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Land and Ice: Encyclopedia Arctica 9: Transportation and Communications
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Land and Ice

The Alaska Highway

EA-Geography: Canada
(Richard Finnie)

THE ALASKA HIGHWAY

The Alaska Highway (1924-44) was pioneered by United States Army Engineer
troops and completed by American and Canadian contractors under Army and Public
Roads Administration direction, from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Fair–
banks, Alaska, via Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Watson Lake, Whitehorse, Burwash
Landing, and Big Delta, its final length being 1,519 miles.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and threatened shipping in the North
Pacific, the proximity of Alaska to Asia became painfully apparent to Americans
and Canadians. From Paramushiro, where there was a Japanese air and naval base,
to the outermost of the Aleutian Islands the distance is only 750 miles. Had
the enemy been able to capture and hold bases on the Alaskan mainland, Canada
and the United States would have been open to attack. From the United States,
Alaska could be reached only by air or by sea. Overland there was no through
road, nor even a trail.
The idea of a highway to Alaska was not new. Forty years earlier an over–
land rail connection with Asia was suggested by E. H. Harriman, but the first
concrete proposal for a motor road through British Columbia and the Yukon Terri–
tory to Alaska was made by various public bodies on the Pacific Coast in 1929.
The first official recognition of the possibility of such a road was given in
1930, when the United States Congress authorized the appointment of representa–
tives to meet with others of the Canadian Government, constituting an International
Fact Finding Committee, which began work the following year. An opinion arrived

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

at was that a route northward from Hazelton, British Columbia, was feasible.
Interest waned during the depression and nothing further was done until 1938,
when the British Columbia-Yukon-Alaska Highway Commission was formed, with
five Canadian and five American members. This led to investigations of two
routes. The first was in general the same as the one designated by the original
Fact Finding Committee, except that it left the existing highway system at Fort
St. James instead of Hazelton. The second followed the Rocky Mountain trench
northward from Prince George to Watson Lake, thence up the Frances River, down
the Pelly to Pelly Crossing, and across country to Dawson. For the first route
there were two choices from Whitehorse: via either Kluane Lake or Dawson, the
U.S. members favoring the former. The Commission's instructions made no pro–
vision for study of other possible routes east of the Rockies.
In 1939 the Hon. W. A. Fallow, Alberta Minister of Public Works, visited
Washington to try to stir up interest in an Alaska Highway route via the Mack–
enzie River Valley, and two years later Vilhjalmur Stefansson urged it on the
U.S. War Department, pointing out that one of its advantages was the Norman Wells
oil field which could make it self-fueling. Curiously, this led indirectly to the
Army's decision to construct the Canol Project, which in turn actually opened up
the Mackenzie Valley Alaska Highway route on a winter-road basis.
However, the route finally selected for the full-fledged Alaska Highway
was one whose strategic importance over all others became crystal clear with
the entry of the United States into the war. It was an almost bee-line route
from Edmonton to Whitehorse via a chain of airfields which had been used for
mail and passenger service since 1937, and subsequently improved and enlarged
by the Canadian Department of Transport. These airfields linked others in Alaska,
on which initial construction had been done by the U.S. Civilian Aeronautics

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

Authority, from the Yukon border to Fairbanks. It was apparent that these
fields would be needed for military use, and it was logical that they be tied
in with a road that could serve a twofold purpose: supply the airfields and
provide emergency overland access for troops and materiel, in the defense of
Alaska and possibly for an offensive against the enemy.
Early in February 1942 the United States War Department decided that the
Alaska Highway should be constructed forthwith, and diplomatic negotiations
were quickly concluded with the Canadian Government, which gave its consent.
The task was assigned to the Corps of Engineers, and the route to be followed
was indicated in a directive from Adjutant General: from "Fort St. John,
B.C., Canada, to Big Delta, Alaska," via Fort Nelson, Watson Lake, Whitehorse,
and Boundary. Consideration was taken of the fact that there was already a
motor road from the end of steel at Dawson Creek 45 miles to Fort St. John
(the continuation of a provincial highway system running 500 miles from Edmonton),
and that from Big Delta to Fairbanks, 95 miles, the route would tie in with the
existing Richardson Highway from Valdez.
Formal agreement between the two countries was effected in March by an
exchange of notes, which provided: 1. The United States Army would make the
necessary surveys and construct a pioneer road by use of Engineer troops. 2.
The Highway would be completed under contracts made by the United States Public
Roads Administration, with a view to finishing the project with all possible
speed. 3. The United States would maintain the Highway for the duration of the
war and for six months thereafter, unless the Government of Canada preferred to
assume earlier responsibility for maintenance of the Canadian sector. 4. At
the conclusion of the war, the Canadian part of the Highway would pass to Canad–
ian control, with the stipulation that citizens of the United States should not

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

be discriminated against in its subsequent use. 5. In consideration of these
undertakings, the Canadian Government agreed (a) to provide right-of-way for
the Highway; (b) to waive all import duties, sales taxes, and license fees on
equipment and supplies required for its construction; (c) to remit income tax
on the income of United States citizens employed in its construction or main–
tenance, and facilitate their admission to Canada; and (d) to permit the use
of timber, gravel, and rock along the route of the Highway as required in its
construction.
Engineer troops began pouring into Dawson Creek before the middle of March.
Over a 300-mile winter road that had been opened up by the Canadian Department
of Transport one regiment moved to Fort Nelson and established a base. Other
regiments, entering the Yukon through Skagway, worked northwest and southeast
from Whitehorse, meeting those from Fort Nelson and others from the Interior of
Alaska, which had come in over the Richardson Highway. There were seven Engineer
regiments all told, both white and colored, with a strength of ten thousand men.
Brigadier General William M. Hoge was in over-all command until the end of
August, when he was called to another post. He was succeeded by Brigadier Gen–
eral James A. O'Connor, commanding the Northwest Service Command, which was
created at that time. On December 1st, the Northwest Division of the Corps of
Engineers, headed by Colonel Theodore Wyman, Jr., was activated within the North–
west Service Command to assume the immediate responsibility of completing con–
struction on the Highway, the Canol Project, telephone lines, airports and flight
strips. Colonel Wyman was succeeded in April 1943 by Brigadier General Ludson
D. Worsham, who in turn finally relieved General O’Connor in February 1944, with
the unification of the Northwest Service Command and the Northwest
Division. General Worsham remained in charge until the completion of all construction in

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

connection with the Highway and the Camel Project the following spring.
The first truck from Dawson Creek reached Whitehorse on September 28,
1942, having covered a thousand miles in 71 driving hours. Temporary bridges
and culverts in this sector were rapidly built and on October 1 three cargo
trucks loaded with construction materials began daily pilot runs from Dawson
Creek to Whitehorse, averaging a week in transit each way. On October 25 the
troops working northwestward from Whitehorse met others working down from Big
Delta. However, weather conditions caused delay; high water carried out a
number of major bridges; but on November 20 a formal ceremony was held at Sol–
diers' Summit, Cluane Lake, to declare the Alaska Highway open. The first truck
convoy from Whitehorse to Fairbanks went through between the 19th and 22nd of
November, 1942, the tote-road distance then being 630 miles.
The original publicity gave the Engineer troops credit for the pioneering
of the entire road. However, sizable contribution was made by Public Roads
Contractors, who had 7,500 civilians on the scene before the end of 1942.
The road was good. For its original length of over 1,600 miles, for its
pioneer construction under difficult conditions, it was one of the wonders of
the modern world. But it was still for the most part a winter road. The bridges
were temporary, and most of them would be carried away by ice and high water in
spring.
All through the winter there were special problems to be solved. Water
seeping under an insulating cover of moss and snow would often rise to the sur–
face at points along the road and build up into treacherous mounds of ice. Often
a truck would get stalled in a rut where ice was forming, and shortly become
so firmly embedded that it could be released only by blasting or with steam jets.
Graders patrolled the road constantly, clearing it of snow, which was not diffi-

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

cult in the southern sector, particularly, where precipitation was light. (The
maximum depth of snow was at no point as much as two feet; at some places it
was under a foot.) Sanding machines worked on the grades, some of which were
as steep as ten per cent. Spare parts for vehicles were scarce and repair facil–
ities were taxed to the uttermost. At camps all along the Highway were dead–
lined trucks and construction equipment.
By mid-winter most of the troops had moved from tents into cabins or Quonset
huts, which they banked with sawdust and snow for insulation. Every hundred
miles they had a control station where all vehicles and drivers were checked
through and provided with fuel and shelter.
On the heels of the Engineers had come civilian contractors to turn the
Army tote-road into an all-weather highway. They established work and convoy
camps from Dawson Creek to Whitehorse and Fairbanks. Colored battalions, who
had driven trucks and tractors along with the white troops in the pioneering
stages, now helped some of the contractors in freight-handling and installing
terminal facilities. Besides road-building, the contractors began erecting
permanent bridges and putting in a telephone line from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks.
Although Japanese had been entrenched in the Aleutians since June 1942 they
were unable to interfere with coastwise shipping to Alaska. From Prince Rupert
to Skagway fishing boats and tugs towed strings of barges laden with supplies
and construction material for the Highway. At Skagway the barges were beached
and unloaded at low tide, and there, too, freighters were docked and unloaded.
From there the freight was carried northward 110 miles to Whitehorse over the
narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Railway, which was leased from its private owners
and operated by the Army.
All of the Japanese had been driven out of the Aleutians by mid-August 1943.

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

But if the Highway was now needed less for defense, it was thought that it
might be needed still more for attack. Through the summer work went on apace.
Machinery was kept going 20 to 22 hours a day by two shifts of 10 to 11 hours
each. There were 5,300 acres of clearing and grubbing, 19,600,000 cubic yards
of excavation, placing of 5,900,000 cubic yards of selected material. Specifica–
tions for the improved road called for a 26-foot roadbed with 20 to 22 feet of
surfacing with local gravel or crushed stone. Grades in general were kept be–
low ten per cent maximum. Curvature and sight distance were subject to econom–
ical determination and were of a standard permitting speeds of at least 40 miles
per hour.
Working on the Highway in 1943 were 81 contracting firms with 14,000 civil–
ian employees and 11,000 units of road-building equipment. The men were well
housed and well fed at all of the camps. There was no rationing, and practically
all of the food served was imported from southern Canada or the United States,
including fresh meat and vegetables.
An important supplement was the Haines Cut-off. This was to provide the
Alaska Highway with an all-weather motor road connection with the sea, near its
central point, easing the burden on the railroad. One hundred and fifty-four
miles long, the Haines Road met the Highway about 100 miles northwest of White–
horse.
Engineer troops pioneered the Haines Road from the north, while civilian
contractors moved up from the port of Haines, 18 miles south of Skagway. For
the first 42 miles an old motor road was improved and relocated. From there
on over the Chilkat Pass an entirely new location was followed, in part rough–
ly paralleling the Dalton Trail that pre-dated the Klondike gold rush. The con–
tractors cleared right-of-way and built all-weather road to meet and overlap the

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

pioneer road of the Engineer troops. Construction was completed in November.
The road was subject to rock slides and heavy snowfall in the mountainous sec–
tions, as a result of which the volume of traffic did not warrant keeping it
open later that winter. Its strategic and postwar economic value was acknow–
ledged to be high, however.
As the Alaska Highway was nearing completion, so were thirteen flight
strips between Dawson Creek and the Yukon-Alaska border. Five were built by
the Canadian Department of Transport; eight by contractors directed by the
Corps of Engineers. The strips were located at: Dawson Creek, Mile 0 (U.S.),
Beatton River, Mile 130 (Can.); Sikanni Chief River, Mile 137 (U.S.); Prophet
River, Mile 245 (U.S.); Liard River, Mile 508 (U.S.); Smith River, Mile 518
(Can.); Pine Lake, Mile 723 (U.S.); Teslin, Mile 804 (Can.); Squanga Lake, Mile
843 (U.S.); Alshihik, Mile 995 (Can.); Pon Lake, Mile 1013 (U.S.); Burwash Land–
ing, Mile 1095 (U.S.); Snag, Mile 1189 (Can.).
At key points as far as Fairbanks, existing airports were being extended,
with new paved runways, aprons, and hangars. These were at Fort St. John, B.C.,
Mile 48; Fort Nelson, B. C., Mile 297; Watson Lake, Y.T., Mile 632; Whitehorse,
Y.T., Mile 914; Northway, Alaska, Mile 1265; Tanacross, Alaska, Mile 1329; Big
Delta, Alaska, Mile 1422; Fairbanks, Alaska, Satellite Field, Mile 1493; Fair–
banks, Alaska, Ladd Field, Mile 1513.
The bridge program for the Alaska Highway entailed the construction of 133
bridges not under 20 feet in length, having a combined length of seven miles,
about fifty per cent of them steel. Experience showed that it would be cheaper
in the long run to build substantial permanent bridges than to compromise
on temporary structures which spring freshets and ice action would repeatedly de–
stroy; and that there would be little difference in cost between steel and timber

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

for major bridges. The tonnage factor favored steel, because very limited
quantities of large timber were locally obtainable.
At the end of August 1943, the largest of the bridges was officially
opened, cu l minating nine months' labor, some of it in bitter winter weather
with temperatures as low as 60 degrees below zero F. This was the Peace River
Bridge (Mile 36). Spanning one of the great rivers of the North, it is 2,275
feet long, with two suspension towers 200 feet high, a main span of 930 feet,
a 135-foot approach at either end, and a concrete deck 24 feet wide.
A similar but smaller suspension bridge crosses the Liard River at Mile
493. It has three spans, one of which is 543 feet long and the other two 223
feet, carried on 93-foot steel towers. The longest steel truss bridge stretches
970 feet across the Muskwa at Mile 295, with ten spans up to 177 feet.
The Upper Liard bridge (Mile 641) has a continuous steel truss of two 320-foot spans.
In the Alaska sector, other noteworthy steel bridges are the three-span canti–
lever truss over the Tanana (Mile 1301), with a 430-foot center span and two
258-foot side spans; the Robertson (Mile 1345) and Big Geretle [: ]
(Mile 1391) bridges each consisting of nine 200-foot truss
spans; and the Johnson River bridge (Mile 1378) with one 160-foot and two 200–
foot spans.
Of the seven timber truss bridges the largest is the one across the Sikanni
Chief (Mile 161), 585 feet long, the Kiskatinaw (Mile 21) coming next, with a
195-foot center span.
On the Haines Road 36 bridges were built, four of them being steel, the
rest pile trestle. Most of the stream to be crossed drain small areas.
The Alaska Highway crosses streams draining a vast area, and several rival
the Missouri and Upper Mississippi in also and flow. Their behavior was a constant

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

source of perplexity to engineers unfamiliar with the peculiarities of north–
ern streams: rapidly rising in full flood and carrying crushing ice floes;
glacial streams like the Duke, Donjek, Robertson, White, and Johnson rising
and falling with the sun and pilling up broad strata of ice ten to twenty feet
or more in thickness, with water flowing over them; mountain streams like the
Muskwn, Sikanni Chief, Toad, McDonald, Racing, Trout, Hyland, Coal, Takhini,
and Tok attaining flood stage with startling suddenness. Despite the perplex–
ing problems posed, the bridge-building program was substantially finished be–
fore the end of 1943.
Signal Corps as well as civilian constractors worked on the telephone
line, but the bulk of the work was done by the latter. On October 15, 1943,
the first land-line telephone conversation took place between Edmonton and
Fairbanks. Poles were set deep in the ground to withstand frost action, and
many of the holes had to be blasted out in frozen ground. With repeater sta–
tions at 100-mile intervals, the line was designed to carry 26 messages simul–
taneously.
Through the first year of construction on the Alaska Highway, fuel for
its trucks and earth-moving equipment, and for airplanes using its airports,
was brought by ship or rail to the three main access points, Dawson Creek, White–
horse, and Fairbanks, whence it was distributed by truck. (In the early pioneer–
ing stage one consignment of diesel oil was brought to the troops at Fort Nelson
by boat and barge from Waterways railhead via the Mackenzie and Liard rivers, a
distance of about 1,400 miles.)
Meanwhile the Canol Project was under way. In line with the U.S. Army's policy
of drawing from local sources of oil in its operations wherever practicable, Canol
(Canadian Oil) called for the development of the Norman Wells field 75 miles south

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

of the Arctic Circle on the Mackenzie River. This was the handiest proved
and already producing source, 600 miles overland from Whitehorse across the
Mackenzie-Yukon divide. A pipeline was to be laid through which crude oil
would flow from the Wells to Whitehorse, where a refinery was to be erected.
Motor and aviation gasoline was then to be piped southeastward to Watson Lake
and northwestward to Fairbanks, with intermediate outlets.
Field work began at the end of the May 1942. To help fuel the Alaska Highway
until Canol could be completed, a supplementary line between Skagway and White–
horse was put through that fall. Tankers from California unloaded gasoline at
the port of Skagway, where it was stored at a tank farm and pumped over the White
Pass as needed. This was planned as a two-way line so that eventually Norman
Wells oil could be delivered through it to tidewater for use elsewhere. While
the Skagway-Whitehorse line was being laid a tank farm was built at Whitehorse
as well as at Skagway. Later others were placed at Carcross, Watson Lake, and
Fairbanks,
In January 1943 the Skagway-Whitehorse pipeline was in operation. Next to
be completed was the line from Carcross 267 miles eastward to Watson Lake, in
June 1943. In November the Whitehorse-Fairbanks line was carrying gasoline.
Along this and the other lines pumping stations were built at intervals of 40
or 50 miles. On February 16, 1944, the tie-in weld was made on the main pipe–
line, and two months later refined products from the Norman crude were being
distributed from Whitehorse. In a year's operation approximately a million
barrels were processed before the operation was suspended, the Canol Project
having fulfilled its wartime purpose.
In October 1943 the last gap in the Alaska Highway as an all-weather artery
was being filled in on the east side of the Alaska-Yukon border. The civilian

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

contractors in this area had for six months been building 150 miles of road
through hard rock and over tundra underlain by permafrost, and they had had
to fight summer floods that washed out temporary bridges and disrupted com–
munications.
Northwest of Whitehorse the Army's tote-road had been closed since April
15, 1943. From Mile 232 for about 100 miles it was only a winter trail, with
no gravel base, and practically all through frozen terrain or muskeg swamp.
The bridges at the Duke and Donjek were only temporary. There were no con–
tractors in this area when break-up occurred. Troops were placed at strategic
points — at lake and river crossings — to help as best they could.
PRA made a contract in April with the Utah Construction Company, which
moved in and established their first camp at Edith Creek, starting work on the
7th of May. Their assignment was for the stretch from 170 miles northwest of
Whitehorse to the Alaskan border. The existing tote-road and PRA-revised loca–
tions were to be followed.
Three temporary bridges across the White River went out in June – two
carried away by ice, the third by high water. The current was ten to twelve
miles an hour, with ice. Most of the summer it was impossible to ford the White.
Equipment was moved throug the muskeg by main force, while fuel and food were
flown by bush planes operating between lakes on floats. This use of aircraft
enabled the contrzctors to spread their forces both ways.
In spite of all setbacks the last gap was filled in ahead of schedule. It
was on October 13 when the two leading bulldozers came within sight of each other
from east and west. A road-building technique was being used here that had been
learned from bitter experience. The contractors now knew that in a permafrost
area like this the surface cover of moss and other vegetation must not be dis-

