredible stories about the construction of an engineering marvel, about the creation of landmark sites (such as Signpost Forest at Watson Lake, pictured below right), and about black soldiers who persevered - and made heroic contributions - despite segregation and racial discrimination during an already-challenging project.
For example, heavy construction equipment was in scarce supply and was assigned only to white troops. This left the black servicemen vulnerable to untrue accusations that they were too ignorant to use heavy machinery. In response, some creatively assertive black soldiers disproved that vicious rumor, and substantially contributed to the roadway's completion, by "borrowing" heavy equipment from sleeping white troops at night and using it to build miles of roadway before daybreak. In the morning, white servicemen would awaken to find their machinery intact, and long, new stretches of roadway punctuated by signs that read: "Completed by [Black Regiment's Name]."
That's not all. There's much more to Modern Marvels: Alcan Highway. Get the complete story on VHS or on the History Channel.
- Alaska Highway Start, courtesy of Yufei Yuan (August 10th, 2005), Wikipedia.com>>Alaska Highway. Answers.com>>Alaska Highway caption: "A monument at the southern terminus of the Alaska Highway (Dawson Creek)."
- Alaska Highway End (Delta Junction), courtesy of Nader Moussa (August 3, 2007), Wikipedia.com>>Alaska Highway caption: "A monument at the northern terminus of the Alaska Highway (Delta Junction): Signpost marking the end of the AlCan (Alaska-Canada, or Alaska Highway), at the Delta Junction tourist information center.. The signpost reads: 'This highway was constructed during World War II as a military supply route for interior Alaska Military and Airfields in 1942. 7 Army regiments and 42 Contractors and Public Roads Administrators working from Delta Junction South and Dawson Creek North completed it when they met at Soldiers' Summit at Kluane Lake Yukon Territory in November 1942. At the peak of construction, 77 Contractors employed 15,000 men and 11,000 pieces of road building equipment. The total construction cost for 1422 miles was $115,000,000.' "
- Watson Lake Signpost, courtesy of Yufei Yuan (August 15th, 2005). Wikipedia.com>>Alaska Highway. Answers.com>>Alaska Highway caption: "Signpost forest at Watson Lake, Yukon"###