The Alaska Highway Heritage Project
The Alaska Highway Corridor is a place rich in history, culture and heritage. First constructed in 1942, the Alaska Highway now serves as the major transportation corridor through northeastern British Columbia and Southern Yukon. It is a top destination for outdoor adventure and wildlife watching, and is known for its stunning vistas of mountain ranges, rolling forests and pristine waterways.
Recognizing the role the Alaska Highway has played in shaping the region, the Alaska Highway Community Society (AHCS) in BC and the Alaska Highway Heritage Society (AHHS) in Yukon have joined forces to ensure the Alaska Highway is recognized as one of North America’s most significant historical routes. The vision of both organizations is to commemorate and promote the shared history of the highway’s cultural landscape, and to work with communities to protect and interpret key historic sites and resources of cultural value.
The Alaska Highway Heritage Project has two parts:
1) To nominate the Alaska Highway Corridor as a National Historic Site of Canada; and
2) To develop a regional heritage strategy to promote the history and heritage of the Alaska Highway Corridor.
An Update! The AHCS and AHHS are pleased to announce that the nomination of the Alaska Highway Corridor as a National Historic Site of Canada was submitted to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada on 15 October 2015. Our Media Release for the submission of the nomination is available here. You can read more about the nomination below.
The Alaska Highway Heritage Project is driven by the following project principles:
♦ The operation, maintenance and development of the present-day transportation route cannot be affected by any commemorative, conservation or interpretation initiatives.
♦ Approval of the nomination is required by all affected landowners, and by First Nations who want their stories to be shared as part of the nomination.
♦ The story of the Alaska Highway Corridor will be told from the perspectives of all people and communities affected by the highway, whether in a positive or challenging way.
National Historic Sites of Canada
What is a National Historic Site of Canada nomination?
National Historic Sites of Canada tell the story of defining moments in Canada’s history, and help Canadians celebrate their shared cultural heritage. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) receives submissions from the public recommending that a place, person or event be officially recognized through commemoration. The HSMBC can recommend that the Minister of the Environment (who is also responsible for Parks Canada) recognize the significance on behalf of Canadians. The national historic sites system is administered by Parks Canada, although most individual sites are owned and managed by private or public organizations outside the department.
To be nominated for designation as a National Historic Site of Canada, a place (or person or event) must have had a nationally significant impact on Canadian history, or must illustrate a nationally important aspect of Canadian history.
To achieve nomination for designation, the site must meet at least one of the following criteria:
♦ Illustrate an exceptionally creative achievement in concept and design, technology and/or planning, or a significant stage in the development of Canada; or
♦ Illustrate or symbolize in whole or in part a cultural tradition, a way of life or ideas important in the development of Canada; or
♦ Be most explicitly and meaningfully associated or identified with one or more persons who are deemed of national historic significance; or
♦ Be most explicitly and meaningfully associated or identified with one or several events that are deemed of national historic significance.
For more on National Historic Sites of Canada.
Who makes the decision?
The HSMBC advises the Government of Canada, through the Minister of the Environment, on the commemoration of nationally significant aspects of Canada’s history. Following a thorough evaluation process and recommendation by the Board, the Minister declares the site, event or person of national historic significance. The HSMBC is composed of appointed representatives from each province and territory, as well as the Librarian and Archivist of Canada, an officer of the Canadian Museum of History and the Vice-President of Parks Canada’s Heritage Conservation and Commemoration Directorate, who also acts as the Board’s Secretary.
For more on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
What will commemoration as a National Historic Site of Canada mean?
♦ Commemoration as a national historic site is honorific only; it conveys no legal obligations to protect historic resources or to fund interpretive programs.
♦ Ownership and control of the land will not change. Most of the historic places commemorated as National Historic Sites of Canada are owned and controlled by individuals, governments, churches, First Nations, and businesses.
♦ The operation, maintenance and development of the present-day transportation route – the Alaska Highway – will not be affected by the commemoration.
What are the advantages of commemoration as a National Historic Site of Canada?