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

turbed, for it locked in the solid frost below. If that insulation were stripped
off, a quagmire would result. Instead, whatever timber was growing along the
right-of-way was laid across it to make a foundation mat, then rock fill and gravel
was hauled from nearby borrow pits such as were to be found everywhere along the
route of the Highway. At six o'clock that evening the last load of fill was de–
posited and the blades of the two bulldozers met over it. That marked the actual
finish of the Alaska Highway.
Thereafter trucks and passenger vehicles were able to roll the entire length
of the Highway, 1,519 miles, the year around without interruption. At hundred-mile
intervals all the way from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks were spaced relay stations
manned by Quartermaster troops, with servicing and repair facilities. The trucks
carried military construction supplies, and along with them traveled buses with
personnel and mail. The Highway was now as good as any graveled road anywhere,
and better in alignment and grades than any other road of comparable length in
Canada or the United States.
Bus service for carrying essential passengers was organized in June 1943.
From then until the following January, 41,876 people were transported for a total
of 807,688 miles. In addition to this, local service at Dawson Creek, Whitehorse,
and Fairbanks transported 317,260 passengers. All of this service was performed
without injury to a single passenger or damage to any of the buses, which were of
the Greyhound type.
During 1943 the total tonnage hauled over the Highway for Army use was 82,445,
plus 51,445 tons for construction operations, not including freight carried by
Canadian Government agencies such as the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Department
of Transport. In 1944 the tonnage hauled for the Army was 76,185, and 43,014 for

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

construction, against not including Canadian Government freight. In 1945 there
was a gradual decrease in the amount of freight carried due to the completion
of the airfield-expansion program on the Northwest Staging Route and other con–
struction, as well as discontinuance of refinery operations at Whitehorse. Sub–
sequently, although military control was continued, the Highway carried an in–
creasing volume of civilian business traffic. Its maximum capacity under mili–
tary pressure is estimated at 720,000 net tons per annum and a normal capacity
of 400,000 tons.
Concerning the peacetime use of the Highway, the Nor' West Miner for March–
April 1950 reports that the "1949 traffic count shows that 2,242 trucks traveled
over the Alaska Highway west bound and 1,856 trucks returned over the Highway
east bound. Peak months for travel were June, July and August when an average
of 10 trucks a day went over the Highway. During the winter months at least 100
trucks a month used the Highway.
"Bus traffic was also heavy, an average of two buses per week making the
trip from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks, Alaska.
"In 1949 a total of 11,646 vehicles carrying 28,447 persons entered and
left Alaska over the Highway. Winter traffic accounted for 40 per cent of the
vehicular movement and 36 per cent of the passenger movement.
"Conditions over the 1,523 mile-trip from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks, Alaska,
were good as far as the Highway was concerned."
Engineer troops were gradually withdrawn from the Highway during the summer
of 1943, and by the end of the following year most of the contractors' personnel
had been moved out. According to the terms of the original international agree–
ment, the Canadian section of the Highway was turned over on April 1, 1946, to
the Canadian Government, which has since controlled and maintained it, while the

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

balance was absorbed into the Alaska road system.
Of the 81 separate contracting firms that built the all-weather highway,
five were management contractors. With their assignments, these were: E. W.
Elliott Co., Seattle (transportation and camp construction); R. Melville Smith
Co., Ltd., Toronto (highway construction between Dawson Creek and Fort St. John,
and between Fort Nelson and Watson Lake, totalling 250 miles); Dowell Construc–
tion Co., Seattle (highway construction between Watson Lake and the Yukon-Alaska
boundary, totalling 627 miles); Okes Construction Co., St. Paul (highway con–
struction between Fort St. John and Fort Nelson, totalling 256 miles); C. F.
Lytle Co. and Green Construction Co., Sioux City (high construction in Alaska,
totaling 308 miles). These were the intial assignments, and a number of mile–
age changes were subsequently effected to meet local circumstances. Several
other contractors, like the Utah Construction Co., of San Francisco; were given
separate assignments. The Miller Construction Co. of Indianpolis was reasonable
for most of the telephone-telegraph line. The lay9ng of pipelines, the build–
ing of the Whitehorse refinery and other appurtenances were done by Bechtel–
Price-Callahan, a pro-tem partnership of Western contracting firms, as part of
the distinct but integrated Canol Project. The Haines Road was constructed by
Foley Bros. Inc. and Rohl-Connolly Co., of St. Paul and Los Angles. In addi–
tion there were several independent bridge contractors, including John A.Roebling
& Sons Company, Trenton, New Jersey (superstructure of Peace River suspension
bridge). At the peak of operations in September 1943 approximately 15,950 civil–
ians were employed by the various contractors and PRA, of whom about 3,700 were
Canadians.
The seven Engineer regiments assigned to the construction of the pioneer
road comprised the 18th, 35th, 93rd, 95th, 97th, 340th and 341st, totalling 394
officers and 10,765 enlisted men.

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

Besides difficulties of transportation and shortage of replacement parts
and repair facilities for equipment, construction of the Alaska Highway was
hampered by soil and weather conditions. Along much of the route the topsoil
contains fine, powdery material. In dry weather clouds of dust are raised by
every behicle, though application of gravel surfacing reduces thin nuisance.
During the construction period dust came in contact with all moving parts and
hastened wear and breakdowns. Heavy traffic, rain, and poor drainage caused
deep mud that was equally destructive. In cold weather, grease in bearings and
gear boxes hardened and caused breakage when inexperienced operators started their
motors without proper precautions. Low temperatures made steel brittle. Ordin–
ary petroleum fuels were unsatisfactory during cold spells, but special mixtures
of gasoline, diesel fuel, and lubricants finally overcome the problem. There
was also trouble in extremely cold weather with liquids for cooling engines when
some types of antifreeze congealed undiluted in their containers.
In addition to the difficulties that inexperienced personnel had in build–
ing road across swampy or frozen terrain were those with glaciation along the
route. It was the result of overflow and progressive freezing of running or
seeping water, commonly from a gully, creek, or nearby muskeg flat. Highway
"glaciers" consist of sheets, terraces, domes, or cones of ice which often have
water running over, through, or under them even in the coldest weather. Hydro–
static pressure due to progressive freezing of frost-trapped bodies of ground
water is believed to be a responsible factor. Interruption of the insulating
blanket of vegetation on fluffy snow may cause icing to develop wherever springs
are flowing beneath. The only practicable solution found was to relocate the
most susceptible portions of road on better ground. However, the less persistent
glaciers could be controlled with bulldozers and graders, or by blasting, or by

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

thawing them with fires in fuel drums.
Although actual construction began at Dawson Creek, the southerly focal point
of the Alaska Highway is the city of Edmonton, Alberta, with which it is con–
nected by provincial road and standard-gauge railway, each nearly 500 miles in
length (the road distance will be reduced by 100 miles with a relocation via
Whitecourt). From Dawson Creek the Highway follows a northerly and northwest–
erly course through prairie country, passing the airport and town of Fort St.
John at Mile 48, then northerly along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains,
crossing the Sikanni Chief River and following the valleys of the Prophet and
Muskwa rivers to the airport at Fort Nelson, Mile 300.
It now turns westerly and enters the Rocky Mountains, reaching its maximum
elevation of 4,250 feet at Summit Lake, Mile 390. It continues northwesterly
to Muncho Lake, Mile 452, and along the valley of the Trout River to its junc–
tion with the Liard. Passing through the mountains, the Highway reaches the
settlement of Lower Post and the airfield at Watson Lake, Yukon, Mile 635.
From Watson Lake it turns more westerly and crosses the divide between
the Mackenzie and Yukon watersheds 80 miles east of Teslin Lake, at a maximum
elevation of 3,208 feet. From Teslin Lake it follows a northwesterly course,
passing the Canol Road cut-off at Mile 835, crossing the Teslin and Lewes rivers
and arriving at the airport and town of Whitehorse, Mile 917.
From Whitehorse the road extends northwesterly, following an old wagon and
motor road as far as Kluane Lake, Mile 1050. It passes along the southern shore
of the lake and crosses the Yukon-Alaska boundary at Mile 1221. It proceeds
northwesterly, follows the valley of the Tanana River, passing the military air–
fields at Northway, Mile 1265, and Tanacross, Mile 1329. At Tok Junction, near
Tanacross, the Highway meets a connecting road extending southwesterly to Gulkana.

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

Still following the Tanana Valley, it touches the military airfield at Big
Delta, Mile 1422, where it joins the Richardson Highway from Valdez. This is
the end of new construction on the Alaska Highway, and from here to Fairbanks,
95 miles, it is combined with the Richardson Highway.
For the first 75 miles of its length from Dawson Creek the Highway was
constructed prior to the reduction of standards in April 1943, and is 36 feet
wide, surfaced with 24 inches of graded gravel. The balance is 26 feet in width
and gravel-surfaced except between Miles 76 and 151, where crushed sandstone
was used, and between Miles 300 and 320, where the surface is shale. In general,
the Highway was surfaced with a base course of bank-run gravel varying in thick–
ness from four to ten inches and topped with a two-inch layer of crushed gravel.
The alignment and grades permit safe driving at a speed of 50 miles an hour,
with a few exceptions, over the entire road. A maximum grade of ten per cent was
allowable, and such grades prevail over a few short stretches. Only 127 miles
were constructed to grades in excess of six per cent, however. There are 937
miles of tangent construction and 487 miles of curvature, with approximately 240
miles constructed to curvatures in excess of six degrees.
Besides the 133 bridges previously noted there are about 8,000 culverts,
95 per cent of them being wood pipe or corrugated galvanized pipe culverts rang–
ing from 18 to 120 inches in diameter, with a total length of 50 miles. The re–
maining five per cent are creosoted timber box culverts from four-by-four to ten–
by-ten feet in cross section.
The Haines Road begins at tidewater of the Lynn Canal and extends north–
westerly 154 miles across parts of Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon Terri–
tory, meeting the Alaska Highway 98 miles west of Whitehorse and 502 miles south–
east of Fairbanks. From Haines it follows the northeast bank of the Chilkat River

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

for 24 miles, thence up the Klehini River to Mile 50, reaching an elevation
of 1,613 feet. Here it enters Chilkat Pass, traversing steep slopes subject
to slides. The grade increases to Mile 57, elevation 3,140 feet, then the
road descends for two miles into Clear Creek Valley. The greatest elevation
is 3,416 feet, Mile 63. Thence therroad descends by easy grades, crossing the
Nadahini River at Mile 67 and following the left bank to Mule Creek, which it
crosses at Mile 72. At Mile 74 it passes over gravel moraine which forms the
divide between Chilkat and Tatshenshini rivers and proceeds through flat country
to Mile 78. It then traverses the slopes of Mount Mansfield and climbs to 3,183
feet at Mile 94. It crosses the Takhanne River at Mile 99, six miles east of
Dalton Post.
The road rises on heavy grades from the Takhanne River to 2,949 feet and
proceeds over rolling country along the east side of the Unihini River Valley
to Unihini Crossing at Mile 113. It continues over level wooded country to a
point opposite the southern tip of Dezadeash Lake, Mile 120, and along the west
shore to Mile 131, where it turns northwesterly. It passes through an area of
low glacial moraines and crosses the Kathleen River at Mile 138 and Quill Creek
at Mile 146. It descends from here on low grades into the Dezadeash Valley,
joining the Alaska Highway about 41 miles west of the village of Champagne. The
Haines Road was built to the same standards as those of the Alaska Highway.
The name "Alcan" (Alaska-Canada), a convenient marking for all vehicles
and equipment used in the construction and operation of the Alaska Highway, was
the one used by its military and civilian workers from the very beginning, and
was at once widely adopted by press and public. In April 1943, the Commanding
General, Northwest Service Command, designated it the Alean Military Highway.
"Alcan" was challenged on euphemietic grounds, however, and in June the name was

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

changed on War Department instructions to Alaska Military Highway. Finally,
on July 28, an exchange of notes between the United States and Canada made it
simply the Alaska Highway.
Besides its prime function in war and peace of tying in the Northwest
Staging Route airports and linking Alaska with the United States through Canada,
the Alaska Highway has opened up vast, hitherto inaccessible areas to mining
and agricultural development, to tourist travel and settlement. It is tapped
by many roads and trails whose use it will intensify. Beginning at the south–
ern terminus, the Highway has become a backbone for a series of roads leading
from Edmonton to various settlements in the Wheat-growing Peace River country;
and it has prompted the British Columbia Provincial Government to complete a
180-mile gap in its road system between Prince George and Dawson Creek, thus
giving the Highway a direct outlet to the southern parts of the province and the
Northwestern States. Another gap may be filled in between Fort St. John,
Hudson Hope, Finlay Forks, and Manson Creek, between which there are trails.
Farther north, at Fort Nelson, the Highway gives access to the valleys of
the Liard and Mackenzie by a 250-mile winter road which Engineer troops blazed
to Fort Simpson, and by shallow-draft boats and barges plying the Fort Nelson
and Liard rivers to the Mackenzie. As the need arises, the winter road (it
crosses the Fort Nelson and Petitot rivers and skirts Trout Lake) may be improved
for year-round use, but meanwhile an increasing volume of freight finds its way
to Mackenzie River settlements by the water route from Fort Nelson. Natural
gas has been tapped at Fort Nelson, and there has been some expectation of find–
ing oil there and in the Fort St. John vicinity.
Still farther north, the Watson Lake airfield was pioneered by men who
brought their supplies and equipment from the Pacific Coast at Wrangell, Alaska,

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

up the Stikine River to Telegraph Creek, over a 50-mile portage to Dease Lake
and thence down the Dease River. This is a direct route lending itself to
peacetime development.
Another prospective link with the Alaska Highway, especially if a railroad
is projected, is offered by one of the originally conceived routes for a road
to Alaska — the one northward from Prince George via the Parsnip, Finlay,
Kechika, and Liard rivers and meeting the existing Highway near Watson lake.
Already surveyed, it has no heavy grades, could be developed easily and would
open up the whole northern half of British Columbia.
At the foot of Teslin Lake is the Canol Road cut-off. This road, 520
miles in length, traverses the Mackenzie-Yukon divide and leads to Norman Wells
on the Lower Mackenzie. Although it was constructed only for the purpose of
laying and maintaining the Canol pipeline which parallels it, it is in the main
an all-weather artery, providing access to vast, undeveloped areas on the Yukon side,
including the upper reaches of the Pelly River and its tributaries, the
Ross and Macmillan, as well as those of the Mackenzie. With the abandonment of
the pipeline in 1945 the Canol Road suffered from neglect, but the need for it
was great enough to prompt a private fur-trading company to maintain it suffic–
iently to send supply trucks to outposts over half its length until such time as
it would be officially reopened. Meanwhile, mining companies sent prospecting
parties along it.
At Whitehorse the H ghway promises to revitalize an old wagon, sleigh, and
tractor road leading to the camps around Mayo, where gold and silver mining are
still carried on, and to Dawson, the territorial capital and ghost town of the
Klondike gold rush. The White Pass and Yukon Railway, connecting Whitehorse
with Skagway, has been dealt with earlier, as has the Haines Road.

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

The Richardson Highway, meeting the Alaska Highway at Big Delta, gives
another outlet to the sea at Valdez, and at Anchorage (via cut-off from Gul–
kana), while from Fairbanks runs the Steese Road to Circle, on the Yukon River.
It would appear likely that from Fairbanks the Alaska Highway will one day be
pushed to Nome, on Bering Strait, already connected by trail.
In its report on the Alaska Highway, published in March 1946, the Con–
gressional Committee on Roads states:
"The recreational lure of the area adjacent to the entire length of the
Alaska Highway and the Haines Road cannot be underestimated. It is a country
of great scenic beauty. Muncho Lake in the Canadian Rockies, Teslin Lake further
north on the road to Whitehorse, and the north side of the great St. Elias Range
visible from the Highway north of Whitehorse driving toward Alaska furnish views
that are almost unsurpassed on this continent…. There is a valid assumption
that the Canadian Government with its usual foresight will encourage the early
development of such service enterprises as are needed to encourage the tourist
in taking this delightful trip. The hunting and fishing possibilities for the
camper adequately equipped are equal to if not better than any to be found in
the United States.
"No one can prophesy the amount of traffic which will flow over this high–
way during the next few years. There will always be those hardy travelers whose
enthusiasm for now places offsets any of the material discomforts which go with
such a trip, but to visualize this highway as a route heavily traveled as the
great through highways of this country in peacetime does not seem reasonable at
this time due to the great distances which must be covered by tourists and others
to reach either the southern or northern termini of the Highway.
"That the building of the Highway will have a profound and far-reaching

EA-Geography: Canada. Finnie: Alaska Highway

effect upon the economic and social life of the northwestern portions of this
continent may be taken for granted. Such a gigantic and permanent project, a
fundamental type ofutility, can only result in progress and greatly enhance de–
velopment in all fields both in northwest Canada and in Alaska."
Richard Finnie

The Canol Project

EA- [: ] Transp. & Commun.
(Richard Finnie)

THE CANOL PROJECT

Canol (Canadian Oil) Project, constructed by Bechtel-Price-Callahan,
a pro-tem partnership of western contractors, for the Corps of Engineers,
United States Army (1942-44), was designed to develop the nearest available
petroleum source to help fuel the Alaska Highway and its airfields during
World War II.
In the spring of 1942, after the Japanese had overrun the islands of
the South Pacific they became a serious threat to America in the North. If
they could reach the mainland of Alaska they might cripple shipping in the
North Pacific and launch serial and amphibious attacks against the west
coast of Canada and the United States. Alaska's defense bases were few and
inadequate, and could be supplied only by sea or sir. By land there was no
through road between Alaska and the most northerly extensions of existing
Canadian rail lines or highways connecting with those of the United States.
To fill this gap the United States Army started building the Alaska
Highway in March 1942. Its southern terminus at Dawson Creek, British
Columbia, it would provide an emergency land route 1,500-odd miles in length
to Fairbanks in the heart of Alaska. Still more important, it would tie
in a chain of airports and flight strips for the use of fighter planes,
bombers, and transports.
The Canadian Government had already carved out five airports from

