The Canadian Army Takes Over
As agreed, six months after the end of the Second World War on 1 April 1946, Canada took over the BC and Yukon sections of the Alaska Highway. Maintenance work was initially done by the Canadian Army through the newly formed Northwest Highway System (NWHS) of the Royal Canadian Engineers. Thousands of Canadian soldiers were sent north in order to fill the void left by the Americans. But unlike wartime, there was no cheering or publicity, and no mystery or excitement surrounding the post-war assignment.
The men of the NWHS faced countless challenges over the following years as they slowly worked to bring the Alaska Highway up to civilian standards. In February 1948, the Alaska Highway was opened to civilian traffic without the need of a permit. Even then, civilians were encouraged to pack a long list of necessary supplies before venturing north.
The initial Canadian Alaska Highway maintenance team was made up of military engineers brought in from civilian employers both inside and outside of Canada. Individuals such as James Quong, Don Bakke, Harry George, Walt Williscroft, Matthew Young, Walter Wonga, John Wesley, Albert Tophma, Mo Solodan, Hector Rail, and George Nems were brought in from the previous American maintenance teams. Known as the ‘Original Group’, many of these men were still involved with work on the highway eighteen years later when responsibility was transferred to the Canadian Department of Public Works. These people, as well as dozens of other grader operators, mechanics, engineers, and shop foremen were essential to the continuing life of the Alaska Highway.