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Alaska Highway Turnover Ceremonies

April 3rd, 1946. It was plus 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0° Celsius on today’s thermometers. The afternoon sun shone brightly, and nearly 300 Whitehorse residents were there to witness history in the making. On the gravel road between the Two Mile Hill and the airport, American and Canadian military personnel were present as the United States handed over the Alaska Highway to the Canadian Army.

The impressive ceremony kept a bargain struck when, back in 1942, the U.S. asked Canada for permission to build an all-weather route to Alaska.

At war’s end, the highway would become Canadian property but, for the duration of the conflict, the United States would own it.

Now on April 3rd, 1946, the American Ambassador to Canada, Ray Atherton stood before the microphones of local radio CFWH and officially offered the highway to Canada. It was accepted by General McNaughton, chairman of the Permanent Joint Defense board.

McNaughton told the crowd that, although the highway was still gravel and in need of work, he hoped that, by providing hotels, gas stations and restaurants along the fifteen hundred mile route, it would attract tourists and business enterprises.

For a half-hour before the official ceremonies, the 13th Military District band from Calgary entertained the Yukon crowd by playing a selection of popular tunes of the day.

Then, military jeeps and heavy loaders drove onto the ceremonial grounds followed by a parade of Canadian and American armed forces members. The large crowd was ready as the band played “God Save the King” and the “Star-Spangled Banner”. The Red Ensign, Canada’s flag at the time, and the Stars and Stripes were unfurled and the official salute was given.

The raised platform was bedecked with flags, bunting and spruce boughs. The Whitehorse Star reported that, on this clear crisp day, the snow-capped mountains made a suitable backdrop, so characteristic of the north and fitting for the occasion.

Distinguished guests on the podium included George Black, a military captain from World War One and now the Yukon’s Member of Parliament, along with Brigadier-General Geoffrey Walsh, who would assume Canadian command of the highway, and Major-General William Hoge.

Hoge was the original American commander when highway construction began in 1942 and, though he did not see the construction through to completion, was widely regarded as the man who made the job possible. Hoge Street in Whitehorse is named for Brigadier-General William Hoge.

Hoge had made many friends in Whitehorse in the early days of construction. Now he returned as a genuine American war hero, having led his troops in battles in the Philippines. In 1945, he had commanded an armoured division in the final assault on Nazi Germany. His key victory came when his troops captured an intact bridge over the Rhine River at Remagen, thus saving many lives by shortening the allied push across the river and on to Berlin.

Transfer of the Alaska Highway 1946
1946 Photo of the Transfer of the Alaska Highway from U.S. Army to the Canadian Army - Rolf Hougen Photo
Click for larger view.

Transfer of Alcan Highway from American Army to Canadian Army control. April 3, 1946.
Yukon Archives. W. Al Turner fonds, #29.
Click for larger view.

During the inspection of the guard, the Bagpipes of the Scottish Highlanders played “Auld Lang Syne” and “Road to the Isles”.

At five o’clock, there was a public reception in the U.S. Officers' club, and at 8pm a dinner was held for distinguished visitors and guests. Everyone sang “Auld Lang Syne” as an era of US military occupation – although a friendly occupation – came to an end.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Watch this story on video


A Yukon video by Les McLaughlin



Streets of Whitehorse - 2

The streets of Whitehorse are paved with stories. Some from yesterday - others from yesteryear. No-one could know them all. But it's nice to be able to share the few I know with others who probably have their own special memories.

Main Street is a hub of activity in any town. So it is in Whitehorse. Today, it's a pleasant, well kept centre of the city. Centre? That's what Main Street was called on the first town plan back at the turn of the century. Walking the streets of Whitehorse cannot be complete without a walk up and down both sides of Main Street.

From the White Pass station, not the original station, because the first burned down in 1905, northward to Taylor and Drury's general department store. Inside, in the '40s and '50s, the smell of oiled floors, calcimined walls, the occasional fresh orange, vinyl records and much more - outside, the smell of moccassins mingling with the sweet scent of the decaying wood of a sidewalk in need of repair. Much of Whitehorse was in need of repair in the late '40s.

Across the street, the White Pass Hotel and Grill served french fries for a quarter, with or without ketchup. A few doors down was the small cramped office of Yukon Electric, where an old gentlemen could occasionally be seen planning the next expansion of a badly needed power system. Deacon Phelps, his friends called him. Across the street to the Whitehorse Inn and cafe, where french fries also cost a quarter, with or without ketchup. And the deco booths came equipped with a wall-mounted machine which, for a quarter, would fill the room with three of the latest songs from the hit parade.