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

Edmonton, Alberta, to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, nearly a thousand miles
to the northwest. These linked others in Alaska, on which initial construc–
tion had been done by the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Authority. All of the
airports would have to be enlarged to handle ever increasing traffic —
including Lend-Lease fighters and bombers being ferried to the Soviet Union —
and intermediate emergency strips would have to be built.
The trucks and other vehicles using the Alaska Highway would need fuel;
the airplanes using its fields would need fuel. But when the Alaska Highway
was begun there was no certainty that the shipping lanes to Alaska could be
kept open, and tankers were scarce and in urgent demand elsewhere.
However, oil was obtainable in the North, from a known and already pro–
ducing source. This was at Norman Wells, the most northerly producing field
on the continent, 75 miles south of the Arctic Circle, along the Mackenzie
River. The field had been drilled for the first time in 1920 by Imperial
Oil Limited, Canadian subsidiary of Standard of New Jersey. It had since
supplied a small local market, steadily augmented after the discovery of
silver-pitchblende deposits on Great Bear Lake and the oeppening of a mine
there in 1931, and the discovery of gold at the North Arm of Great Slave
Lake in 1935. In 1939 an 840-barrel-per-day, straight-run refinery was
installed, replacing a primitive steam still, and with only three wells
and a summer operating season of ninety days production was maintained at
around 24,000 barrels a year. Too little exploratory drilling had been done
to make possible any estimate of the size and extent of the field.
Early in 1941 Vilhjalmur Stefansson called the War Department's atten–
tion to Norman Wells in conjunction with his advocacy of the Mackenzie Valley
route to Alaska, and he later proposed that a pipeline be run from Norman Wells

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

to some point on the Yukon River system. (With a paraffin base and a low
pour point, the Norman crude would flow freely at 70 degrees below zero.)
It was his suggestion that led indirectly to the Canol Project.
Out of this combination of circumstances the United States War Department
evolved a plan. With the consent of the Canadian Government, the Corps of
Engineers, aided by civilian contractors, would develop the Norman Wells
field to produce at least 3,000 barrels of oil a day — which amount was all
that Imperial Oil would count on. Simultaneously a pipeline was to be laid
to a point on the Alaska Highway where a refinery was to be built to turn
the crude oil into gasoline for planes and trucks and other uses. This point
was at the Yukon town of Whitehorse, head of navigation on the Yukon River
system, with rail connection to tidewater at Skagway, and centrally located
on the route of the Alaska Highway. This plan grew into the greatest con–
struction project since the Panama Canol. In respect to area covered, time
of accomplishment, and sheer pioneering, Canol — in combination with the
Alaska Higway — become one of the biggest and most varied in the history
of the world.
The decision to begin the Canol Project was reached by the War Depart–
ment at the end of April, 1942, after a brief memorandum recommending it had
been admitted to Lt. General Brehon B. Somervell, Chief of the Army Service
Forces, by an assistant, Colonel James H. Graham. The Corps of Engineers,
to whom the task was assigned, at once contracted with Imperial Oil to expand
the Norman Wells field. For general construction three firms were called in:
W. A. Bechtel Co., San Francisco; H. C. Price Co., Bartlesville, Oklahoma;
and W. E. Callahan Construction Co., Dallas. A contract for the construction
of a crude-oil pipeline and the design and construction of the refinery and

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

petroleum facilities was entered into on May 4 and executed on May 20 between
the War Department and Bechtel-Price-Callahan, a pro-tem partnership of the
above three firms and six of their associates: Bechtel Company, J. H. Pomeroy
& Co., Inc., B M P Company, Gunther and Shirley Company, R. A. Conyes, and
Paul Grafe.
At the same time the Standard Oil Company of California was designated
by the War Department as consultant on the design and construction of the
Project, and the firm of J. Gordon Turnbull and Sverdrup & Parcel (Cleveland
and St. Louis) was selected by the Army as architect-engineer. While Imperial
Oil was responsible for oil production, Standard Oil Company of Alaska – an
affiliate of Standard of California — was to operate the completed pipeline
and refinery.
On May 27 and 28 the advance guard of the Canol Project reached Edmonton,
where headquarters were to be established. The officer in charge was Colonel
Theodore Wyman Jr. (He was succeeded the following year by Brig. General
Ludson D. Worsham.) Twenty-five hundred Engineer troops with hundreds of
tons of equipment were soon pouring through Edmonton, on route by rail to
Waterways, Alberta, the starting point for an eleven-hundred-mile water route
to Norman Wells.
Only a few days later there were Japanese in the Aleutians, and the Army
and Navy pre-empted all shipping to Alaska and the Yukon for supplies and
equipment to be fitted forthwith into the pattern of defense. The Canol
pipeline had to be started from one end only — the Norman Wells and, which was
removed from any likely scene of conflict.
For construction jobs in remote lands native labor is usually available,
but for this one there was little. Indians were few and scattered, although
some acted as guides, dog drivers and river pilots. Because of wartime labor

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

restrictions based on a manpower shortage, comparatively few white Canadians
could be employed, apart from those in the ranks of Canadian companies cooper–
ating in the Project. The bulk of the workers had to come from the United
States. They came from Texas and Oklahoma, from Oregon and California, from
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kansas, Missouri, and New York. There were welders,
carpenters, cooks, tractor operators, crane operators, truck drivers, mechanics,
office workers.
In another respect Canol was unlike most other construction jobs. It had
to create its own transportation facilities, and move all its supplies and
equipment and housing for thousands of men a thousand miles to the job site
before actual construction could be started. There were settlements along the
Mackenzie already, of course, and boats and barges, too, but they could no
more than supplement the necessities that must be imported.
In the initial planning it had been the Army's intention to do all the
hauling of freight — an estimated 50,000 tons — to the starting point of
the pipeline. But it soon became apparent that all available facilities and
agencies would be needed. So along with the Army worked the constructors and
the Hudson's Bay Company and the Northern Transportation Company on river
freighting, while Canadian Pacific Airlines provided aerial transport. Later
the U.S. Army Air Transport Command furnished supplementary freight and passenger
service.
Early in June the Army and the constructors established a base camp at
Waterways, rail's end 285 miles north of Edmonton. Here thousands of tons
of supplies and equipment were prepared for shipment down the Athabaska, Slave
and Mackenzie rivers. Prefabricated barges were assembled, launched and loaded,
and immediately sent north at a rate of two or three a day all through the summer.

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

Two hundred and eighty-five miles beyond Waterways navigation in the
Slave River is broken by sixteen miles of rapids with a drop of more than
a hundred feet. Here, at Fort Fitzgerald, everything had to be unloaded
and portaged, including the barges, which were lifted out of the water by
crawler-type cranes and placed on tractor-drawn trailers. Two parallel
portage roads were used, both pre-dating the Canol Project but improved and
widened by the Army and the constructors.
At Fort Smith, just below the rapids, the barges were launched and
loaded again. Everything had to be trans-shipped, including thousands of
tons of pipe. Four inches in diameter, this came in lengths of from twenty
to twenty-two feet, each joint weighing about 230 pounds.
Leaving Fort Smith the boats and barges resumed the northward trek,
with 850 miles still to go. On down the Slave River they went, 190 miles,
then for 150 miles westward followed the south shore of Great Slave Lake —
the fifth largest on the continent — and finally sailed down the Mackenzie
River itself — second in North America only to the Mississippi in length
and drainage. Along with diesel tugs brought in by the Army and the con–
structors were old wood-burning sternwheelers belonging to the Hudson's Bay
Company, besides other power craft. Staging camps were set up at the mouth
of the Slave and at the head of the Mackenzie, where loads were redistributed.
The end of the run was Norman Wells, on the east bank of the Mackenzie,
and newly established Canol Camp, just opposite and four miles away on the
west bank. Trip after trip was made by the tugs and barges until the ice
began running in October.
Canol Camp began with a few tents down by the shore, and at freeze-up
in 1942 its civilian population was only a hundred men. Later, it was

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

re-located away from the river on high ground, with barracks and warehouses
and repair shops. As the work progressed, the population grew to more than
a thousand persons, and another, larger camp was built.
To supplement river transportation, for the movement of high-priority
freight and personnel, aircraft had to be used extensively. However, air–
planes operating in the Mackenzie District had always been equipped with
pontoons in summer and skis in winter, their landing fields being the count–
less lakes and rivers in both seasons. But the planes adaptable for this
type of service were of small carrying capacity. Moreover, in the fall when
the ice was forming and in the spring when it was breaking up, neither skis
nor pontoons could be used, and the planes were grounded for a month or two.
For adequate and continuous aerial traffic between Edmonton and Norman Wells
and Canol Camp large transports on wheels were needed, and for transports
there must be airfields.
Canadian Pacific Airlines had already graded a landing strip at Waterways,
but from that point northward the Army and the constructors were obliged to
start from scratch. Fields were laid out at Embarras Portage (in the
Athabaska delta near Fort Chipewyan), Fort Smith, Fort Resolution, Hay River,
Fort Providence, Mills Lake, Fort Simpson, Fort Wrigley, Norman Wells and
Canol Camp. Some were ready for use only three weeks after the knocking down
of the first tree. The first transport-plane landing was made at Norman Wells
on September 30, 1942. Henceforth at any season of the year vitally needed
man and supplies could be rushed to the job site in a few hours. Those
Mackenzie Valley airfields pioneered for the Canol Project incidentally
opened up a potential new low-altitude short air route across the Arctic
to Asia.
But still the transportation problem had not been wholly solved.

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

Thousands of tons of machinery, earth-moving equipment and trucks, which
because of freeze-up could not be delivered by boat and barge, and which
could not be flown, were needed at Norman Wells and Canol Camp before the
second summer. In November the Army and the contractors established a base
camp at Peace River, rail's end 300 miles northwest of Edmonton. Between
here and Norman Wells a thousand-mile winter freighting route was to be
opened up.
An all-weather provincial road already extended eighty miles beyond the
town of Peace River, and as far as Great Slave Lake there had been a tractor
trail since 1939. However, new ground had to be broken over much of this
stretch, and a 130-mile cut-off had to be added to bring the road to a point
just below Mills Lake where the Mackenzie River was to be crossed. Another
cut-off, 180 miles in length, led to Fort Smith. The northern half of the
route lay along the east side of the Mackenzie Valley through virtually
unexplored country for 500 miles. The building of this road was a big
undertaking in itself. One crew with bulldozers pushed south from Norman
Wells, another pushed north from the head of the Mackenzie, and they met in
the bush on February 23, 1943.
A procession of tractor trains immediately moved toward Norman Wells
and Canol Camp. Besides fuel and foodstuffs the trains carried such cargoes
as knocked-down camp buildings, lumber, machinery, repair parts, and oil–
drilling equipment. Past the tractor trains ran convoys of trucks. Relay
camps were few and far between, and most of the way drivers were in the
wilderness on their own. Only a few of them were truck drivers by classi–
fication; most were tractor operators, mechanics, welders, or carpenters,
who would work at their respective trades upon reaching Canol Camp. When

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

their trucks broke down they repaired them on the spot, making the best use
of the tools and parts they had with them.
Climaxing their long journey the truck convoys and the tractor trains
made a four-mile crossing of the frozen Mackenzie from Norman Wells to Canol
Camp. By the middle of April the spring thaw was under way; the overland
road was becoming impassably muddy, and the river ice was flooded and
rotting. But the winter road had served its purpose and the season's freight
was delivered — 9,000 tons of it — without loss.
Though the northern half of the road would not be needed again for the
Canol Project, it could some day be turned into an all-weather motor road as
part of an alternate Alaska Highway, with extensions to Great Bear Lake and
the Arctic Coast. The southern half of the route, from Peace River to the
head of the Mackenzie, was destined to be further developed as an all-weather
road by the Canadian Government and the Alberta Government within the next few
years, thus relieving the bottleneck of the Fort Fitzgerald-Fort Smith portage
and the storm and ice hazards of Great Slave Lake for northbound freighting.
After the Japanese had been pinned down in the Aleutians, and there was
no longer any immediate threat of enemy interference with shipping to Alaska,
the Corps of Engineers directed the constructors to start building the Canol
pipeline from both ends. Freight for it could now be sent through Prince
Rupert to Skagway and Whitehorse as well as down the Mackenzie River. Near
Prince Rupert, at Port Edward, a large camp was established, with railroad
spurs, warehouses, wharf, and tank farm. This was begun in October 1942.
Meanwhile, thousand-ton, ocean-going barges were loaded at Prince Rupert
with supplies and equipment for the 500-mile run up the Inside Passage to
Skagway, towed by tugs or fishing vessels. At Skagway the barges were beached

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

at low tide and unloaded.
Here, as at all other towns and settlements where Canol bases were
set up from Edmonton northward, the fullest possible use was made of all
available local facilities. New buildings were erected only where old ones
were inadequate or nonexistent. But Skagway's port facilities could not
cope with the requirements of Canol as well as those of the Alaska Highway.
There had to be new access roads, warehouses, dolphins and wharf extensions.
To secure dolphin and wharf piling, logging operations were carried on in
the mighty spruce forests of the Chilkst Peninsula thirty miles to the south.
Freight unloaded from ships and barges at Skagway was carried 110 miles
to Whitehorse on the narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Railway, leased from its
private owners by the U.S. Army and operated and maintained by a railroad
battalion. In winter and summer the troops kept the freight moving except
when the right-of-way was buried under rock or snow. Some ticklish loads
were carried, not the least of which were Canol refinery vessels weighing
more than fifty tons a piece, scraping past rock ledges with clearance of
an inch and a half. Once the trains had made their twenty-mile climb of
nearly 3,000 feet to White Pass Summit on a four-per-cent grade, they rolled
onward with less effort to Bennett and Whitehorse.
The prime contract for Canol had seemed relatively simple – albeit
great in scope — to build a refinery and a pipeline and necessary access
roads. But the location complicated it, for the building had to be done in
pertly unexplored wilderness a thousand miles from the nearest large city.
Then, to distribute the petroleum products, additional pipeline and facili–
ties had to be provided. All of these factors, coupled with the Japanese
situation in the North Pacific, caused Canol to grow. The Army and the constructor

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

carried out supplement after supplement to the prime contract. The supple–
ments included the Mackenzie Valley airfields and the winter road, river
freighting operations, offices and barracks and warehouses and staging
installations. Although work on the prime contract went on unremittingly,
its difficulties were so great that its fulfillment was delayed until all
of the diverse supplements — including a thousand miles of pipelines —
were completed and in operation.
The first of these supplements was for freighting through Prince Rupert
and the laying of a four-inch pipeline between Skagway and Whitehorse, with
three pumping stations. Beginning in October, 1942, one crew of pipeliners
worked from Skagway, where a tank farm was built, 67 miles north to Carcross;
another worked from Carcross to Whitehorse. Paralleling the White Pass & Yukon
track most of the way, the line was designed to supply Whitehorse with gasoline
brought by tanker from California to Skagway pending completion of the crude–
oil line, afterwards delivering Norman Wells fuel to tidewater whence it could
be shipped wherever needed.
After the Klondike gold rush, Whitehorse survived as the terminus of the
railroad and the head of navigation on the Yukon, with a population of 500.
In 1942 it suddenly became a boom town on the Alaska Highway, teeming with
troops and construction workers. It was the hub of a tremendous camp area
with a floating population in excess of 20,000. The camp built for the Canol
Project was a town in itself.
On the bench above the townsite, near the Whitehorse airport, a tank
farm was begun. Its storage capacity was to be 240,000 barrels of diesel,
motor and aviation fuel. With additional tanks at the refinery site by the
Lewes River, there would eventually be a total capacity of 630,000 barrels of

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

crude oil and finished products. By January 1943 gasoline was being pumped
from Skagway to the Whitehorse tank farm, and it fueled the trucks that were
moving supplies over the Alaska Highway. Aviation gasoline soon came in too.
Even though the Canol Project was still far from completion its facilities
were already being put to work.
In the late fall of 1942 the Alaska Highway was broken through as a
pioneer road after eight months of labor by 10,000 Engineer troops. Later it
would be turned into a permanent all-weather road by civilian contractors,
but until the spring thaw could be driven all the way from Edmonton or Dawson
Creek to Fairbanks. Canol now had another supply route.
Until the main crude line from Norman Wells could be finished, as well
as afterward, the fueling of the Alaska Highway and its airfields must be
expedited. To this end the constructors were given a further supplement to
their prime contract. This was for the laying of a gasoline line, tapping the
Skagway-Whitehorse line, from Carcross to Watson Lake, an airport 265 miles
eastward.
In January 1943 the constructors' highway freighting program got under
way. There were countless truckloads of foodstuffs and supplies, while con–
voys of truck-and-trailer combinations rolled northward with pipe. Each
load comprised eighty joints 38 to 44 feet long, weighing six tons. Guiding
the pipe dollies around steep and slippery curves and over narrow temporary
bridges was a severe test of the truck drivers' skill. Sometimes the dollies
jack-knifed, or pipe broke through the cabs, and there were a few casualties.
Five hundred and sixty miles northwest of Dawson Creek the dollies reached
their first base at Watson Lake. Thence the drivers took their loads toward
Carcross, dropping off the pipe at intervals. Forty-two miles south of
Whitehorse, the Carcross camp was a supply depot and control point for the

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

Watson Lake Pipeline, with a pumping station and tank farm. The line was
threaded and coupled pipe two inches in diameter (all other lines were
welded). Begun in February 1943, with four pumping stations, it was in
operation the following June.
Between Watson Lake and Carcross, and at other points on the Alaska
Highway and access roads, camp after camp was built. In new and mostly
uninhabited country threr had to be accommodation for truck drivers and
pipeliners as well as pumping-station builders and operators.
Besides the Watson Lake pipeline there would have to be one running
600 miles from Whitehorse to Fairbanks — which called for another supple–
mental agreement. This, also, would tap the Skagway-Whitehorse line and
carry imported gasoline until the Norman Wells crude could be refined at
Whitehorse. It was a three-inch line paralleling the Alaska Highway, with
fifteen pumping stations.
Before October 13, 1943, when the last gap in the Alaska Highway as an
all-weather artery was filled in just east of the Yukon border, pumping–
station equipment and pipe were distributed with great difficulty. Some
of the freight was trucked from Whitehorse until the road lost itself in a
swamp; some was brought by barge from Whitehorse down the Lewes and Yukon
to Circle, then trucked over the Steese Road to Fairbanks; and two western
approaches from the sea were used as well: the Alaska Railroad from Seward
to Fairbanks, and the Richardson Highway from Valdez to Fairbanks.
The Fairbanks pipeline was begun in the summer of 1943. In October
when the work was in full stride, as many as 450 thirty-eight-foot joints
a day were welded by individual crews. By mid-November gasoline was coursing
through the completed line. Within sight of Fairbanks was the tank farm

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

and final pumping station, from which gasoline could be track-backed in the
event of a breakdown elsewhere. Connecting lines went out to nearby Ladd
Field, where American aircraft took off and landed on diverse missions,
and Land-Lease fighters and bombers were dispatched via Nome to the Soviet
Union.
The tank farm was guarded by an Eskimo soldier from Kotzebue Sound.
No part of the Canol Project was in Eskimo country, but the sentry was not
the only Eskimo among Canol's troops and civilians. On the Fairbanks line
were a half-dozen Wainright Eskimos who earned everyone's admiration. Their
colleagues said of them that "they could lay pipe faster and surer than a
side-boom cat."
The building of the supplementary pipelines was relatively simple if not
easy, for between Skagway and Whitehorse there was a railroad, between Carcross
and Watson Lake there was a road, and between Whitehorse and Fairbanks there
was a road. The building of the crude-oil line from Norman Wells to White–
horse was neither simple nor easy.
On June 12, 1942, the first reconneissance flight of the Canol Project
was made across the unexplored mountains of the Mackenzie-Yukon divide.
Many more flights in search of a route were made after that. At Sheldon Lake,
approximately halfway between Norman Wells and Whitehorse, there was a trading
post. Between Sheldon Lake and Whitehorse along the proposed pipeline route
there was one other trading post, 75 miles to the southwest. Between Sheldon
Lake and the Mackenzie River, 300 miles, there was no human habitation.
Across this wilderness a pipeline had somehow to be laid. But a pipeline
needs a road, to provide access for construction and year-round maintenance.
At the outset there wasn't so much as a trail over more than half the route.

