Building “The Road”
About the Exhibition
This exhibition brings together a wide array of documentation of the Alaska Highway produced during its construction and just after its completion, including both official and casual documentation in a variety of media. While this is a fairly representative sampling of the range of materials that exist, attention has been paid to imagery that goes beyond the specifics of how the road was built, to capture a sense of the human experience and the impact that the Highway has had on individuals, communities, and the landscape.
The construction of the Alaska Highway was extensively, although not always systematically, documented. Considered to be a major feat of engineering (primarily due to the scale and speed of its execution) official documentation was required for purposes ranging from historical records (the National Gallery of Canada and The Library of Congress, for example), ongoing planning (the survey books of J.M. Wardle) to the film production of home front propaganda. In many cases, army units were assigned their own filmmakers and photographers and this was also true for civilian organizations. In addition to all of the "official" documentation, there are the personal records of the many individuals involved in the construction that now form a significant body of material that is held in museum and archive collections. Much of this material is unedited, with the sites and activities recorded not always clearly identified.
What is captured in this diverse range of information is the intensity of the undertaking and the dramatic change that occurred in a landscape that only a few months earlier had been a thinly populated and little developed terrain. In the heat of war, the impact that such a project would have on the environment and existing northern communities was not a consideration. From the perspective of the Canadian government, one of the most pressing concerns was the issue of sovereignty raised by the presence of such a large contingent of American soldiers and civilians progressing through Canadian territory largely unchecked; this caused great alarm in the political circles of Ottawa.