Across second avenue on the north side of Main was a bank, where many years before a young clerk wrote through the night at his teller's cage to complete his ballad of love and hate, of rage and sorrow. Earlier that night, he had been in a bar down Main Street, where he heard a bunch of the boys whooping it up. His friends called him Bob (Service, that is).

Across the street to the south, there was a flashy sign - just like in the big city - and a neon-lit replica of a creature with wings holding a proper cane. The Keebird beaconed one and all to the men's wear store where the latest in 'outside' fashion hung on racks, amidst the sweet smell of an oil-covered floor.

Further down on the southside was the Hub, a cafe where only the coolest of Whitehorse teenagers drank coke and coffee while telling lies about all the girls they knew.

Kittycorner, as they say, to the north side, where an empty field served as the focal point of summer sporting activities. With home plate very near the corner of Fourth and Main, the ball diamond would ring all summer long as the Army battled the Airforce and the YPA . The young people of this small town went head to head with the men of the Legion.

And across Main Street, to the south, was a small department store, next door to the Bowling Alley. You could hear pins drop as you shopped for the latest gadget or left your black and white films to be sent outside for developing. And beyond the corner of Fourth and Main, to Fifth Avenue, where a stately house was filled with wonders never seen on Strickland Street. Precious items like new furniture and polished walls, and newfangeled gadgets to make cooking and entertaining a joy to behold. The advantage of owning a chain of department stores......

And across the street lay the open-air ice rink, built by the Mounties so that young hockey players could dress up in their Sears-ordered Maple Leaf sweaters, and play until frost covered the rims of their Maple Leaf toques pulled over their half-frozen eyes.

Streets2 1
Intersection of Front and Main Streets with Whitepass Depot. Warehouse behind Terminal and exterior of White Pass Hotel visible. Date: 1942.
Yukon Archives. R.A. Cartter fonds, #1553.
Click for larger view.

Streets2 2
Looking south along Front Street; exteriors of Taylor & Drury's, White Pass Hotel and Terminal (Depot), and Post Office are visible. Date: 1942.
Yukon Archives. R.A. Cartter fonds, #1551.
Click for larger view.

Streets2 3
Looking south along Front Street in winter. Exteriors of Taylor & Drury's, White Pass Hotel, Post Office, and White Pass Terminal (Depot) are visible.
Date: 1942.
Yukon Archives. R.A. Cartter fonds, #1652.
Click for larger view.

And beyond, there was a collection of ramshackle shacks and half-built houses, and beyond that - the clay bluffs - which would ensure that Main Street would never be any longer than it was then, or is today.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin




Over the past one hundred years, McCrae has played many roles. It began in 1899 as a flagstop station on the White Pass railway. It was named for Colin McCrae, one of the company directors. The wagon road between Carcross and Whitehorse crossed the railway tracks at McCrae, but it was a pretty quiet place.

Then, in 1942, things changed when the pioneer road known as the Alaska Highway was being built. This intersection of road and train was a logical place for the American Army to establish its railhead. By 1943, two hundred and eighty thousand tons of highway supplies were shipped to McCrae which became an army check-point, where travellers' passes were checked.

The relay station at McCrae became operational in 1943, and it also had a repeater station manned by the U.S. Signal Corps, who maintained the telephone line.

Relay stations were equipped with barracks, baths, mess halls, officers’ quarters, administration buildings and fueling stations. Most maintenance of vehicles on the highway were done at McCrae.

A major construction phase, in 1943, reflects the importance of this camp. This planned construction amounted to a total of 102 structures, with thirteen already existing. Evidently, not much of it was carried out, since an inventory of buildings in 1945 indicated that McCrae consisted of only twenty-four buildings.

It was still a big camp with a bakery, a fire hall, a theater and a recreation centre. Whitehorse residents were often bussed to the camp to watch the newest movies or attend dances in the recreation hall.

At the end of the War, the U.S. turned the highway over to the Canadian military. The site was surveyed and it was recommended that McCrae be closed as of March 31st, 1945. The headquarters were moved to Whitehorse, and responsibility for maintaining the highway was handed over to the Canadian Army on April 1st, 1946.