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

With Fort Norman Indians as guides and dog drivers, a lone surveyor made
the first ground traverse of the eastern half of the route in October and
November 1942. Later in the winter a road-builderss' trail was blazed among
the Mockenzie Mountains by tractor trains from Canol Camp, one of which reached
the threshold of the divide at Macmillan Plateau before it was stopped by the
spring thaw. Signal Corps radio operators maintained two-way contact with
Canol Camp, but the only physical breaks in the tractor crew's isolation were
made by a single-motored plane on skis. The plane brought fuel and mail, and
finally evacuated the crew.
All through this period there was great activity on the other side of the
divide. By February 1943, twelve hundred Engineer troops were pioneering the
Canol Road from the west. Leaving the Alaska Highway at Johnson's Crossing
(formerly known as Hootalinqua Crossing, just below Teslin Lake), eighty
miles east of Whitehorse, they struck northeastward, driving their bulldozers
through the virgin bush.
To pioneer a practical route across this rugged terrain took the combined
efforts of hundreds of men with hundreds of pieces of equipment. It also took
time. After the route as a whole had finally been determined, sections of it
here and there remained in doubt. Through the spring and summer of 1943
surveyors and road locators with dogs were flown to the mountains. Their
planes landed on lakes hidden among the peaks. While their dogs waddles along
with packs nearly their own weight, the men plodded through bush and across
tundra, picking the shortest, easiest locations. Some of the surveyors from
the west side explored the divide country with pack horses.
Actual construction of the Canol Road on the east side did not get fairly
under way until May 1943, when a lead crew set out from Canol Camp and headed

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

for the mountains a score of miles beyond. The tractor train ascended
through Dodo Canyon, on a tributary of the Carcajou River, carved its way
around steep talus slopes and across valleys, striving always to avoid swamps
and permafrost. The head dozer forced a right-of-way for the road builders
following, advancing a couple of miles on good days and only a few yards on
bad ones.
Beneath a few inches of vegetation and top soil there was in some areas
a great depth of solid glacial frost; and if the vegetation were disturbed
the ground beneath would quickly thaw in the summer sun and become a quagmire.
Newcomers to the North, on both sides of the Mackenzie-Yukon divide, learned
that if permafrost could not be sidestepped, the only quick way to put a road
over it was not to break the insulation but to pile up brush, rock and gravel
over it to keep the frost locked in.
Follow-up crews moved dirt. They shaped and widened the road, put in
innumerable culverts, many small bridges and good-sized ones too.
By mid-August 1943, construction was being done by civilian crews
exclusively, for the Engineer troops, who pioneered the road from the west
as far as Sheldon Lake, were withdrawn.
As construction advanced toward the divide, there had to be a constant
flow of supplies up the line, hauled by trucks and tractors. Sometimes heavy
rains washed down the mountain slopes and flooded the canyons, and trucks got
beyond their depth in stream crossings where bridges were lacking.
All necessary food supplies for the North were imported, and these
included electrically refrigerated fresh meats, fruits and vegetables. The
men at the line camps were as well fed as those at the terminals, although at
Canol Camp the menu occasionally featured salmon-trout and whitefish caught
by local Indians, or reindeer flown from Aklavik.

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

At every camp the workers' uppermost thoughts in off hours were of their
mail, and the severest hardship they had to endure was homesickness.
In the spring of 1943 the first women arrived at Canol Camp and Johnson's
Crossing to work in the offices and in the mess halls. At all of the northern
base camps the girls set an enviable example in spirit as well as industry;
their record for the fulfillment of employment contracts was much better than
the men's, and they made substantial contribution to the success of the Canol
Project.
When the Project settled down to its second winter, scores of barges
and tugs, having completed their season's freighting, lay on the banks of the
Mackenzie as the great river froze.
The builders of the Canol Road, as well as the builders of the Alaska
Highway, wrestled with two problems peculiar to northern terrain: permafrost
and glacial action. Permafrost was chiefly a summer hazard; glacial action
was solely a winter hazard. Warm springs flowing under a cover of moss and
snow would break out to the surface wherever they met an obstacle; and if the
obstacle chanced to be a road, the water would accumulate in low spots on mild
days and build up successive layers of ice on cold days until it menaced or
halted traffic. These so-called "glaciers" had to be fought constantly.
Sometimes they were kept moving by fires in gasoline drums; sometimes they
were blasted out. They were unpredictable and no way was found to get rid
of them permanently except by relocating parts of the road where they were
most troublesome.
The pipeliners kept plugging along behind the road builders. Though
the generators were housed on sleds, the welding itself was done without
protection from the weather. Welds were successively made at 40 and 50 below

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

zero. The pipe was laid right on the surface, which simplified construction
and maintenance, whereas if it were buried it would be subjected to stress
and strain in frost-locked ground. It was placed far enough off the road
to be safe from traffic, and there was little else but rock slides that might
damage it. In winter an insulating blanket of snow over much of the line
would keep the oil warmer than the air during periods of extreme cold; but
delivery would continue even though the snow drifted away, for the Norman Wells
crude would flow at the lowest temperatures likely to occur along the line.
The pipe crews worked in relays, and as each crew finished a section of
line it would break camp and leap-frog the crews ahead until it reached new
ground. Trucks and trailers drew from stockpiles of pipe and Canol Camp and
Johnson's Crossing. The pipe was double-jointed to reduce welding time on
the line.
After freeze-up, wherever crossings of rivers and streams had to be made,
the pipe was temporarily laid on the ice. When the ice broke up in the spring,
permanent crossings would be made with the pipe trenched in the beds of the
streams or slung on bridges or trusses. There were about a hundred such
crossings. For the four-mile crossing of the Mackenzie several separate
lines were anchored on the bottom and buried at either shore while the water
was still open.
From Canol Camp toward Whitehorse ten pumping stations were erected,
spaced fort or fifty miles apart. At each were three diesel engines, so
adjusted that they could run on crude oil taken from the line, just as the
gasoline engines along the supplementary lines could tap the refined products
as they flowed through.
For living quarters, truck drivers and construction workers on the west
side of the divide had Quonset-type huts and frame buildings, while those on

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

the east side slept, ate and traveled in self-contained cabooses. There
were the same cabooses that had been hauled over the Mackenzie Valley road
on sleighs all the way from Peace River.
At Norman Wells drilling was continued through the second winter until
an ample flow of oil was assured from thirty new producing wells. Geologists
working under Army direction had evidence that this was a major field,
capable of yielding far more than the original quota of 3,000 barrels a day.
The one pool that had been tapped was estimated to hold a reserve of anywhere
from thirty-five million to one hundred million barrels, and from it at
least 20,000 barrels a day could be taken.
To store this oil and its refined products there had to be concentrations
of tanks. One tank farm was built at Norman Wells, another at Canol Camp,
besides those at Whitehorse, Skagway, Carcross, Watson Lake, Northway, Tena–
cross, Big Delta, and Fairbanks.
While the tank forms, pumping stations, roads and pipelines were being
built, the refinery at Whitehorse was rapidly growing. In April 1943 a site
on the Lewes River was cleared just below the town; by October the installations
were far advanced. The construction of the refinery was a major effort,
entailing much ingenuity and improvisation at a time when few new materials
were obtainable and transportation was difficult. The thermal cracking unit,
part of the crude unit and most of the tankage came from a surplus refinery
at Corpus Christi, Texas; the boilers were from an old power plant at
Hamilton, Ontario; and the turbines and generators were from an idle mill at
Pinedale, California. Various other parts were picked up from about two
thousand suppliers throughout the United States. The refinery neared
completion during the short days of January 1944, and would be ready to
receive the crude oil from Norman Wells as soon as the pipeline could bring it.

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

On the Canol Road, December 30, 1943, a gap of only seven and a half
miles remained to be cut through. It was across the treeless, windswept
expense of Macmillan Plateau at an elevation of more than 5,000 feet. An
engineer on snowshoes trudged across the gap, where undrifted snow pay four
feet deep, and marked a trail. That evening, from an advance camp on the
eastern slope, two bulldozers set forth. Early in the morning they broke
through, into the dead end of the road coming from Whitehorse.
With the dawn of New Year's Day, 1944, the problem of supply was greatly
simplified. Trucks and passenger vehicles could now start out from Edmonton
or Dawson Creek, drive over the Alaska Highway, turn off at Johnson's
Crossing and continue straight through to Canol Camp on the Mackenzie. A
new overland route had been created on the rim of the Arctic, opening up
thousands of square miles of hitherto unknown country.
As the road builders and pipeliners forged ahead, telephone crews followed
closely. In February the Canol telephone line, paralleling the road and pipe–
line, its wires strung on poles of native spruce, was completed. The first
hundred miles from the Mackenzie had been put up by Bechtel-Price-Callahan
crews, the balance by the Miller Construction Company of Indianapolis. As
an integral part of the Alaska Highway telephone system, under Signal Corps
direction, it established communication between all camps along the Canol Road,
and between Norman Wells, Whitehorse, Skagway, Fairbanks, Edmonton, and the
rest of the world.
Meanwhile the pipeline wended onward through the mountain passes and
valleys, usually alongside the road but here and there taking a precipitous
short out with its own right-of-way. Its final length would be exactly 577.3
miles from Canol Camp to Whitehorse, or about twenty-three miles less than the

EA-Geography. Finnie: The Canol Project

road distance.
By mid-Feburary there was a gap of only a few hundred feet in the pipe–
line. On the 16th the tie-in weld was made. This was just twenty months and
four days after the first reconnaissance flight across the Mackenzie-Yukon
divide in search of a route. Before that flight much of the country between
Norman Wells and Whitehorse was uncharted and unknown; portions of it had
never been seen by white man. Now it was spanned by a road, a telephone
line, and a pipeline, with way-stations. It was ready for future development.
In April 1944 crude oil from Norman Wells was flowing into the Whitehorse
refinery, and its products were being piped up and down the Alasion Highway
and to tidewater, providing a local fuel supply whenever needed — in the air,
on the ground, and at sea — for military, naval and civilian needs.
The lines were in continuous operation for a year, and approximately
a million barrels of crude oil were delivered to Whitehorse from Norman Wells.
Then the Canol Project was shut down, its wartime function having been fulfilled.
The small diameter of the crude-oil pipeline and the limited capacity of the
refinery were considered uneconomical for commercial use, and, moreover,
Imperial Oil had an assured market in the Mackenzie District for all the
petroleum products it cared to produce for the time being. But it would
be a simple matter to lay a larger pipeline along the Canol Road, and this
might some day be prompted by further oil discoveries in the Norman Wells
area.
Richard Finnie

Tractor Train Transportation

EA-Transp. & Comm. LeBourdais

TRACTOR TRAIN TRANSPORTATION

The opening up of the sub-arctic regions of Canada, which consist largely
of the great expanse of territory stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the
Mackenzie Valley, known as the Canadian Shield, has been facilitated to a great
extent by the nature of the country. The Shield consists mainly of Pre-
cambrian rocks which through countless ages of erosion have been worn down to
a peneplain of low elevation. Glacial action during Pleistocene times left the
surface of the Shield pitted with jagged depressions of all sizes and shapes,
which now contain innumerable lakes. These are strung together by short stretches
of swift-flowing streams, which are broken by frequent rapids and waterfalls.
In most cases, these streams have not yet succeeded in wearing out valleys of
any consequence, but appear, in many places, to flow on the surface of the ground,
over which they spread in many channels.
While this maze of lakes and streams, because of their irregular nature,
rarely provide very direct routes between any two points, and traversing them is
arduous because of the necessity for many portages, they do render travel
possible in almost any direction from one part of the Shield to another. That is
the situation in summer; in winter, it is very similar, except that instead of
canoes or scows, sleds drawn by caterpillar tractors are used, and lakes only
are traversed because of the indirect courses of the streams, their frequent rapids
and falls, but more especially because of their tendency to open stretches.

EA-Transp. & Comm. LeBourdais: Tractor Train Transp.

Between lakes, the route usually takes the most direct course across the inter–
vening country. In northwestern Ontario, where mineral occurrences have been
found over a wide area, tractor trains are extensively used, and cross-country
tractor transportation has become an important business. Farther west, in nor-
thern Manitoba, tractor trains are being used to an even greater extent than
anywhere else in Canada. Some of the northern Manitoba routes reach westward
into Saskatchewan and eastward into northwestern Ontario. New camps opening up
uranium and other mineral deposits in northern Saskatchewan are supplied in
this way. Between the end of steel in northern Alberta and the booming mining
settlement at Yellowknife, much of the supplies needed for the mines was trans–
ported in winter by tractor trains until the completion of an all-year highway
between Grimshaw and Hay River post, on Great Slave Lake, resulted in the sub–
stitution of trucks over that stretch of road; but tractor trains are still used
between Hay River post and Yellowknife, across the ice of Great Slave Lake. Far
to the northwest, in Yukon Territory, silver-lead concentrates are hauled from
the mines to the riverside docks for shipment in summer by water transportation, and
many mining camps, otherwise inaccessible, are kept supplied with food and
other necessities by tractor trains.
The prevalence of gold throughout the Canadian Shield is one of the factors
contributing toward the opening up of the sub-arctic. In the development of a
gold mine, much heavy equipment is required, but after the mine is once fully
equipped, only food and other supplies a for human consumption are required to
be taken in, a in addition to equipment needed for maintenance, while a season's
production can be shipped out in a single airplane. This is in marked contrast
to the situation with respect to base metal mines, where concentrates must be
shipped to the smelter, which, in most cases, require cheaper transportation than
by tractor train.

EA-Transp. & Comm. LeBrourdais: Tractor Train Transp.

Thus, across the Canadian Shield, many individual gold mines have been
brought to production and operated for several years while served by the airplane,
for light traffic all the year round, by tractor trains in winter, and by water [: ]
connections in summer. In some cases, fairly large communities have grown up
about a collection of mines and have been served in this way. One such case is
Red Lake, in northwestern Ontario, about 100 miles in a direct line north of the
nearest railway point, which from 1925 to 1927 was without highway connection.
Nevertheless, Red Lake is a thriving town, with most of the advantages of a small
town anywhere. Yellowknife, with a population of over 3,000, and growing fast,
is also largely served in this way, and itself forms a center from which tractor
trains radiate to supply projects farther afield. In addition to gold mine
development, tractor trains have been used to transport fish from Canadian Shield
lakes and furs from trading posts to the railway, as well as concentrates from
high grade base metal mines, as already mentioned. On return trips, trade goods
are often taken in for the fur-traders and other merchants.
The tractor train, as it has now evolved, is largely a product of the Cana–
dian sub-Arctic, and has been created to serve the needs of that area. It could [: ]
only be successful in a country where long stretches of cold weather could be
expected which would cover the lakes with a sufficient thickness of ice to bear heavy
loads, and which would not be too often interrupted by weather so mild as to inter–
fere with traffic. In the early days of tractor trains, the tractors were
usually powered by gasoline engines; but in recent years Diesel engines have
generally been adopted. This has greatly reduced fuel costs, and the relative
simplicity of Diesel engines has reduced time loss through engine trouble, which
so often is associated with gasoline engines.

EA-Transp. & Comm. LeBourdais: Tractor Train Transp.

The tractor train, or "swing," as it is generally called, usually consists
of a number of caterpillar tractors to each of which several sleds are attached.
The swing may consist of any number of units. Somewhere in the swing will be
a cook-caboose and a sleep-caboose in which the "cat-skinners" eat while the
sleds bump along and sleep between their shifts at work. Parts of each swing
must consist of sleds loaded with fuel — depending upon the length of the route
— some of which is cached along the way for use on the return journey. The
men who work at cat-skinning are a motley crew, generally young and adventurous,
who roam from job to job and from season to season, and think little of what to
many persons not so inured as they would be almost intolerable hardship. Some,
starting in a modest way, have done very well and have succeeded in building
up large businesses involving every sort of transportation from canoes to air–
planes. One of these, Robert Starrett, began transporting supplies into Red Lake
in 1925, by scow in summer and by tractor in winter, shortly adding airplanes
to his equipment, When he sold out in 1941 to Canadian Pacific Airlines, he
had built up a business worth more than a quarter of a million dolars for the
airplane franchise alone.
Starrett also handled transportation for J. E. Hammill (q.v.), when he opened
up the Pickle Crow mine in northwestern Ontario, 100 miles by air from the
nearest railway point, and for Central Patricia mines adjoining. Picle Crow
and Central Patricia later formed their own water transportation system, operat–
ing as a separate concern. R. J. Jowney (q.v.) handed his own transportation
when he undertook to transport supplies and equipment to the Sherritt-Gordon
mine, in northwestern Manitoba. This required transport by tractor train for
a distance of about 100 miles over rough country. In the initial stages of the
development of the great copper-gold-silver-zinc mine of Hudson Bay Mining and

EA-Transp. & Comm. LeBourdais: Tractor Train Transp.

