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THE ROAD: Constructing the Alaska Highway

To many people the Alaska Highway is an image—a thin line that connects two dots on a map. For some, it is an essential transportation route, linking towns, cities and communities across northern Canada.  To others, it is an engineering marvel and a symbol of a history of co-operation between two nations—Canada and the United States.  To the many people that built it, however, the Alaska Highway was known simply as “The Road.” 

The construction of the Alaska Highway was initiated by the United States military in 1941 as a response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. With the threat of Japanese invasion through Alaska looming, the US and Canada entered into a joint military operation to begin construction on March 8, 1942. In only eight months and 12 days, a highway was built that cut through 1,523 miles of northern terrain. At the cost of $140 million, 7,000 pieces of machinery and 11,000 workers, the highway consists of 133 major bridges and 8,000 culverts. 

The Art Gallery of Alberta (formerly the Edmonton Art Gallery) and the Heritage Community Foundation are proud to make this dynamic Web site available via the World Wide Web as part of the Alberta Online Encyclopedia—www.albertasource.ca. Feature sections include:

  • Building the Road
    The Art Gallery of Alberta's 2005 exhibition The Road: Constructing the Alaska Highway brings together a wide array of documentation of the Alaska Highway produced during its construction and just after its completion. The exhibit included both official and casual documentation in a variety of media. This section of the Web site, therefore, explains the installation at the AGA and the rationale behind the visual presentation of this documentation.
  • History
    Images taken by military photographer William Griggs illustrate the highway's construction. The A Company 97th Engineers, with the help of the US Army 18 Engineers, connected the last link of the Alaska Highway on 20 October 1942 and one month later, on 20 November 1942, the Road was officially opened at the Soldiers' Summit at Kluane Lake.
  • Local Community
    Explore rare photographs taken by Tlingit photographer George Johnston at the time of the Highway's construction.
  • Map Zone
    This interactive map allows site visitors to glean interesting factoids and bits of trivia about the Alaska Highway. Also included are other, static maps of the region.
  • Painting the Highway
    Images of the Highway can be seen in the drawings of Sidney Clark Ells, as well as in the paintings of A.Y. Jackson, H.G. Glyde, Euphemia McNaught, and Evelyn McBryan.
  • Travel and Tourism
    In the postwar period, administration of the Alaska Highway was transferred from the US military to the Government of Canada. Since the 1950s, the Road has remained a major tourist route, with travellers from across Canada and the US coming to drive this last northern frontier. Images of the Highway can be seen in the drawings of Joan Watson de Bustin and in the collection of artifacts, souvenirs, and documentary material available at the Fort Nelson Museum.
  • The Highway Today
    The Alaska Highway has clearly had an impact on the lives and art practices of five contemporary artists from the Yukon. Douglas Smarch Jr. tells the story of the coming of the White people while photographer Joanne Jackson Johnson has produced a series of works based on the military presence in the City of Whitehorse. Mitch Miyagawa, Derek Crowe, Brian Fidler and Ray Puttonen created works based on the Liard Hot Springs and Lodge built by Yukon persona, Trapper Ray, as the single oasis on the long journey of parched spruce and pine trees that line the Alaska Highway. Valerie Salez created a modern archaeology of the Highway commenting on the impact travel and tourism has had on the North. Mike Yuhasz's work is based on the creation of a Northern development company to work on repairs to the Alaska Highway.
  • York Wilson
    During the 1950s, York Wilson sketched and painted the bustling Alaska Highway to the high Arctic. He made the sketches for his Mile 804 in -50įC (-58°F) weather while taking a taxi from Whitehorse to Teslin. Other works were commissioned by such corporate patrons as Imperial Oil.

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