The Canadian Army used a few of the warehouses in the McCrae area for storage until 1963. They also allowed New Imperial Mines to use part of the camp during the company’s exploration of the Whitehorse Copper Belt. The Department of Public Works took over from the Canadian Army in 1964.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Camp Takhini

When the Canadian military took over the operation of the Northwest Highway System in 1946, a new era began in Whitehorse. The town became the headquarters for a substantial military presence in the Yukon. As many as two thousand Army members and their dependents eventually ran the system, which included maintenance and upgrading of the Alaska Highway.

But where would all these people live? The tiny town was ill-equipped to handle such a population explosion. So military brass in Ottawa developed a plan for a full-fledged community. They would call it Camp Takhini.

Back in 1944, Standard Oil, which operated the Canol Project refinery at Whitehorse, had built housing for refinery workers in what is now the Camp Takhini area. These temporary houses were called Cemestos.

In the early fifties, the Canadian Military began construction of a headquarters building, barracks, a power plant, mess hall and new housing called PMQs, or permanent married quarters.

It had become military tradition to name streets after personnel or military operations associated with the Canadian armed forces. Thus, the streets in Camp Takhini were named for famous battles such as Antwerp, Cassino, Ortona, Nijmegan, Falaise, Normandy, Dieppe, and Vimy.

So what do these names mean? Two brigades of the 2nd Division of the First Canadian Army led the ill-fated Dieppe Raid in 1942. Dieppe was a military disaster. More than half the six thousand troops that landed were killed, wounded or captured.

The Battle of Ortona, in December 1943, was a small, yet extremely fierce, battle fought between German paratroops and assaulting Canadian forces from the 1st Canadian Infantry Division. It was the culmination of the fighting on the Italian front and was considered among Canada's greatest achievements during the war. Canadian casualties included nearly 1400 soldiers killed in the fighting in and around the Italian city of Ortona.

Yukon History Hougengroup
Click for larger view.

In June 1944, the Army went into action on D-Day and conducted operations at Falaise, helping to close the so-called "Falaise pocket". A critical battle in October and November 1944 opened the Belgian port of Antwerp to Allied shipping.

The First Canadian Army liberated the Dutch city of Nijmegen in November of 1944. The city was then used as a springboard for the invasion across the Rhine River by Allied Troops.

Vimy Street recalls the assault on Vimy Ridge by Canadian solders in World War One, an event considered the finest hour by Canadian troops in European conflicts. It is home to the famed Vimy Memorial.

So the next time you drive around Camp Takhini, have a look at the street signs and recall the great sacrifice made by Canadians in war.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin




Whitehorse Winter Carnival

Home movies of the 1946 Whitehorse, Yukon winter carnival .


A Yukon video by Les McLaughlin



Highway Lodges and Rancheria

When the American Army built the Alaska Highway temporary camps were set up at about 100 mile intervalls. These quickly built accommodations were not meant to survive for very long. After the war ended and the rest of the country was returned to normal, the Alaska Highway remained under military control. Civilian traffic was restricted by both government regulation and the lack of services for the casual traveller until 1948.

But in 1946 the British Yukon Navigation Company or B.Y.N. as it was known in the Yukon started a bus service from Dawson Creek to Whitehorse. The company financed the construction of four highway lodges to provide gas for the buses and food for the passengers. These were early highway lodges and they varied greatly in appearance, including converted army barracks buildings, two-storey log structures and even framed wall tents.

Rancheria at mile 710 was one of the first lodges to open to the public in 1946. The original lodge was built of logs and longtime resident Bud Simpson helped build it. Simpson eventually acquired the property and he and his wife Doris operated the Rancheria lodge for nearly 30 years.

As the business grew the building was enlarged with material salvaged from a nearby abandoned highway construction camp. On a cold night in October of 1946, Doris Simpson served her first meal to a man and his son who arrived during a snowstorm. They feasted on ham and eggs.

By 1948 a roastbeef dinner with trimmings cost a dollar. Gasoline sold for 55 cents a gallon. Rooms were $3 for a single and $4 for a double. Often in bad weather complete strangers slept two to a bed or on a chair in the bar at Rancheria.

So how did a place on the Alaska Highway this far north end up with a Spanish name? It seems that in 1874 some prospector from Dease Lake ended up in the region looking for gold around the Liard River and found a pretty good strike on Sayae Creek. They named one of the rivers they prospected “Rancheria”.

Then when the noted Canadian geographer George Dawson came by on a mapping trip of the region in 1887 he discovered that the earliest miners had already named the Rancheria River. And he let the name stand on Canadian maps. Rancheria lodge at historic mile 710 is one of the few original highway lodges still operating today.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin