Watson Lake Sign Post Forest
The Watson Lake Sign Post Forest is associated with two historic themes of relevance to the Alaska Highway Corridor nomination:
♦ Engineering achievement and North American strategic cooperation
♦ Half century of continuity and accelerated change
Description of the Site
The Watson Lake Sign Post Forest is located at the junction of the Alaska Highway and the Robert Campbell Highway and made up of directional and locational signs from all over the world. The signs are mounted on posts arranged in several rows forming an elongated ‘S’ pattern. As of 2012, there were approximately 75,800 signs and 1,600 posts on site, as well as a small amphitheater, and an outdoor exhibit of heavy equipment related to highway construction.
During the construction of the Alaska Highway, it was the custom of the Army Corps of Engineers to install mileage posts at their camps listing places and distances to other places in Yukon, other parts of North America, and the world. Near Watson Lake, they erected a sign at the intersection of the Alaska Highway and the road to the airport.
The Sign Post Forest began with Carl K. Lindley, a 21-year-old soldier with Company D, 341st Engineers. In 1942, Lindley was transferred to Watson Lake to recuperate from an injury. As he related the story: “I had received an injury near the border of B.C. and Yukon, just North of Lower Post. My foot was smashed while building a platform to fill dump trucks. I was taken to the Company aid station at nearby Watson Lake where I spent the next three weeks recuperating. Not able to do much work the C.O. asked if I could repair and repaint the sign that had been run over by bulldozers. I asked if I could add my hometown sign of Danville, Illinois as I was homesick for my hometown and my girlfriend Eleanor.” The practice struck a chord and soon other soldiers began putting up signs of their own hometown.
As highway tourism developed, there was growing interest in the site and many visitors contributed their own signs to the site. From 1968 on, the site was managed and interpreted as a tourist attraction. This work has been handled by local residents, the Lions Club, the Yukon Government, and now the Town of Watson Lake.
In 1988, Visitor Centre staff began recording statistics. There were 6,281 signs recorded in the first sign count census. The numbers rose dramatically over the next decades, doubling by 1991 and expanding near 400% by 2002. This reflects increased tourism due in part to marketing of the 50th anniversary of highway construction in 1992 and the centennial of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1998.
Existing Heritage Recognition
The site was featured on a Canadian postage stamp in 2009 as part of a Roadside Attraction series, and has inspired two other sign post forests: one in Bavaria, Germany and the other in Carl Lindley’s hometown of Danville, Illinois.
In 2013, the site was designated as a Yukon Historic Site; this status was celebrated at a formal ceremony in June 2014.