Smelting Company at Flin Flon, tractor trains played an important part. And
since the end of World War II, tractor trains have again helped to roll back
the northern frontier in Manitoba in transporting supplies to the new nickel
fields at Lynn Lake, 120 miles north of Sherridon. Thus, as one part of the
country becomes opened up and is consolidated with the older regions farther
south, the tractor train pushes farther north to assist in the conquest of a
new frontier.
Perhaps the longest tractor train route in the Canadian North is that from
Grimshaw, a station on the Northern Alberta Railways, to Hay River Post, on
Great Slave Lake, a distance of 328 miles. Tractor trains on this route first
came into use when the necessity for hauling supplies to Yellowknife became
more urgent with the beginning of all-year operation of gold mines in that
area in the years immediately before World War II. Later, when the Canol
Project was undertaken, the need was greatly increased and tractor trains were
employed to haul supplies all the way to Norman Wells. These trains were
probably the longest ever employed in the Canadian North, the record number of
sleds in one unit being 28, although the average was much less than that. In
addition to the road from Grimshaw, then merely a winter road, a similar road
was built from Fort Smith to Hay River and extended down the Mackenzie River
to Mills Lake. This road followed the south side of the river to Mills Lake,
where the Mackenzie River was crossed, and the north (east) bank of the river
was followed, some distance back from the river, to Norman Wells.
These winter roads, with the exception of that from Grimshaw to Hay River,
were abandoned after the Canol project was abandoned, but the Grimshaw-Hay River
section has in the interval been converted into an all-year highway, on which
trucks have largely succeeded the tractor trains. The latter, however, are still

EA-Transp. & Comm. LeBourdais: Tractor Train Transp.

employed to transport goods from Hay River, across Great Slave Lake, to Yellow–
knife. The distance from Hay River to Yellowknife by water is about 120 miles,
but by tractor train it is more often than not about 200 miles because of the
necessity for avoiding pressure ridges. In some cases, small aircraft are
used to scout out the route ahead.
Tractor trains are probably used to a greater extent in Manitoba than any–
where else in Canada. As has already been mentioned, they were used by R. J.
Jowsey in transporting supplies to the Sherritt Gordon mine, 100 miles north
of The Pas. Following this, in 1932, Jowsey staked the God's Lake mine, and
until it suspended production in 1943, this property was supplied in winter by
tractor trains from Ilford Station, on the Hudson Bay Railway. Closing down of
God's Lake mine did not put an end, however, to the tractor routes to God's Lake,
which is a junction point for four different routes extending farther east,
one into northwestern Ontario. Other mines in various parts of the province
also depend on tractor trains for their supplies. In addition to mining, fish–
ing probably occupies as many tractor trains as any other line of business.
From as far north and west as Reindeer Lake (q.v.) tractor trains transport
whitefish and lake trout to the railway. Tractor trains are used to haul fish
across Lake Winnipeg, some of it unfrozen in heated cabooses, and in other cases
stacked frozen on the sleds. From a number of stations on the Hudson Bay Railway
tractor trains radiate into the surrounding country, hauling pulpwood to the
railway, and, in some cases, returning with mining machinery, or supplies for
trading posts. Some of these tractor trails based on the Hudson Bay Railway
extend as far southeastward as the Severn River, in northwestern Ontario. The
record tract [: or ] train load of frozen fish arrived at Waboden Station in March 1947,
when 2041 boxes of fish, each weighing 100 pounds, were unloaded from the sleighs,

EA-Transp. & Comm. LeBourdais: Tractor Train Transp.

requiring eight boxcars to carry them away. This tractor train had begun its
return journey 200 miles to the northwest, bringing fish from Reindeer Lake,
north of the Churchill River in Saskatchewan, and South Indian Lake, an expan–
sion of the Churchill itself, in Manitoba.
Naturally, these tractor routes keep as much to the lakes as possible, which,
of course, are entirely without any grade. There is no danger of sideslipping,
and the loss through breakage of equipment can be kept to a minimum. On the
other hand, from the standpoint of the cat-skinners, the lake sections are often
the most uncomfortable because they are exposed to the full force of the wind,
and the track is more often drifted over. In the spring of 1933, heavily loaded
sleds transporting machinery for the mill being erected at Central Patricia
gold mine from Savant Lake, on the Canadian National Railways line, a distance
of about 130 miles, broke through the ice and precipitated their loads to the
bottom of a lake. The heavy machinery was fished out the following summer, how–
ever, and duly delivered at the mine during the next winter, but, of course, a
year later than originally expected.
Although the sections between lakes are never very long, they are often
very rugged; yet the tractor trails are laid out with very little road building.
Since most of the country is timbered, it is necessary, when laying out a new
route, to have the roadway chopped out in advance, which, in some cases, is a
costly undertaking. When once this is done, however, the one cutting will
probably last for the life of the road; young growth does not impede the tractors.
When the freeze-up comes, a small "breaking crew" goes over the route, usually
with dog teams. They shovel the snow away from the margins of the lakes in order
that the ice may freeze sufficiently to bear the expected loads. They test the
thickness of the ice, and, where the course is too uneven, they cut poles and

EA-Transp. & Comm. LeBourdais: Tractor Train Transp.

lay them across the roadway in the form of corduroy, reminiscent of pioneering
in other lands and times. Following the breaking crew, another crew follows
about the beginning of December, or later, depending on the weather, or the
season, and hauls a heavy drag over the route to pack down the snow. This
crew, in most cases, ploughs out the course across the lakes in order that the
snow blanket may not prevent the ice from freezing to a safe depth. After the
tractors have passed over the course a few times and successive snowfalls
have been packed one on top of the other, the road becomes an ice-paved high–
way capable of bearing any possible load.
In some ways, the most difficult stretches are those which lie across
muskegs which cannot easily be avoided, and there are many of these scattered
about the Canadian Shield. For some reason the brackish water of the muskegs
does not freeze as readily as the clear water of the lakes. Even late in the
season, when ice on the lakes will be several feet thick, some of the muskeg
stretches continue to give trouble. In more than one muskeg throughout north–
ern Manitoba and northwestern Ontario caterpillar tra c tors lie rusting without
hope of recovery where some hopeful cat-skinner, trusting too much to luck, has
met with disaster in years past.
On the steep ridges which so often separate lakes, it is sometimes neces–
sary to "double-head" a heavy unit; and it is also often necessary, in going
down a steep pitch, to attach a [: ] second tractor to the rear, to hold back
the sleds. On solid ground, the units keep close together, but when they come
to a lake, they space out in order not to put too great a strain on the ice at
any one spot. Also, when two swings meet on a lake, they keep a safe distance
apart for the same reason, even though the skinners may get together to compare
notes. Experienced skinners know when it is necessary to take precautions, and

EA-Transp. & Comm. LeBrourdais: Tractor Train Transp.

the greater amount of experience a skinner may have, the more careful he is
likely to be. Although they are a happy-go-lucky lot, they generally have a
healthy regard for their skins, and soon learn not [: h ] to be too foolhardy. A
few who have failed to learn the simple rules have left their bones beneath
the waters of lakes, some of which until then had been unnamed. This [: ]
sort of work does not provide a life of ease; it is hard, cold work, and, [: ] as has
been suggested, has its dangerous aspects. There is the risk of dropping through
where the ice is thin, or, even worse, sinking into some muskeg. Even the
solidest ice will crack and has airholes seem to occur where least expected.
For this reason, rivers and streams are shunned.
Courtesy and friendliness is the general rule among those who pilot these
heavy swings across the frozen countryside, and who spend the greater part of
their winters, day and night, contending with the cold and the snow, both of
which are essential to the success of their undertakings. Although cat-skinners
must keep on the move to get their loads through on time, and have little time
to spend in idle talk, two swings, meeting, will not find the time wasted that
they spend in comparing notes as to road conditions. The heavier loaded outfit
is always given the right-of-way, and all join in breaking trail for the outfit
that has to leave the beaten track in order to get by. Where swings have [: ]
got into trouble for some reason connected with ice or road conditions, warning signs
are left for the benefit of those following. Two evergreens, standing in the
snow, with their tops crossed, is the usual sign. In some cases, these signs
are so frequent that the route follows a winding course across what would seem
to be a broad, unbroken lake; in other places, where it would seem to the uninitiated
that no better ice might be expected, the track will cut directly across, without
deviation. On land, when a track has once become well established, it usually
remains so throughout the season.

EA-Transp. & Comm. LeBourdais: Tractor Train Transp.

Most of the swing outfits work on a 24-hour schedule, with two crews work–
ing alternate 8-hour shifts, and in sleeping on the off-shifts. Working, with
meals caught on the fly, and sleeping constitute the life of a cat-skinner. The
engines, once started, never stop until the destination is reached — unless by
accident. If, for any reason, an overnight stop becomes necessary at the edge
of a lake considered too dangerous to cross in the darkness, the engines will be
kept running in order to avoid difficulty in getting a start when the engine is
cold, and also to avoid more serious contingencies.
As highways or railways are built, the tractor swings disappear from their
former routes only to reappear on new trails across a new zone of territory []
farther north. As long as any part of the Cnadian Shield remains without high–
ways or railways, there will be work for cats and their hardy skinners. It is
inconceivable that the growing community of Yellowknife and the large mineral
area surrounding it will long remain without railway connection with the outside
world; but many other places along the edge of the pre-Cambrian Shield are
being opened up, and in these places the caterpillar tractor swing will be in
demand. Outside of the Northwest territories, one of the last great expanses of
unopened Shield is in northern Quebec, in the land once called Ungava, and there,
in the years immediately ahead, caterpillar swings will be found winding their
way across the frozen countryside.
Reference:
<bibl> Harrington, Lyn: "Tractor Trails in Manitoba; "Canadian Georgraphical Journal,
Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2, pp. 70-77. </bibl>
D. M. LeBourdais

Greenland: Over-Ice Transportation

EA-Transportation & Communications
(F. Alton Wade)

GREENLAND - OVER-ICE TRANSPORTATION

All inland ice operations in Greenland are dependent upon successful
means of transportation. No completely satisfactory vehicle has been
developed for the exploration of Greenland's vast interior. The problem
would be a relatively simple one if only one or possibly two types of
surface would be encountered. However, surface conditions vary considerably
from place to place and from time to time in the same place. In order to
understand why this is so, a general knowledge of the ice cap and its
weather conditions is necessary.
The Greenland Ice Cap has an area estimated to be between 650,000 and
70,000 square miles, thus covering more than 75% of the island's surface.
This great mass of ice occupies the entire central area and some of the
coastal border lands. In form it resembles a very irregular, elongated,
inverted, shallow bowl with two dome crests both of which lie somewhat to
the east of a central north-south line. The southern dome rises to a height
of over 10,000 feet near 66° N. latitude. The northern dome is the larger of
the two and composes the northern two-thirds of the ice cap. It rises above
10,000 feet in the vicinity of 70° N. latitude. Not too reliable seismic
sounding data indicate that the ice is at least 6,000 feet thick in the
central portion.
The general movements of the ice are outward toward the coast from the

EA-Transp. & Commun. Wade: Greenland - Over-Ice Transp.

central dome regions. This movement is discernible in the coastal regions
where the ice flows out between the mountain peaks. There is sufficient
accumulation of new snow on the surface of the ice cap to balance in part
at least the marginal outflow of ice, thus keeping fairly constant the total
mass.
The physical properties of the ice composing the ice cap vary with depth.
Generally, a layer of unconsolidated snow is found just below the surface.
Beneath this layer is a zone of partially to entirely recrystallized, more
dense material called n e è v e è , or firn. This n e è v e è becomes more dense with in–
creasing depth and eventually grades into solid ice. This final transition
may take place many hundreds of feet below the surface, or quite near it.
Glacier ice has some of the properties of a liquid and some of a solid.
When subjected to certain stresses, it will fracture, but under a constant
steady pressure it will flow like an extremely viscious liquid. Fractures,
or crevasses as they are commonly called, in an ice cap are formed in the
relatively thin and marginal sections. They result from differential move–
ments in adjacent sections, movements over underlying ridges and knobs,
movements along confining walls, etc. The thick central regions are
crevasse free.
For convenience the ice cap is considered as being composed of two units,
namely: the marginal zone and the inland ice. This distinction is made because
the conditions encountered in the two zones are vastly different. It must be
pointed out, however, that no sharp lines of demarcation separates the two
zones. The changes are gradual.
The marginal zone may be considered to be that portion of the ice cap
which extends coastward from the relatively smooth, high central region

EA-Transp. & Commun. Wade: Greenland - Over-Ice Transp.

in places to the sea itself and in others to points as far back as 100 miles
from the coast. In general, it is that section of the ice cap which is moving
through the coastal mountains. Fingers of ice p u s u h through the gaps between
peaks and override entirely some of the lower formations. As the ice moves
over and alongside of the rock formations, cracks develop, primarily from
shearing and/or tensional stresses. Networks of crevasses, some great, some
small, are characteristic of this zone. Surface gradients are usually steep.
Frequent heavy snowfalls and strong winds also characterize this zone during
many months of each year.
The inland ice is a far more passive thing in appearance. Due to its
great thickness, crevasse systems are not developed at the surface. The
stresses are absorbed deep within the mass. To a traveler, the inland ice
appears to be a great, white desert with a gently undulating surface. Great
waves of short amplitude and long wave length are arranged in rough concen–
tricity on the slopes of the two major domes. Although the mean annual
temperatures of the inland ice areas range to much lower figures than those
characteristic of the marginal zone, the weather, as a whole, is much less
severe. Winds are less frequent and more moderate; precipitation is less.
One of the greatest difficulties to be overcome by any party seeking to
investigate the inland ice in the traversing of the marginal zones. Safe,
practical routes for large-scale operations are few. It is true that men
well experienced in glacier travel can safely ascent to the inland ice from
almost any chosen point, but over such routes heavy freighting operations
could not be carried out. So-called outlet glaciers which extend from the
inland ice outward through the mountains are potential highways. However,
most of these glaciers are quite active which means that any route over them

EA-Transp. & Commun. Wade: Greenland - Over-Ice Transp.

can be a very hazardous one. In the border zones near the rock-ice contacts
will be found sets of shear cracks many of which cannot be crossed because
of their great widths. In the central sections usually are found tensional
cracks running both laterally and longitudinally with additional shear cracks
to add to the maze. Very steep and even vertical ice falls often bar the way.
Many crevasses become bridged with snow during the winter and spring. Some
of these bridges are sufficiently strong to bear the weight of a man, or
even a dog team, but not strong enough to bear a comparatively heavy mechan–
ized vehicle. It must also be borne in mine that surface conditions are
variable. A hard, well-packed surface may be replaced in a few hours' time
by a thick layer of fresh, loose snow. A smooth surface may be carved into
an extremely rough one by the action of strong winds. Changes in temperature
greatly influence the character of the surface. A good, hard sledging sur–
face may become a soft, sticky one in a short time. Bad wind storms with
accompanying high drifting snow are frequent during certain seasons of the
year and can be expected even in the off-seasons.
Once the marginal region has been traversed, conditions should improve.
The number of crevasses decreases as the transition zone is crossed and they
do not exist in the central regions. Although the surface changes are not
as great and possibly not as frequent on the inland ice as in the marginal
zone, they do occur and must be taken into consideration. Measurements made
by the Wegener Expedition in 1931 indicate that the annual added increment
of snow on the northern dome is about three feet. It is probably greater
on the southern dome.
Surfaces that might be encountered on one trip from the coast to the
interior could include all of the following: soft, loose snow up to several

EA-Transp. & Commun. Wade: Greenland - Over-Ice Transp.

feet deep; soft, wet snow that clings to the track, wheels, or skis; dry,
powdery snow in which little traction is possible; dense, compact snow, an
ideal surface; hard, thin crust which breaks under the weight of the
machine and lets it down into unconsolidated snow below; hard, thick
crust which will bear great loads; and finally solid ice, a surface on
which it is hard to control a machine. Any of the surfaces may vary from
very smooth to very rough. To design a machine that will successfully
traverse all of the various types of surfaces and still be a rapid reconnais–
sance vehicle or a prime mover is a real problem in engineering.
As indicated above, there are other hazards and difficulties which
must be taken into account. Most of these occur in the marginal zone.
Machines must be able to cross narrow crevasses up to three feet wide at
least. By a careful choice of trails, larger ones can be avoided, but no
"highway" to the interior is free of these treacherous cracks, some of which
will have to be crossed. Gradients on the outlet glaciers are often very
steep and machines must have sufficient power to ascend them. Steering a
vehicle on snow or ice surfaces is usually difficult, but a machine should
be able to turn almost right angles in order to negotiate some of the
crevassed areas.
Early attempts to explore the interior of Greenland met defeat before even
the marginal zone was crossed. A Dane, Claus Paarss, tried it in 1728 on
horseback. He was turned back after two hours travel up an outlet glacier
by the great crevasses. Twenty-three years later, Lars Dalager, attempted
to reach the inland ice from Frederikshaab, by walking and packing his
supplies on his back. The surface was so rough that it cut his boots to
pieces and he was forced to turn back. In 1870, A. E. Nordenskiold made

EA-Transp. & Commun. Wade: Greenland - Over-Ice Transp.

his first trip from Godthaab through the marginal zone to the inland ice.
He and his fellow explorers man-hauled their supplies until the rough
marginal ice was reached. From then on it was necessary to back-pack their
supplies. Before turning back they had penetrated the marginal zone for
35 miles and had risen to an elevation of 2,000 feet. In 1883, he made a
second attempt, this time with a party of 10 men with man-hauled sledges.
In 18 days of travel they covered 73 miles and then were stopped by soft,
wet snow. They had however, attained the inland ice and two of the party
continued on skis for a total of 145 miles.
Man-hauling for great distances is not practical and theoretically
impossible, as the weight of food necessary to provide strength and warmth
is greater than man can haul on trips that take several months. However,
Nansen and his five companions proved that it could be done on a trip of
350 miles and requiring 41 days. In 1888 this party crossed the inland
ice for the first time. Travel on the inland ice proved to be relatively
easy when compared to that in the marginal zone. As always, the big problem
had been to get through into the interior.
In 1892, Robert E. Peary successfully crossed North Greenland, a trip
that required 80 days for the round trip of 1,400 miles. He made use of
dog teams and a supporting party to aid him on his ascent through the
inland ice to the marginal zone.
Ponies have been used to haul sledges by exploratory parties on both
of the earth's major ice caps but with poor success. Both Shakleton and
Scott made use of them on their trips across the south polar wastes and
found them to be inadequate. In 1913, J. P. Koch used ponies to haul his sledges
across Greenland from Danmarkshavn to Proven (Upernivik). Sixteen animals

EA-Transp. & Commun. Wade: Greenland - Over-Ice Transp.

were brought to Greenland. Six of these were lost in a stampede during
unloading operations; five perished at winter headquarters on the edge
of the inland ice. Koch and his companions started across in the spring
with five remaining ponies each hauling one sledge. The long haul of
700 miles which required 77 days proved too much for the ponies. One by
one, as they became exhausted, they were killed and eaten. Only one
reached the marginal zone on the west side.
A mechanized vehicle was first used on the inland ice by Alfred
Wegener. In 1930 he led an expedition that established bases on both the
east and west coasts and a centrally located inland-ice station. For use
as prime movers in establishing the central station, the expedition was
supplied with two motor sledges. Many dog teams were provided for supple–
mentary transportation. The motor sledge was unique in design. The stream–
lined body resembled somewhat the fusilage of a medium-sized aircraft. The
bottom was flat. The machine was mounted on five skis and the front pair
was used for steering. The motor sledge was powered by an 120 horsepower
radial motor which drove an aircraft propeller. In reality the machine was
an air-tractor. On a smooth, hard surface it was capable of traveling at
a speed of 40 kilometers per hour. Cargo could be carried within the body
and/or on sledges behind it. The machines were unable to ascend the long,
steep Kamarujuk Glacier to the inland ice under their own power and had to
be dragged by men and beasts to an elevation of 2,750 feet above sea level.
During trial runs on the inland ice during the fall of 1930, the machines
performed well, but because of mechanical troubles and bad weather conditions
they took no part in establishing the inland station. However, in the summer
of 1931 the motor sledges made two successful round trips of 500 miles each

EA-Transp. & Commun. Wade: Greenland - Over-Ice Transp.

to "Eismitte," the inland station.
The members of the Wegener expedition criticized the motor sledges as
follows: they were brought to the inland ice with great difficulty; they
could not be driven during heavy snow storms or blizzards; they were not as
safe as dog teams; the motors and bodies were fragile and subject to fre–
quent breakdowns; they were helpless in crevassed areas due to poor maneu–
verability; they were excellent on the good surfaces of the central zone.
No further attempts were made to use mechanized vehicles for transpor–
tation on the inland ice of Greenland until 1942. During the summer of that
year the U.S. Army established a coastal base on Comanche Bay, east coast,
from which inland ice operations were to proceed. For transportation the
unit that was stationed there was supplied with dog teams and Elliason motor
toboggans.
The trail from Comanche Bay to the inland ice is the best thus far
discovered through the marginal zone. A steep ice slope of 18° to 20° that
rose from the water's edge was the only really bad feature. From the crest
of this first hill to the margin of the inland ice, elevation 3,200 feet,
the trail presented only relatively minor difficulties. The surfaces along
the trail varied considerably and any or all types might be encountered on
one trip to the interior. The motor toboggans performed exceptionally well
on certain surfaces and not at all on others.
The toboggans were about 10 feet long and 30 inches wide. The single
toboggan-type sled had a 10-inch slot, 6 feet long, down through which
extended the continuous track which drove the machine. It was powered with
a two-cylinder motocycle engine and chain driven. Steering was accomplished
by warping two steel strips that extended vertically below the toboggan.

