If you ask a Canadian to name two famous highways, the first one they will name will be the Trans-Canada Highway. As for the second, chances are they will say the Alaska Highway. It is a highway few of us will ever use, but it is a legendary stretch of road that is a tourist attraction unto itself.
Constructed in record time, constantly changing, and now a great way to see the Yukon, the Alaska Highway is a trip everyone should take at some point in their lives.
The Alaska Highway, which stretches for 2,232 kilometres, was built in only eight months during the Second World War. Rather than go into the history of the building of the highway, I am going to talk about the men who built it. The men who left home for months to live in the wilderness and build one of the most iconic highways on the continent.
Here are their stories:
|Pete Kebola with his portable sawmill|
Sitting at home in 1942, Pete Kebola heard over the radio that the Alaska Highway was being built and contractors from Dawson Creek wanted all trucks that were available anywhere in the area. Located relatively nearby in Sexsmith, Kebola decided to head on our and do his part for the highway. Heading out with Ed Martin from Teepee Creek, he arrived at noon the day after hearing the radio broadcast. As soon as they arrived, they were loaded up and sent off to Fort Nelson. There was no road at the time, just a trail that had been bulldozed through the area. Kebola’s truck and portable sawmill would often get stuck in the ground and have to be pulled out. In all, Kebola and his friend made four trips, going day and night, to help build the road.
When the spring break came, Kebola left and made his way to Grande Prairie, having left his mark on the highway.
|The truck George Love used to haul items during the Alaska Highway construction.|
Born in Fairview, Oklahoma on Oct. 30, 1910, George Love came to Canada after the First World War and throughout the 1930s took various jobs in the Sexsmith area in order to make money for the family. Times were tough for the family on the farm, but the family worked hard and George would be one of the first in the area to own a car. He would also own one of the first commercial trucks in the area, which he used for hauling pigs, cattle and grain.
In the winter of 1942-43, he found work hauling supplies to help build the Alaska Highway. Working with his friends Dan Rehm and Ted McQuaig, the trio would have some exciting incidents. One such incident was when they were hauling dynamite for clearing the road. As they came down a hill, the brakes failed on the vehicle and the truck went plummeting down the hill, which was very steep and winding. Surviving the incident, Love would do several more trips before leaving to return to work on the farm.
|Chester in the back, second from right|
Born in 1908 in the Sedgewick area, Chesta Falla would prove to be a man of complete self-reliance, even as a boy. Helping out at the farm for most of his life, Falla would do his part to help build the Alaska Highway. In 1942, after buying a house in Sedgewick for his wife and children, he began working on the Alaska Highway. The road was little more than mud and muskeg at the time and the hills were a place where brakes often failed, as they did for George Love.
During one drive when Falla was coming down a steep hill, the brakes failed on him and there was nothing he could do but hold onto the wheel and hope everything worked out in the end. Thanks to being a good driver and cool under pressure, he was able to take the curve at the end of the hill and then used the hill afterwards to slow the vehicle down so it would come to a halt. Little surprise that after helping build the Highway, Falla would start his own trucking business.
Born in Milk River, Alberta in 1919 and completing Lewis Ellert schooling in Milk River, he had a love of flying from an early age. Ellert trained as a lawyer before enrolling with the Lincoln Aeronautical School in Nebraska and earning his pilot’s licence in 1939. It had always While most people helped on the ground with the construction, Ellert was in the air to help out. Throughout 1942, he worked for Canadian Pacific Airlines in their commercial operations. This was the start of his career with the company and it all began with flying equipment north for the Alaska Highway. He would fly fuel and supplies throughout the area. Thanks to his work, he would earn enough flying hours to become a captain on passenger flights. He would remain with the company until 1985.
Born in April of 1909 in Edmonton, Neil Ross would spend most of his life working on highways after leaving the family farm. Beginning to work on the Jasper Highway in 1932, he would become foreman and keep working in the transportation industry throughout the decade. In 1942, the rush was on to construct the Alaska Highway and Ross decided he wanted to take part. Travelling to Calgary, he took a job transporting acetylene and oxygen cylinders from Calgary to Whitehorse, as well as many spots in-between, then driving back. This work would actually continue for some time, and he would end up being employed to transport along the Alaska Highway until 1945 when the war eventually ended.
He would continue to drive truck throughout the rest of his life, taking advantage of the oil boom and playing a big part in the oil industry history of Alberta until his death. A school in St. Albert is named for him.
|Henry Thibault on the left|
Born in 1915, Henry Thibault would spend his early life workingon a farm for his family and other people in the neighbourhood. In 1935, he travelled with his uncle Joe Fournier to Dawson City, taking car, ferry and train, as well as a paddlewheeler. After getting married in 1941, the family lived in a small cabin before moving to Whitehorse in 1943. That same year, he took a three week trip from Dawson to Whitehorse, moving heavy equipment down. The trip was extremely difficult due to a late start to the spring. Two cats were lost through the ice of the Yukon River during this trip.
With the armies building the Alaska Highway, as well as an airport in Whitehorse, Thibault began working on the highway and did so until the war was over. After that point, with the Alaska Highway completed, he began running his own business.
Cool Facts About The Highway
There are many cool things to know about this very interesting highway.
- It has been called one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century, thanks to the fact it was built in only eight months and stretches for 2,000 kilometres. It was described as the hardest job and the biggest construction job, since the building of the Panama Canal.
- A total of four 1,300-member regiments of Army engineers were deployed to build the rough trail for the highway.
- While it was finished construction in 1942 it was not opened to the public until 1948.
- The highway runs from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Delta Junction, Alaska, but the unofficial end of the highway is Fairbanks, Alaska.
- There are a lot of twists and turns on this highway and that is on purpose. It was designed as such to protect convoys from air attacks. Today, much of the road has been straightened to make it easier for drivers.
- When it was first built, most of the road was gravel. Today, the entire highway is paved.
- On April 1, 1946, the Canadian portion of the highway was transferred from the United States Army to the Canadian government.
- One American soldier was homesick for his hometown. As a result, he put up a signpost in Watson Lake that pointed to his hometown. The tradition continued and today, there are over 1,000 signs at the Sign Post Forest.
- The Alaska Highway is the only land route to Alaska.