♦ Joining a national, respected brand – the National Historic Sites of Canada
♦ Sharpening the identity of the Alaska Highway for tourism and community development
Commemoration of the Alaska Highway Corridor’s cultural landscape at a national level will reinforce the significance of the Alaska Highway as an important part of Canada’s history and heritage.
♦ Across jurisdictions (Yukon, BC, municipalities and First Nations) to support heritage conservation and promotion
♦ With public agencies who can contribute expertise and program frameworks
The Alaska Highway Corridor landscape stretches across a provincial and territorial boundary, touching many communities, commemoration will serve as a foundation for partners collaborating on projects telling the story of the Alaska Highway.
Strengthening Community Capacity
♦ Sharing lessons and ideas about cultural tourism
♦ Developing new tourism and cultural products
Commemoration will also help to ensure that there is joint community-BC-Yukon framework for collaborating on tourism and interpretation projects that would help tell the story of the Alaska Highway’s cultural landscape.
Other benefits include:
♦ Provision for stronger protection of significant physical resources and experiences that owners and communities agree should be conserved for the benefit of local residents and visitors.
♦ Improvement of highway amenities for travellers.
♦ Aid in setting out a governance structure to give all affected groups – First Nations, local governments, tourism operators, museums, cultural centres, etc. – a voice in promoting and interpreting the cultural landscape, and in protecting significant resources.
People Based, Community Driven
Recognizing that local initiative is key to the project’s success, the AHCS and AHHS are working closely with local communities, First Nations and governments in BC and Yukon. This helps to ensure that all aspects of the Alaska Highway Heritage Project meet the needs of the communities first.
Why does territorial and provincial support matter?
In the case of the Alaska Highway Corridor, conservation of identified cultural heritage can be possible through:
♦ Private or public property owners choosing to set aside land or restore buildings for cultural heritage purposes
♦ Municipal designations under provincial or territorial legislation
♦ Other heritage mechanisms used by a province or territory
All of these actions, other than protection offered by federal property owners, emanate from provincial or territorial authority, or through aboriginal land claim agreements with First Nations. BC and Yukon have legislation and programs that can be used to protect, celebrate and interpret cultural heritage resources. They also have professional staff able to advise local owners and municipalities about heritage conservation and the integration of heritage into related plans, such as community economic development and tourism.
Why does local support matter?
While upper levels of government can provide support, local communities and First Nations in the corridor have the greatest stake in the cultural heritage of the Alaska Highway Corridor. They understand its potential and challenges. Local initiative has led to the nomination, but the protection of the corridor’s cultural heritage resources for future generations and the communication of the corridor’s value to visitors and residents will require an organized, sustained community effort.
Alaska Highway Corridor Nomination
What is the Alaska Highway Corridor?
The Alaska Highway Corridor is a cultural landscape that stretches 2,237 km north and northwest from the Peace River area near Dawson Creek, BC, through the Yukon capital of Whitehorse, and up to Delta Junction in Alaska. The length of the Canadian section is about 1,900 km. The boundaries of the corridor are generally understood by people living in the region, and can be loosely described as the plausible geographical limits for the overland route for the highway in 1942. As a physical place, the corridor also includes populated centres along the road, and places where the power of the land to sustain life over millennia come into focus.
Why is the Alaska Highway Corridor of national historic significance?
In 1954, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada commemorated The Alaska Highway as a “Joint United States-Canada Defence Project, 1941-43 from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks” as an event of national historic significance. Plaques were erected at Contact Creek, BC (1977) and Soldier’s Summit, Yukon (1992). It was also recognized as an International Historic Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers and Canadian Society for Civil Engineering in 1996.
No physical site associated with the highway has been commemorated by the Board. The Alaska Highway Heritage Project’s work is aimed at nominating the Alaska Highway Corridor as a National Historic Site of Canada in the category of place.
The AHCS and AHHS, as well as the communities of the Alaska Highway Corridor believe that the landscape is of historical significance because:
Ten Thousand Years of Human Presence
♦ It is a landscape with almost fourteen thousand years of continuous human occupancy and use, with evidence surviving in various forms, such as archaeological sites and trails, and in the living communities of Indigenous peoples.
Half Century of Continuity and Accelerated Change
♦ It had a tremendous impact on First Nations people. Direct negative impacts included more disease, family dislocation, and sport hunting reducing game for First Nations. It also served as a catalyst for many changes to all communities in the corridor after settlement patterns and land-use practices were reoriented toward the road. Old trails and waterways retain their strong cultural significance, but with the highway construction, people entered a new era of rapid communication, transportation, and government oversight.
Engineering Achievement and North American Strategic Cooperation
♦ The “pioneer” road was built under the direction of the US Corps of Engineers in great haste in 1942 along a route identified with assistance from First Nations guides and Canadian surveyors. Together with the improved road built a year later, the Alaska Highway was a remarkable logistical achievement across difficult terrain in a remote area.
♦ It is the location of two interconnected projects of historic importance – the Alaska Highway and the Northwest Staging Route airway. Together they gave Canada and the United States an alternative and reliable north-south route for military transport and supported the Canol oil project. The US military occupation of the strategic corridor was a precursor to the continuing joint militarization of Canada’s Arctic during the Cold War.
A Cultural Landscape
What does our nomination look like?
Typically, a national historic site is described and defined on a map and, in general, the resources that represent the site and its reasons for designation are expected to be located within clearly identified boundaries. This approach, however, can be too inflexible across very large areas where the land as a whole is valued.
The nomination of the Alaska Highway Corridor supports the position that individual components – sites or nodes – within a larger cultural landscape – such as the Alaska Highway Corridor landscape – can represent the key elements of the story of the Alaska Highway Corridor and its reasons for designation.
Selecting our Sites
In determining the sites through which to represent the Alaska Highway Corridor landscape, the AHCS and AHHS documented almost a hundred places that are of historic value. However, in order to be included in the nomination, each site had to:
♦ Bear witness in a special way to an important part of the story of the Alaska Highway Corridor;
♦ Have potential to be conserved and interpreted; and
♦ Have an owner willing to provide consent to have the site included in the nomination.
Research and consultations led the organizations to propose twelve (12) resources in BC and Yukon. The owners of eleven (11) of these resources have consented to the nomination of their sites; the owner of a federal site is going through the process of reviewing the consent agreement.
Sites in BC
♦ Northern Alberta Railway (NAR) Station (Dawson Creek)
♦ Old Fort Nelson (Tthek’eneh Kúe) Warden’s Cabin
♦ Old Alaska Highway Trail at Muncho Lake
Sites in Yukon
♦ Watson Lake Air Terminal Building
♦ Watson Lake Sign Post Forest
♦ White Pass & Yukon Route Railway Depot (Whitehorse)
♦ Former Northwest Highway System HQ Building (Whitehorse)
♦ Soldier’s Summit, Kluane National Park and Reserve
♦ The Donjek Route, Kluane National Park and Reserve
The AHCS and communities of the Alaska Highway Corridor know that the sites chosen for commemoration in the nomination are only a fraction of the many places that are enjoyed and appreciated by residents and visitors alike. In order to create a sustainable foundation for promoting the Alaska Highway’s cultural heritage resources and opportunities, there is existing momentum to complete a regional heritage plan for the Alaska Highway Corridor that, like the Alaska Highway Heritage Project, would work with other initiatives, including the Tumbler Ridge Geopark, local museums and heritage parks, and Tse’K’wa.
Learn. Experience. Share.
Check out our History of the Alaska Highway Corridor – Learn More for a list of resources that will provide you with more information on the region. We have also included many links to other pages throughout our site – be sure to explore!
Also check out our What’s New page to keep up to date on the progress of the Alaska Highway Heritage Project.
And – most importantly – if you are interested in contributing to the project, or have information you would like to share with us, please contact us using the form below. We want to hear from you!