The Alaska Highway: Building Canadian Infrastructure Out of Wartime Necessity

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

Building the Alaska Highway: George Metcalf Archival Collection, Canadian War Museum 19820170-001 #13

The construction of the Alaska Highway was a major feat of American and Canadian engineering that connected Dawson Creek, British Columbia and Delta Junction, Alaska. Built in just eight months, between March and November 1942, the highway was meant to strengthen the strategic position of the United States and Canada following Japan’s entry into the Second World War. This major transportation link connected Alaska and the Yukon with the South, and opened new locations to resource extraction. 

More than 10,000 soldiers and 6,000 civilians from the United States and Canada were involved in building “The Road”, as the project was often called. Their efforts captured public attention and the imagination of photographers and war artists from the Canadian War Records Office.

Carried out with wartime urgency, the project also had profound and lasting impacts on the Indigenous communities of the North. Many view its completion as a landmark in the loss of traditional ways of life. The building of the highway, and the access it provided, also affected the environments it passed through. The Alaska Highway, which brought both negative and positive changes to the North, is an enduring legacy of the Second World War in Canada.

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Canadian War Museum

The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum of military history and one of the world’s most respected museums for the study and understanding of armed conflict.

The Museum traces its origins back to 1880, when it consisted primarily of a collection of militia artifacts. The Museum opened at its new location on the LeBreton Flats site in downtown Ottawa on May 8, 2005. Its opening not only marked the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe (V-E Day) but also the 125th anniversary of the Museum itself. Since its opening in 2005, the Museum has welcomed approximately 500,000 visitors every year.