EA-Transp. & Commun. Wade: Greenland - Over-Ice Transp.

This type of steering permitted turning only on a wide radius circle. The
machine was capable of speeds up to 40 miles per hour on a well-packed
snow surface. The driver and passenger rode, unprotected from the weather,
on seats mounted over the truck. The machine bogged down in soft snow and
slowly disintegrated from the pounding to which it was subjected when
traveling on hard ice surfaces. On the right surface the toboggan could
haul sledge loads up to 500 pounds. Many trips were made over the 16-mile
trail from Comanche Bay to the inland ice with these machines, but mechanical
troubles and soft surfaces plagued the drivers.
The Ice Cap Detachment which took over the inland ice operations in 1943
were provided with 15 over-snow machines of a completely new design. The
machine was an experimental type and was called a T-15. It was a track-layi n g
type of vehicle, powered with a 90 horsepower Studebaker Champion engine.
The engine was in the rear and the drive wheels were at the front of the
tracks. Detachable grousers were provided for additional tractions in soft
snow. It was steered by braking one track while power was applied to the
other and could turn in little more than its own length. A well insulated
cab enclosed the driver and passenger. Heater and ventilators were provided.
Each machine was equipped with a radio transmitter for communication by voice
or continuous wave signals. The T-15's were designed to pull loads on
sledges behind them and had little space for cargo within the cab. On good
surfaces they were capable of speeds up to 45 miles per hour and could haul
loads of 3,000 pounds and more.
There were two outstanding points of mechanical weakness in the T-15.
The springs in the bogey wheel suspensions would break after a machine had
been subjected to the pounding that was inevitable on hard ice surfaces.

EA-Transp. & Commun. Wade: Greenland - Over-Ice Transp.

The combination differential-steering units were unable to take the great
stresses to which they were subjected and 19 of the units failed and had
to be replaced. The machine was unable to operate in deep, soft snow; the
tracks would dig down into such snow until the machine was high-centered
and then spin freely.
In spite of these defects, in a total of less than 30 days of opera–
tions, 31,500 pounds of cargo were transported 53 miles, 5,100 pounds 42.5
miles, 3,400 pounds 16 miles, and 4,500 pounds 12.5 miles. Loads per T-15
averaged 2,000 pounds.
With certain improvements and modifications, the T-15 would be an ideal
machine for work on the inland ice. It has not been subjected to severe tests
under conditions such as exist in most sections of the marginal zone. A new
model, the Weasel, has been operated with success in the Antarctic regions,
but only in areas where the conditions are similar to those on the Greenland
inland ice. The U.S. Army has other continuous track vehicles which could be
operated on the Greenland Ice Cap.
F. Alton Wade

Canadian Yukon Railway

EA-Transportation & Communications
(D. M. LeBourdais)

CANADIAN YUKON RAILWAY

The Canadian Yukon Railway was one of those enterprises, not uncommon
in the history of western Canada, that never passed beyond the paper stage;
nevertheless, it was much more of an entity than the majority of stillborn
railway projects, which usually never consist of anything more than a
charter. It is true that not a mile of this railway was ever constructed;
but for a time in the early days of the year 1898, while thousands of men
battled their way to the Klondike, it held the spotlight in the Canadian
parliament and very narrowly missed becoming a reality.
When, in 1897, it became evident that a great placer mining district
was about to be opened up in the gravels of a series of small streams tri–
butary to the Yukon River — a region that was to become known as the Klondike —
the adventurous were attracted from all over the world, making their way to
the new Eldorado by a variety of routes. Some went by way of Edmonton,
Alberta, to the headwaters of the great Mackenzie River, descending that
stream to its delta and then crossing one of the passes to the westward and
thus to the Klondike. Others, starting also from Edmonton, struggled through
the wilderness to the Liard River, a tributary of the Mackenzie, ascended
the Liard to its source, and crossed the divide to the headwaters of the
Pelly and thence to the Yukon. Both of these routes were long and difficult,
and not many goldseekers managed to get through by either.

EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: Canadian Yukon Railway

More roundabout, but less arduous, was the route by steamer from San
Francisco, Seattle or Vancouver to St. Michael, near the mouth of the Yukon
River, and thence by river steamer upstream the 1,700 miles to Dawson, the
metropolis of the goldfields. Many thousands took this course, but facilities,
especially on the Yukon River, were not adequate to handle all the traffic.
The most popular route was by steamer from one of the Pacific coast ports
to the head of Lynn Canal, which terminated in two smaller inlets on one of
which was situated the port of Dyea and on the other, the port of Skagway,
both in Alaska. From Dyea, a trail led over the Chilkoot Pass, through the
St. Elias range of mountains, to Lakes Lindeman and Bennett, at the head of
the Lewes River, one of the principal tributaries of the Yukon River. The
trail from Skagway led over the White Pass, joining the other beyond the
mountains. With but one serious interruption, the rivers and lakes between
Lake Bennett and Dawson were navigable for river craft. A third route,
known as the Dalton Trail, led from Pyramid Harbor, on the west side of
Lynn Canal.
The situation was complicated by two different circumstances so far as
Canadians were concerned; one was that the cities of Seattle, Portland and
San Francisco, on the United States side of the line, were in keen competition
for the tra [: ] e of the goldfields with cities such as Vancouver and Victoria,
on the Canadian side. The latter, however, were handicapped because of their
relatively smaller size and lack of comparable transportation facilities, and
also by the fact that in order to reach the Yukon, although in Canadian territory,
travelers and goods must pass through the United States ports of Dyea and Skagway,
where United States customs regulations caused expense and delay, irritating
to Canadian shippers and travelers, which, some Canadians contended, resulted

EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: Canadian Yukon Railway

from a desire to favor traffic from United States points. Worse, still,
the exact position of the border between Canadian and United States terri–
tory beyond the head of Lynn Canal had not yet been determined, Canadians
interpreting the treaty setting forth the location of the boundary in one
way and Americans interpreting it in another.
For these various reasons, there was much complaint from Canadians
who were thus forced to reach a portion of their own country through the
portals of another, and in consequence an insistent demand arose from
Canadian business firms at the Pacific coast, as well as from others in
different parts of Canada, for an "all-Canadian" route to the Yukon. That
Territory was under the jurisdiction of the federal government at Ottawa,
its administration entrusted to the Department of the Interior, which like–
wise was responsible for the administration of all other unorganized sections
of the Dominion. The Ottawa Government was relatively new to office, having
been elected in June, 1896. It was a Liberal Government, headed by Wilfrid
(later Sir Wilfrid) Laurier, which had taken office following almost 30 years
of Conservative rule. Its ministers were therefore comparatively new to
their work; while the Opposition, although greatly reduced in numbers
at the recent elections, were inclined to resent as an intrusion of their
hereditary domain anything that the Government might undertake. Knowing
something of the opportunities for gain open to the unscrupulous, they were
intensely suspicious of any project that seemed to offer such an opportunity.
The Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton (q.v.), hitherto untried,
was the youngest member of the cabinet, but in the provincial field, before
coming to Ottawa, he had already aroused the enmity of the Conservatives.
He had been elected to the House of Commons from a Manitoba constituency,

EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: Canadian Yukon Railway

and was the only representative of the west in the cabinet. A quick-thinking,
energetic man, and although control over a region in the throes of a gold
rush had not been contemplated when he assumed office, he took immediate
steps to provide the necessary administrative d machinery and other facilities
required by the thousands of goldseekers. The question of transportation
was pressing, and in order to get a first-hand picture of the situation,
Clifford Sifton made a trip himself, in company with departmental officers,
to the chief trouble-spot, the head of Lynn Canal, in October 1897. He
traveled north from Dyea over the Chilkoot Pass to Lake Bennett, and returned
to Skagway by way of the White Pass. As a result of this personal investiga–
tion, Sifton returned to Ottawa convinced that an all-Canadian route to the
Klondike was absolutely imperative. Surveyors and explorers were engaged to
survey various routes, and officers of the Department, some of whom had spent
many years in the Territory, were called upon for reports and advice. In the
meantime the position of the boundary was tentatively agreed upon by Canada
and the United States, and after some pressing the latter's government issued
instructions to its agents at Skagway and Dyea to allow goods destined for
Canadian points to pass through without undue delay. This, however, did not
end the demand for an all-Canadian route.
According to the United States interpretation of the Treaty of 1825
between Great Britain and Russia which purported to define the location
of the boundary between British and what was then Russian territory (ceded
to the United States in 1867), the boundary ran round the heads of all bays,
inlets or other indentations on the North Pacific coast north of latitude
54° 40' N.; and this meant that any wagon road or railway seeking to reach
the Yukon from a Canadian port on the Pacific must have its southern terminus

EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: Canadian Yukon Railway

south of that latitude. A practical alternative, however, seemed to be
available by using the Stikine River, which, although flowing into the
Pacific north of 54° 40' N., was, by treaty, free to British commerce.
From the head of navigation on the Stikine, somewhere near Telegraph Creek,
145 miles from the sea, a railway could be built northward to Lake Teslin,
a distance of 150 miles, and from there to the goldfields an uninterrupted
lake and river course was possible. Teslin Lake, about 100 miles long, lies
across the boundary (latitude 60° N.) between the Province of British Columbia
and Yukon Territory. It is drained by the Teslin River (then called the
Hootalinqua) 100 miles in length, a tributary of the Lewes River, which,
after its junction with the Pelly, 175 miles below the mouth of the Teslin,
becomes the Yukon. The total distance from Telegraph Creek to Dawson was
695 miles, 150 of which would be by rail and the remaining 545 by water.
Sifton arranged with the Department of Public Works to secure surveys
of this route. The Stikine, it was known, had been navigated for over 20
years by stern-wheel steamers as far as Telegraph Creek. Its current, however,
was swift and only at certain stages of the tide could boats pass over the
sandbars at its mouth or navigate the extensive floodplain in its lower
reaches. The Stikine, moreover, would be but a temporary terminus; even–
tually it would be necessary to extend the line southward to a suitable port
in Canadian territory, for the Stikine was subject to much the same objection
as Dyea and Skagway. It was suitable for river craft only, and since goods
must be trans-shipped at the United States port of Wrangel, or else at some
Canadian port, such as Port Simpson, farther south — in which case flat–
bottomed boats would be required to navigate coastal waters — the same
objections would apply. Consequently, with eventual extension southward

EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: Canadian Yukon Railway

in view, the Public Works engineer recommended Kitamat Harbor, at the head
of Douglas Channel, in latitude 54° N. The territory between Telegraph
Creek and Teslin Lake — as well as that farther south — was not considered
particularly difficult for railway construction, and thus the proposed route
was declared to be quite feasible.
The engineers' reports confirmed Sifton in a course he had already
decided upon in his own mind. With him, to decide was to act; and by January
25, 1898, a contract had been entered into between the Government and the firm
of Mackenzie and Mann, railway contractors, just then beginning to be known,
but who were later to become famous, if not notorious. According to the terms
of the contract, Mackenzie and Mann were to begin immediately after the rati–
fication of the contract by parliament to build a 30-inch railway from the
head of navigation on the Stikine River to Lake Teslin, and to provide
appropriate shipping to transport goods and passengers from that point to
the goldfields. The railway and connecting boats were to be ready for opera–
tion by September 1, 1898. In return for this, the contractors were to
receive 25,000 acres of land per mile of railway constructed. This land
could be selected anywhere — with certain exceptions — in Yukon Territory,
but it must be taken in blocks not less than 24 miles by six, which would be
subdivided into eight parts, four of which would be the property of the
contractors (or their assigns), alternate tracts of the same size to be
retained by the Dominion. The contractors were allowed three years from
September 1, 1898, to select one-half of the lands earned by them and six
years in which to select the reaminder. The beds of the Yukon, Lewes,
Hootalinqua (Teslin) rivers, and Teslin, Bennett, Tagish, Laberge, and Marsh
lakes were exempted from the rights conferred upon the contractors, as well as

EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: Canadian Yukon Railway

the margins of these rivers and lakes up to 25 feet above the high-water mark.
Claims already staked by others were also exempted. The contractors were to
have a monopoly of railway communication within the Territory for a period of
five years.
When the terms of the contract were announced in the House of Commons
on the first reading of the Bill (February 8, 1898) by the Minister of
railways and Canals, it became evident that the Conservative Opposition
did not intend to allow the contract to be ratified without strenuous protest
on its part. On the second reading, a week later, the lines of the Opposition
campaign were disclosed. Quoting from Government reports which estimated that
125,000 square miles of Yukon Territory might be considered as auriferous, and
taking as an indication of the wealth of the country the fact that some creeks
in the Klondike were already producing at the rate of many millions of collars
per square mile, Opposition speakers, by a simple process of multiplication,
argues that the contract would confer upon the contractors riches, compared
with which that of Montecristo and other legendary characters would pale into
insignificance. The debate on the second reading occupied 15 days during
which lengthy speeches were made by most of the principal members of the
House; Sifton's speech required four hours to deliver. Since the Government
had a considerable majority, and opposition was purely along party lines —
only one member of the Opposition voted with the Government — the outcome
was a foregone conclusion. The Bill received its third reading on March 10,
1898, and then went to the Senate for the latter's concurrence.
The Senate of Canada consists of members appointed for life by the
Prime Minister, and almost without exception such appointments are made along
party lines. Thus, after one of the parties has been in office for a considerable

EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: Canadian Yukon Railway

length of time, the Senate comes to be filled with persons of its political
point of view. Because of this, it sometimes happens that the Government
(which must have a majority of the House of Commons) will be in a minority
in the Senate, a condition which cannot be remedied until vacancies caused
by the deaths of Opposition members can be filled by the appointment of
Government supporters. This was the situation in the Senate of Canada as
the result of an uninterrupted stretch of Conservative rule extending for
nearly 20 years. Consequently, when the Bill to ratify the contract with
Mackenzie and Mann came up for ratification in the Senate it was promptly
defeated by the Opposition majority. Realizing from the firulence of the
attack the futility of further attempts to pass the legislation, the Govern–
ment abandoned its project. In the same year, however, a privately financed
enterprise, the White Pass & Yukon Railway (q.v.) began construction of a
line from Skagway to Whitehorse, on the Lewes River, 110.7 miles, which, by
June 30, 1900, was in operation. Below Whitehorse, steamboats — and later
airplanes — operated by the same company communicated with Dawson and other
points down river. Except for one other line of about 30 miles, which operated
for a while between Dawson and some of the creeks nearby, the White Pass &
Yukon is the only railway Yukon Territory has ever had.
References:
<bibl> Government of Canada. Debates, House of Commons; 1898. </bibl> <bibl> Dafoe, John W. Clifford Sifton in Relation to His Times ;
Toronto; 1931. </bibl>

The Hudson Bay Railway

EA-Transportation and Communication
(D. M. LeBourdais)

THE HUDSON BAY RAILWAY

For two hundred years Hudson Bay was the port of entry for what later
became the Canadian Northwest. Year after year the little sailing vessels
of the Hudson's Bay Company unloaded their trade goods and supplies at Churchill
harbor and took on board cargoes of pelts in return.
The Bay is a great inland sea 900 miles in length, north and south, and
from 500 to 600 miles wide, extending far into the heart of Canada, bordering
on three of the nine provinces. It is connected with the Atlantic Ocean by
Hudson Strait, running approximately east and west, 450 miles long and from 45
to 100 miles wide. Owing to the action of the tides, which in places reach a
height of from 30 to 40 feet, the strait never freezes over, but at different
times ice collects there from Fox Channel and other points in the Arctic. This
makes necessary navigational aids such as airplane reconnaissance and adequate
radio facilities.
When railways linked the eastern seaboard with the Pacific coast, despite
the fact that the distance from the Canadian prairies to Liverpool by way of
the Bay was from 500 to 1,000 miles shorter, the Hudson Bay route fell into
disuse, and traffic took the longer route through Montreal or the Atlantic ports.
Following is a comparison of distances from Western Canadian points to
Liverpool by way of the Great Lakes and by way of Churchill:

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: The Hudson Bay Railway

Via Great Lakes Via Churchill
Miles Miles
Winnipeg 4,393 3,919
Portage la Prairie 4,449 3,864
Brandon 4,527 3,863
Regina 4,750 3,769
Moose Jaw 4,792 3,812
Saskatoon 4,878 3,773
Calgary 5,226 4,172
Edmonton 5,224 4,072
More direct connections with Churchill, especially from Manitoba points,
would give Churchill an even greater advantage.
Despite the pull of eastern ports, prairie dwellers continued to hope
that some day their short toute to Europe would be re-established; and from
the earliest days of settlement there were some who advocated the building of|
a railway connecting the settled portions of the prairies with the Bay. At
first, the principal settlements were in Manitoba, the only part of the prairie
region that was organized into a province. It constituted but a patch of terri–
tory, 73,732 square miles in extent, while the area between its borders and Hud–
son Bay, part of the Northwest Territories, was administered by the federal gov–
ernment. Consequently, while the people of Manitoba were greatly interested in
the Hudson Bay railway, the matter also involved the federal government, acting
in the general interest of Canada.
From time to time various railway promotors became interested in the pro–
ject, lured by the offer of land grants of 6,400 acres per mile within the Pro–
vince of Manitoba and 12,800 acres per mile in the Northwest Territories beyond
its borders. Although many companies were chartered, not much railway building
actually resulted. One company, indeed, organized by Hugh Sutherland of Winnipeg
and chartered in 1880, had, by 1887, succeeded in building about 40 miles north
from Winnipeg. This project failed and eventually the tracks were torn up. Other

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Hudson Bay Railway

companies were building in a northwesterly direction, aimed mostly at serving
the rich alluvial lands once the bottoms of ancient lakes, None of these showed
much inclination to extend beyond the limits of settlement, especially in the
direction of Hudson Bay.
In 1905, the firm of Mackenzie and Mann, railway contractors who controlled
the Canadian Northern Railway, with assistance from the federal government, be–
gan building a branch from Hudson Bay Junction, on the Canadian Northern's Winni–
peg-Prince Albert line, to The Pas, on the Saskatchewan River, a distance of 88
miles; and in 1908 the federal government, repealing the offer of land subsidies,
announced its intention to build the Hudson Bay Railway from The Pas to Hudson
Bay as a national undertaking, and to finance it out of the proceeds of the sale
of homestead and pre-emption lands on the prairies.
Before beginning actual construction, however, the government appointed
as chief engineer John Armstrong, C.E., with instructions to make a complete
report and present recommendations as to type of construction, the more suitable
terminus of two suggested, and all other pertinent matters. The Chief Engineer's
report was made in the fall of 1909 and favored the project, but, much to the
surprise of many advocates of the railway, recommended that it be built to Port
Nelson, at the mouth of the Nelson River, rather than to Port Churchill.
Mr. Armstrong gave comparative estimates for a line to Churchill and an
alternative one to Port Nelson. Taking the Churchill route first, he stated that
the first section of approximately 120 miles would be through comparatively level
or smooth country, affording easy grades and cheap construction. Seventy per cent
of the grading would be in clay loam, thirty per cent in sand, gravel, swamp or
muskeg. He explained, however, that what was called muskeg in that region might
more properly be defined as swamp; good bottom could usually be found at a depth

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Hudson Bay Railway

of three or four feet, very seldom exceeding seven or eight.
The second section of 120 miles would be through granite country, where
rock cuttings would be necessary. The roughest country on the line would be
in the third section, between Mile 240 and Mile 360, where the line would cross
the divide between the Nelson and Churchill river watersheds, but that the summit
was not very high. Grades for the whole line of .4 northbound and .6 southbound
could be secured.
The fourth sec ion, extending from Mile 360 to Churchill, 150 miles, would
not require much excavation, but the final 70 miles over the tundra might, he
thought, present some difficulties because of the perpetually frozen subsoil.
With respect to the Port Nelson route, the Chief Engineer said that the
type of country which that line would traverse was practically the same as that
which the Churchill line would traverse in its first section, with little rock,
much clay loam, and small percentage of sand, gravel and swamp, and no tundra.
Total distance from The Pas to Port Nelson would be 424 miles, only 22 miles
longer than an air line, which would probably result in the most direct line of
railway of its length in America.
The report gave detailed cost estimates. The total for the Churchill route,
including construction of line with 80 lb. rail, station and other necessary
building construction, terminal yard facilities and two 4,000,000-bushel elevators,
was set at approximately $25,000,000; while the estimate for similar type of con–
struction on the Port Nelson line was around $21,000,000.
While the decision in favor of Nelson was made largely on the basis of lower
construction costs, the question of the suitability of the respective ports was
also taken into consideration. Mr. Armstrong seemed to be less impressed by the
possibilities of establishing a satisfactory harbor at Churchill than at Nelson,

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Hudson Bay Railway

and he undoubtedly underestimated most of the difficulties that would be en–
countered at the latter point. Perhaps the deciding factor was that, relatively
speaking, the climate at Nelson was a more temperate one; while Churchill, with
its perpetually forzen subsoil, was definitely in the subarctic regions,
and presented problems with which he as an engineer was probably unfamiliar. For
this reason he may have undertaken his task with a prejudice against Churchill
and a predilection for Nelson with its more nearly normal (for him) set of cir–
cumstances.
The government did not at once make a decision as to which terminus it
should select; but decided, nevertheless, to proceed with the project, leaving
the question of terminus in abeyance in the meantime, since for the greater part
of the distance both roads would follow the same route. Accordingly, amidst much
rejoicing on the praries, the first sod was turned at The Pas by the Minister
of Railways, Hon. George P. Graham, on September 28, 1910; and work was almost
immediately begun on the construction of a bridge over the Saskatchewan River
at The Pas. The following spring a contract was let for the grading of the first
section, to Thicket Portage, 185 miles.
In 1911, the Laurier administration was defeated on the question of reci–
procity with the United States, and a new government came into office at Ottawa.
The change did not materially affect the fortunes of the Hudson Bay Railway since,
as the new Premier, Mr. (later Sir) Robert Borden, said, the Conservative Party had
been pledged to the building of the railway since 1895, but it did cause some
delay while the new Minister was taking stock of the situation. The delay was
merely temporary, for, in the spring of 1912, a contract was let for the grading
of the second section — from Thicket Portage to Split Lake, 68 miles; and in the
following September the Minister announced the letting of the contract for the

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Hudson Bay Railway

third and last lap, declaring that the road would be completed in 1914. The
bridge across the Saskatchewan River at The Pas — 850 feet in length – was
completed by the end of 1912.
In 1912, the boundaries of Manitoba were extended northward to latitude
60°, and on the east to a line separating Manitoba from Ontario which cut the
shore of Hudson Bay between the Hayes and Severn rivers. Thus both suggested
terminals for the Hudson Bay Railway were within the Province of Manitoba,
which now possessed an area of 246, 512 square miles.
During 1912, the Borden government reached the decision to adopt Port
Nelson as the terminus of the road. In the meantime work on the grade had been
continuing and some track had been laid, but it was evident that the Minister's
promise of completion by 1914 could not be fulfilled. During 1915, the line
was graded to Mile 332, the steel had reached the rock cut at Manitou Rapids,
Mile 241, and there was talk of completion by 1916, but the country was at war
and many other things were engaging national attention.
Crossing Armstrong Lake, at Mile 226, had presented new problems, prin–
cipally because the bottom was of soft mud. The difficulty was finally over–
come by building cribs of timber cut locally which were filled with rock and
allowed to sink into the ooze of the bottom until they became stable. Then
bridge stringers were laid from crib to crib and the tracks supported on them.
Across this structure the 1,000 tons of steel for the Manitou Rapids bridge
was safely transported and the bridge — 612 feet long, with a main span of
304 feet — was ready for traffic in April 1916.
Another new government took office in 1917, the Union Government, dedicated
to the task of winning the war. Composed of representatives of both chief polit–
ical parties, it did not, as would have a purely party government, feel the need

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Hudson Bay Railway

for placating sectional opinion. Consequently, interest in the Hudson Bay Rail–
way, despite continued agitation by prairie people, laggec considerably at the
governmental level. In 1918, work was suspended entirely. By this time the
grade had been completed through to Nelson and track laid on all but 92 miles.
A second crossing of the Nelson had been made at Kettle Rapids where a bridge
1,000 feet long, with two 300-foot spans and a central span of 400 feet, was
built. Total expenditure had been $13,500,000 for the road, and $6,000,000 for
harbor improvements at Nelson. The government made an arrangement with the
Canadian National Railways to run a limited service to Pitwitonei, Mile 214, to
serve the settlements that had grown up in consequence of the railway building.
Enthusiasm for the Hudson Bay Railway had never been very keen in eastern
Canada, where the bulk of the population resided, and where public opinion was
largely formed and controlled. Canadian railways, interested in the long haul,
were definitely opposed to it. Banks, insurance companies and other large finan–
cial institutions centered largely in Montreal and Toronto, were also generally
opposed, and with them went most of the newspapers and other publications. In
1920, a special committee of the Senate of Canada investigated the feasibility
of Hudson Bay and Strait from a navigational point of view. The committee re–
ported that the route was feasible and would in time become profitable; that
Nelson was superior to Churchill as a part; that the fishery resources of Hudson
Bay were extensive and that the region was rich in potential mineral resources.
Despite the findings of the Senate committee, instructions were actually given
in 1922 to tear up the rails, but such a storm of protest arose from the sorely–
tried prairie community that the order was quickly rescinded.
Nevertheless, the forest once more invaded the neglected right of way; the
track twisted and rusted; bridges and culverts were washed out; in some places

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Hudson Bay Railway

the embankment completely disappeared; and for long stretches the line was
impassable.
Still complicating the issue, was the old controversy as to whether Port
Nelson or Churchill was the better terminus. The Westerners at length suc–
ceeded in persuading the existing government, now headed by Mr. Mackenzie King,
that the project should be proceeded with, but before doing so the government
decided to settle once and for all the question as to the relative merits of
Nelson and Churchill. In 1927, the eminent British port authority, Mr. (after
-wards Sir) Frederick Palmer, made an exhaustive examination of the whole matter.
He definitely recommended the abandonment of Nelson and the substitution of
Churchill.
Mr. Palmer's principal reasons were three in number: (1) A better harbor
could be made at Churchill than at Port Nelson, since any harbor that might be
constructed at Port Nelson would not admit ships of more than 26 feet draft, and
then only at high tide, whereas at Churchill ships drawing up to 30 feet of
water could enter at any stage of tide; (2) cost of completion at Churchill would
be less than that required to finish the port at Nelson; and (3) the time required
would be three years less at Churchill than at Port Nelson.
In view of the foregoing, it is difficult to understand why the decision
should ever have been made to adopt Port Nelson as the terminus, but the decision
once made, reputations were at stake and opinions having been put forth were ten–
aciously held, even though the evidence to support them seemed less than sufficient.
Once the decision to transfer the terminus to Churchill was made, however,
construction of the railway was resumed without loss of further time. The Can–
adian National Railways, as agents for the Department of Railways, were assigned
the task, with Mr. J. C. MacLachlan as district engineer. The Port Nelson line,

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Hudson Bay Railway

up to mile 356, was continued, and from there it was proposed to locate a new
line to Churchill. During the winter of 1927-28, the new right of way was
located and camps were established for the use of the grading crews. Men worked
from cabooses mounted on sleighs and drawn by tractors.
Building this section was a challenge to the engineers. Mr. MacLachlan
later explained that "it was early recognized by those in charge of the work
that instead of frozen terrain being a detriment in securing a stable foundation
for the roadbed, it could be used to good advantage if thawing out of the ground
were prevented and the natural moss insulation left undisturbed on the ground
surface. To accomplish this result, it was necessary to drain away all surface
water from the right of way and build the roadbed from material hauled by train
without in any way disturbing the original moss. This required that track be
laid on original ground without previous preparation." It was found that, despite
many handicaps, construction was easier in winter, when the sloughs and other
soft spots were frozen, than in summer.
By April 1, 1929, the steel was laid through to Churchill. Ballasting was
then conducted from both ends and also from an intermediate point, and by the
middle of September 1929, the line was completely ballasted and in condition to
handle carefully managed traffic.
Although the settlement at Churchill had previously been on the western side
of the Churchill River mouth, it was decided to lay out a new town-site, railway
terminals and yards as well as wharves and other part facilities on the eastern
side of the river. Not only was that shore much more sheltered, but the cost
and inconvenience of a bridge across the river were avoided. During 1930 and
1931, the deep water wharf was built, 1,856 feet long at the face by 250 feet
wide over 500 feet of its length and 300 feet wide for the remainder. The cribs

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Hudson Bay Railway

supporting the wharf, most of which are 154 feet long and 49 feet wide at the
base, were constructed of 12” x 12” Douglas fir, sunk to crib seats 32 feet
below water mark.
Since the principal purpose of the Hudson Bay Railway was to move prairie
grain to market, a modern 2,500,000-bushel elevator was built, capable of being
increased, if need be, to 10,000,000 bushels. Loaded grain cars are emptied
at the elevator by four car unloaders, each with a capacity of eight cars —
about 10,000 bushels — per hour. After the grain has been elevated, it is
carried to the deep-water wharf by a four-felt conveyor system. The shipping
gallery is 1,462 feet in length, providing berths for three ships at a time.
Twenty-three boat spouts, about 65 feet apart, provide for maximum discharge of
four streams at the rate of 20,000 bushels per hour for each stream.
The first grain to pass through the port of Churchill was made in 1929 —
before the elevator was built — when a token shipment of 2,000 pounds of No. 1
Northern (wheat) was loaded on board the Hudson's Bay Company's vessel Ungave ,
consigned to that company. Regular grain shipments began in 1931 when two ships
the Farnsworth and the Warkworth sailed with half a million bushels between them.
During the years 1931-1944, inclusive, 78 ships cleared from Churchill with a
total of 20,772,041.40 bushels of wheat. Due to the lack of convoys from Church–
ill, no shipments were made during the war years, except for some reason in 1943,
when eight ships cleared from there. The following table shows number of ships
cleared and amounts in bushels of wheat carried for the years 1931-1944, inclusive:
1931 2 ships 544,769.10 bushels
1932 10 " 2,736,029.50 "
1933 10 " 2,707,291.00 "
1934 15 " 4,409,877.30 "
1935 8 " 2,407,000.00 "
1936 14 " 4,293,501.20 "
1937 2 " 603,981.50 "

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Hudson Bay Railway

1938 3 ships 916,912.40 bushels
1939 6 " 1,772,460.40 "
1940 nil
1941 "
1942 "
1943 8 " 740,219.00 "
1944 nil "
78 " 20,772,041.40 "
Obviously, both the railway and the elevator can handle much more grain
than the above total. Charges in connection with the handling of wheat between
the prairie producer and British ports in 1945 averaged 29.25 cents a bushel
by way of Churchill as against 35.25 cents a bushel by way of either Vancouver
or Montreal. This would appear to mean a saving to the producer of six cents
a bushel, which one would think would cause a rush of grain to Churchill; but
many other factors are involved. In the first place, the grain trade through
other ports has been established over many years, and is hard to shift to new
channels. Then, insurance rates discriminate against Churchill: the season
when insurance can be secured usually expires before the prairie crop can be
shipped, thus requiring the cost of carry-over for the greater part of a year.
Then, too, few facilities have yet been arranged to provide return cargoes.
Over the period, 1931-1944, total imports through Churchill consisted only of
10,252.35 tons of general merchandise and 5,321.12 tons of steam coal.
Expert opinion is almost unanimous that after modern navigational aids are
fully supplied, the length of the season for relatively safe navigation can be
extended to all-year if need be. How long that will take, no one can say; but
there is little reason to doubt that gradually more and more traffic, each way,
will pass through the port of Churchill. Distance is on the side of Churchill;
it is the only immutable factor.
In only one year — 1942, when the United States military authorities were

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Hudson Bay Railway

building an airport at Churchill — has the Hudson Bay Railway shown an oper–
ating surplus. Over the period, 1932-1944, inclusive, the total deficit on the
railway was $3,150,498.35; and on Churchill Harbor, $764,077.89, making a total
deficit of $3,914,576.24. The above figures do not include any capital charges.
The cost of construction of the Hudson Bay Railway project to March 31, 1945,
is as follows:
Hudson Bay Railway $33,602,516.92
Churchill Harbor 12,826,418.17
Nelson Harbor 6,240,170.95
Total - $52,669,105.94
While emphasis is placed on the importance of the Hudson Bay Railway from
the standpoint of its value as an outlet for the products of the prairie region,
it is possible that in time it will also justify its existence as a means of
developing the varied resources of the territory through which it runs.
The railway passes through three general geological belts, which cross the
rivers and the railway at right angles. The most southerly is a tract of about
60 miles in width of flat limestone formation (Ordovician) thinly covered or bare
of soil and draining toward the Saskatchewan River. Next, and most important,
is the great Laurentian plateau, about 250 miles wide, with Pre-Cambrian crystal–
line rocks deeply covered by clay soils. Between the Laurentian and Ordovician are
outcrops of Huronian and Keewatin rocks, which are a mineral-bearing series.
North of the Laurentian, for 125 miles inland from Hudson Bay, is the third geo–
logical belt, consisting also of limestone formations (Ordovician with an overlap
of Silurian) with a wet clay and gravel subsoil and surfaced with mosses and
frozen bog.
The Hudson Bay Railway is already doing its part to aid in the development
of mines located in this region. The most famous of these is the great gold-silver-

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Hudson Bay Railway

copper-zinc mine at Flin Flon, owned by the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting
Company, Limited. This property consists of 153 mineral claims, comprising
about 6,000 acres. It is on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border, about 85 miles
northwest of The Pas, and is served by a branch of the Hudson Bay Railway known
as the Manitoba Northern Railway. Extending from the Flin Flon line at Cran–
berry Portage, is a short branch to the Sherrit-Gordon Mine, at Sherridon,
which produces copper and zinc and is rapidly becoming one of Canada's leading
base-metal producers.
At Mile 82, tractor trains connect with gold discoveries at Snow Lake,
where a new town is being built. Farther north, at Ilforth station, tractor
trains connect with the God's Lake and Knee Lake mining areas. As this great
territory becomes more thoroughly prospected, it is certain that other mining
communities will be developed.
Much of the area is timbered; and while not a great deal of merchantable
timber exists, the amount available for pulp is enormous and so far practically
untouched.
The agricultural possibilities of the region, too, are considerable. It
is estimated that a belt of approximately 6,400,000 acres is suitable for agri–
culture between the Nelson and Churchill rivers, north of Mile 130 on the rail–
way, 50 to 75 per cent of which is arable and suitable for mixed farming. Other
areas of swamp soils could be made available for agriculture if properly drained.
In 1947, the Hudson Bay Railway was operating two regular passenger trains
a week each way between The Pas and Churchill, consisting, in addition to coaches,
of buffet-parlor car and sleeping car.

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Hudson Bay Railway

References:
<bibl> Hopkins, J. Castell The Canadian Annual Review , Toronto, 1920. </bibl> <bibl> House of Commons Debates , Years 1920, 1944, 1945, Ottawa. </bibl> <bibl> Churchill and The Hudson Bay Route , King's Printer, Ottawa, 1935. </bibl> <bibl> Tremaudan, A. H. de The Hudson Bay Road , London and Toronto, 1915. </bibl>

National Transcontinental Railway

EA-Transp. & Commun.
(D. M. LeBourdais)

NATIONAL TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILWAY

The longest stretch of railway within the arctic drainage basin in
North America is that portion of what was once called the National Trans–
continental Railway from a point near Senneterre Station, Province of
Quebec, to Winnipeg, Manitoba, a distance of 800 miles. This line grew
out of the desire of the Government of Canada, after the turn of the
twentieth century, to have a second railway across Canada. At that time
the Canadian Pacific Railway, built in the 80's of the previous century,
was the only Canadian transcontinental. Its chief competitor was the
Grand Trunk Railway, whose lines, however, were confined to Ontario and
Quebec (except for those in the United States).
In 1902, the Grand Trunk, through its president, C. M. Hays, announced
its intention to build an extension to the Pacific Coast. This led to
negotiations with the Government of Canada, then under the premiership of
Sir Wilfrid Laurier, following which an agreement was reached providing that
the Government should build a line westward from Moncton, New Brunswick,
that would cross the St. Lawrence River near Quebec City and proceed slightly
north of westerly, through entirely unsettled country, to Winnipeg. The
Grand Trunk Railway, through its subsidiary, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway
Company, was to build from Winnipeg to a new port to be established on the
Pa c i c fic Coast, which was subsequently called Prince Rupert. The Grand Trunk

EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: National Transcontinental Railway

Railway was to lease from the Government upon completion the section east
of Winnipeg and operate it as part of its transcontinental system.
Construction on both sections began in 1903, at a time when a great
deal of other railway construction was in progress at different places
in Canada, but chiefly in the west, where the Canadian Northern Railway,
ultimately to become a third transcontinental, was extending rapidly
between the Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains. This caused a rise in
costs, both for labor and materials, with a consequent increase in the
cost of building, which greatly exceeded original estimates. Furthermore,
specifications concerning the type of construction were changed after the
original arrangement had been made, which further increased the cost.
These called for lower gradients and easier curves than those of any other
railway in Canada, with few equals on the continent. Grades of .4 per cent
against eastbound and .6 per cent against westbound traffic were specified.
Bridges were to be of stone and steel, and the cost of transporting this
material to the right-of-way was high. The original estimate of $34,000
per mile was eventually increased to an expenditure of $88,500 per mile.
When, in 1915, the railway was completed, the Grand Trunk Railway
refused to lease it from the Government, and the latter was forced to
operate the road itself, which resulted in heavy operating deficits, since
the railway was built through a country in which practically no traffic
existed. When the Grand Trunk Railway finally became so heavily involved
that it could not meet its financial obligations, the Government took over
that railway as well. These railways were added to the Canadian Northern,
previously taken over, and other lines owned by the Government to make up
the Canadian National Railways System in 1921.

EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: National Transcontinental Railway

The National Transcontinental line crosses the St. Lawrence over famous
Quebec Bridge, which was built as part of the arrangement with the Grand
Trunk Railway. From Quebec City, it runs in a northwesterly direction
until it reaches the height of land near the headwaters of the Nottaway River,
which flows into the southern end of James Bay. From this point it proceeds
without much deviation slightly north of west to Winnipeg. It enters the
arctic watershed near Senneterre Station, 391 miles west of Quebec City, and
from that point to Winnipeg its route is almost entirely within the arctic
watershed. Shortly after leaving Senneterre, it enters the great Clay Belt,
most of which is in northern Ontario, and continues through the heart of that
region until it passes into a more typical section of the Canadian Shield
about 450 miles to the westward.
At Senneterre, a branch has been built to tap the rich mining region of
northwestern Quebec, lying to the south. At Cochrane, the first divisional
point in Ontario, the line connects with the Ontario Northland Railway (q.v.),
running south 253 miles to North Bay, where it connects with both the
Canadian Pacific Railway and the Canadian National Railways, and northward
to Moosonee, on James Bay.
This line of the Canadian National Railways cuts across the headwaters
of most of the principal rivers which flow into James Bay through northern
Ontario — the Abitibi, the Mattagami and the Missinaibi — and in that way
provides a route to the Bay. Farther to the west, the Albany can also be
reached from the railway, and goods for trading stations along the river and
on the bay go by barge from the railway station at Pagwa down a tributary
of the Albany, thence by the latter to the bay.
The greatest value of the railway, however, is the aid which it provides
for the pulp and paper mills along its route, or tributary to it, the mines

EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: National Transcontinental Railway

which have been developed in the territory, and the settlers who have made
their homes in the region through which it runs. The Clay Belt, containing
some 16,000,000 acres of arable land, is bisected by this line, which in time
should be responsible for a considerable amount of settlement as facilities
are provided by the Government and by other agencies. The territory through
which it runs is ruch in potential hydro-electric power which, when generated,
and applied to the development of the resources of the region, should not
only provide additional traffic for that line, but a means of livelihood
for the large population which it is estimated the Clay Belt is capable
of maintaining.
Reference:
<bibl> Fournier, Leslie T. Railway Nationalization in Canada . Toronto,
The Macmillan Company, 1935. </bibl>

Ontario Northland Railway

EAO Transp. & Communications
[D. M. LeBourdais]

ONTARIO NORTHLAND RAILWAY

Ontario, the second-largest province of Canada, has an area of 412,582
square miles, but the portion which has been developed to any considerable
extent consists of only the southern part — the peninsula bordering on the
Great Lakes. In the 1880's the Canadian Pacific Railway, the first Canadian
transcontinental, in building through Ontario selected a route across the
province from the Ottawa River, past the north shore of Lake Nipissing and
westward to strike the north shore of Lake Superior. Instead of becoming a
trunk line from which would radiate branches north and south, it became instead
the extreme northward limit of settlement; only one branch of any consequence
was built, and that was one to connect Toronto, second-largest city in Canada,
with the main line.
North Bay, on an inlet on the north shore of Lake Nipissing, became a divi–
sional point for the Canadian Pacific Railway and as such grew in time to be a
more or less busy center aside from its railway business, especially in
connection with the supplying of trappers, Indians and others living in the
sparsely-settled region to the north.
In 1903, the Government of Canada, desiring to provide a second transcon–
tinental railway, one that would follow the shortest practicable route across
the Dominion, entered into an agreement with the Grand Trunk Railway for the
construction of such a line. As part of the scheme, the Government was to con–
struct a line from Quebec City in a direction slightly north of west to Winnipeg,

EA-Transp. & Comm.: ONtario Northland Rwy
[D. M. LeBourdais]

which in crossing the province of Onatario would pass 175 miles in a direct line
north of North Bay.
A short while before, the Government of the Province of Ontario became in–
terested in the possibilities of the area north of the Canadian Pacific Railway,
and in 1901 ten parties each consisting of a surveyor, a geologist and an expert
on soils, with necessary boatmen, etc., were sent into the territory with instruc–
tions to explore the area lying between the Ottawa River on the east and Lake
Nipigon on the west, and to report upon the soil, the timber, the geological forma–
tions, waterways, and to secure any other pertinent information.
After several months in the field, the survey parties returned with the infor–
mation that, among other things, they had found a Clay Belt comprising about
16,000,000 acres of good arable land and that the area surveyed contained an
almost unlimited quantity of the best spruce for the manufacture of pulp and paper.
With these reports as stimulii, the Ontario Government, in the session of [: ]
1902, carried a Bill through the legislature providing for the construction of a
railway to be known as the Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway from North
Bay northwards. It was to be a public enterprise and operated by a commission
consisting of not more than five or less than three persons set up for the purpose
by the Legislature. Work on construction was begun immediately.
While a certain amount of settlement has occurred within the Clay Belt, and
many prosperous farms have been carved out of its bushlands, the amount of traffic
which such settlement could provide for a railway would not have sufficed to
pay interest on the investment, to say nothing of costs of operation; but
the planners of the Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway little knew the exact
nature of the country through which they proposed to build. Late in the autumn

EA-Trans.& Comm. LeBourdais: Ontario Northland Rwy

of 1903, at a point little more than 100 miles north of North Bay, railway
workers uncovered silver deposits such as have seldom been seen anywhere else
in the world. For nearly 30 years Cobalt, the chief silver center on the
Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway, shipped one and three-quarters of a ton
of pure silver every working day.
But that was not all. Prospectors who failed to get in on the pay ore at
Cobalt, ranged far afield and 75 miles farther north, at Porcupine,
they found gold. Not only did Cobalt contribute the prospectors, but it
also produced the men with sufficient wealth to develop the new gold mines when
found. Noah Timmins, who brought the great Hollinger mine into production, had
already made a fortune at Cobalt.
The day was to come when the silver at Cobalt would largely get to its end,
but before that time came a much greater permanent mining camp had been established
at Porcupine. Since 1911, when the first mines in Porcupine began to produce,
the railway has carried $700,000,000 in gold out of that camp — to say nothing
of the supplies that have gone back in return.
A few years later, the Kirkland Lake gold camp, of almost equal prominence
as a producer, was discovered; and then, following closely after, the great
copper-gold deposits of Noranda in Western Quebec were located. The extraction
of copper required railway connection and this was supplied by a branch of the
Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway operating under a separate charter,
but still the property of the people of Ontario.
The first section of the [: ] railway, 113.9 miles, from North Bay to New
Liskeard, 10 miles north of Cobalt, was completed in 1904. New Liskeard, on
beautiful Lake Timiskaming, is on the southern edge of the Clay Belt, and has in
the interval become an important business center for a large section of country.

EA-Trans.& Comm. LeBourdais: Ontario Northland Rwy

Between North Bay and New Liskeard the railway traverses a type of country in
which mineral deposits might be expected, but so far none of much importance
have been located. Underlain by Pre-Cambrian rocks, with, for the most part,
a characteristically sparse soil, agricultural possibilities are not great.
The railway passes Timagami Lake, one of the great holiday spots in northern
Ontario; and it is as a playground that the value of much of the country between
North Bay and New Liskeard consists.
In the Clay Belt, north of New Liskeard, the picture is different. [: ]
While winter temperatures there — as elsewhere in this whole region — are low,
the long summer days and large amounts of sunshine provide a climate well suited
to agriculture. The area generally has an annual average of about 263 days of
sunshine, with an average frost-free period of 119 days. In 1917, the Ontario
Government established a creamery at New Liskeard, and others have since been
established at other points, with the result that dairying in the Clay Belt
has advanced remarkably.
Clover does remarkably well on the lands of this section, and consequently
in addition to producing an important t t clover-seed industry, has also made possible
the production of large quantities of high-grade honey. With an average yield for
the whole of Ontario of 75.7 pounds per colony, honey production in the Clay Belt
averages 140.3 pounds per [: ] colony.
An industry peculiar to northern Canada is blueberry picking. No other
effort is required, of course, and no capital investment. The Temiskaming &
Northern Ontario Railway traverses large sections of excellent blueberry territory,
and as much as 200 tons of blueberries have been shipped over the railway in a
season.
When the National Transcontinental was built through the Ontario Clay Belt,
a divisional point was established at Cochrane, and to this point the Temiskaming
& Northern R Ontario Railway was extended between the years 1904 and 1908, a
distance of 137.9 miles. This section was entirely within the Clay Belt, with its

EA-Trans.& Comm. LeBourdais: Ontario Northland Rwy

agricultural possibilities. The railway here was also adjacent to the mining
regions of Kirkland Lake and Porcupine. The former required a branch (acquired
by purchase) five miles eastward from Swastika, a station on the main line; [: ] while
the latter required a branch 31 miles westward from Porquis Junction. In these two
mining communities the combined population now amounts to about 40,000; and the
needs of so many people, aside from anything else, would justify the building
of a railway. Seven miles east of Porquis Junction is the company town of Iro–
quois Falls, where the Abitibi Power and Paper Company Limited has its great
paper mill with a daily capacity of 600 tons of [: ] newsprint and 30 tons
of wrapping paper.
In 1922, the decision was reached to extend the railway from Cochrane to
the Abitibi Canon, where the Abitibi Power and Paper Company Limited was planning
the development of 275,000 horse power of hydro-electric energy, at the point
where the Abitibi River, on its way to James Bay, drops over the Pre-Cambrian
escarpment to the level of the coastal plain extending from there to the bay.
Construction north of Crochane was undertaken in two sections; from Cochrane
to Island Falls to Fraserdale (Abitibi Canon), begun in 1927 and completed the
following year. These two sections continued largely in the Clay Belt, which
extends for 70 miles north of Cochrane; furthermore, the area is highly mineral–
ized; and also possesses extensive stands of excellent timber, both merchantable
and pulp. It is not yet very well settled, and no mines have been located; but it
is generally believed that the country will in time amply justify the exten–
sion of the railway to this point. North of here, the formation changes from
the Pre-Cambrian plateau with an average level of 800 feet, to the Palaeozoic low–
lands, making a drop of 500 feet in about ten miles. It is here that the Abitibi
Power and Paper Co. Ltd. has built its dam. (Before the project was completed,

EA-Trans.& Comm. LeBourdais: Ontario Northland Rwy

the company got into financial difficulties and it was taken over by the Ontario
Government).
Ontario and Quebec, the two most populous provinces in Canada, are both
without coal resources, except that 125 miles north of Cochrane deposits of
lignite occur which are estimated to contain at least 150,000,000 tons within
reach of the railway. It contains a large percentage of moisture and is unsuit–
able for fuel without being processed, for which an expensive plant would be
required, but undoubtedly, as the country develops generally, these deposits
will ultimately prove to be of value and provide additional traffic for the railway.
The Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway was now within slightly more than
a hundred miles from tidewater on James Bay; and it was inevitable that the
question of its further extension should be considered. About this there was
a division of opinion. In the first place, the region to the north consisted
largely of a low plain, little above the level of the bay, covered to a large
extent by muskeg, having, unless drained, very little possibility from an
agricultural standpoint. Its timber resources, too, were insignificant.
On the other hand, extension of the railway meant connection with James
and Hudson bays and through them access by sea to the markets of the world. It
would give Ontario an ocean port only 667 M miles from Toronto and 253 miles
north of a through east-and-west railway at Cochrane. Navigational possibilities
of Hudson Bay, however, are a subject of dispute in Canada, especially in the
East, where rival interests are centered; and it was admitted that greater
obstacles would be encountered in James Bay. The argument, back and forth, waxed
warm; but in the end the Government of Ontario decided on the extension, and in
1932 the line reached the terminus, called Moosonee, on the northwest shore of
Moose River, two miles from the settlement of Moose Factory. The latter, which
is one of the oldest of the Hudson's Bay Company's posts, established at its
original location in 1671, is on Moose Island, in Moose River.

EA-Trans.& Comm. LeBourdais: Ontario Northland Rwy

The total length of the main line from North Bay to Moosonee is 440 miles.
No exceptional difficulty was experienced anywhere in construction except
where, 42 miles south of Moosonee, the Moose River was spanned by a bridge cost–
ing about $1,000,000. At that point, Murray Island divides the stream into two
channels, one of which is crossed by a filled embankment 900 feet long, while
the other is crossed by a steel bridge supported on 18 concrete piers.
The cost represented by the entire project amounts to about $50,000,000,
which has been spent during a period of 45 years; but from the standpoint of
what it was intended to perform in the development of the north country, it has
been eminently successful. The question has yet to be settled as to the utilization
of the navigational possibilities of Hudson and James Bays, but most of those
competent to form an opinion on the subject are confident that eventually this
route will provide a much-needed outlet for the products of central Canada;
and when realization of that fact becomes general and facilities are provided
for its implementation, the Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway will be in a
position to contribute its share toward such a result.
In 1946, owing to a conflict between the letters "T. & N.O." used to desig–
nate cars of the Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway and those in use by
some other railway in the United States, the name of the railway was changed
to the Ontario Northland Railway. It will be noted that the former name of the
latter was spelled "Temiskaming," while in accordance with the ruling of the
Geographic Board of Canada, it is elsewhere — as applied to the lake and
district, for example — spelled "T i miskaming." Now that the railway has changed
its name, the old spelling can be dropped by everyone.
References:
<bibl> Ross, George W.: Getting Into Parliament and After , Toronto, 1913. </bibl>

EA [: ] -Transp. & Comm. LeBourdais: Ontario Northland Rwy

<bibl> Cole, A.A.: Ontario's Route to the Sea. Canadian Geographical Journal,
Vol. V; No. 3; 1932. </bibl> <bibl> Racine, A.: Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway Inquiry. Report.
Toronto: 1935. </bibl>
D. M. LeBourdais

White Pass and Yukon Railway

EA-Transp. & Commun.
(D. M. LeBourdais)

WHITE PASS & YUKON RAILWAY

The White Pass & Yukon Railway, 110.7 miles in length, connects Skagway,
Alaska, with Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. It was built during the years
1898 to 1900, at the time of the Klondike gold strike (q.v.), and has been
operated without interruption since then. Because it starts in Alaska Terri–
tory, crosses within a few miles into the Province of British Columbia and
then passes into Yukon Territory, it was found necessary to operate under
several separate charters, represented by different companies. These com–
panies, however, possess common shareholders and officers, maintain a common
bank account, and operate under the general name: White Pass & Yukon Route.
The project represents a combination of British capital and American enterprise.
The White Pass & Yukon Railway was built at a time when an enormous
amount of traffic seemed available. While the crews were grading the right-of–
way and laying the tracks, thousands of men were battling their way through
the mountain passes on the trail that, continued by some sort of river craft,
would take them to Dawson and the fabulous Klondike. The docks at Dyea and
Skagway, at the head of Lynn Canal, were piled high with goods of all des–
criptions, and more goods were stacked along almost every mile of the 600-mile
lake and river route to Dawson. While millions of dollars in gold dust were
being taken from the gravels of stream after stream as prospectors ranged
ever father from the center of the strike, no one knew the extent of the

EA-Transp. & Commun.
(D. M. LeBourdais)

productive area, nor how long would be required to exhaust the deposits
that might be profitably worked. The history of all other such camps had
proved that the effective life of communities based on placer mining was
relatively short. For this reason, and because others were also proposing
to build railways into Yukon Territory, the promotors of the White Pass &
Yukon Railway lost no time in getting started. On April 10, 1898, the
company's chief engineer arrived at Skagway, and by May 28, construction had
begun. Much of the roadbed had been graded along the sides of the canyons
and gorges through which the Skagway River rushes in its short course to the
sea and, in addition, four miles of steel had been laid by July 21; and 13
miles had been laid by August 25. Winter did not stop the work of construction
and on February 18, 1899, the summit of White Pass, which traverses the St.
Elias Mountains, 20 miles from Skagway, was reached. From that point, con–
struction was not so difficult and track-laying proceeded more quickly.
The heavier grades were left behind after the southern slope had been
climbed. Leaving Skagway, which has an elevation of less than 20 feet above
the sea, the railway begins its 20-mile climb to the summit of White Pass,
which marks the divide between Alaska Territory and the Province of British
Columbia. The grade from Skagway to the summit is 3.9 per cent., and the
tracks seem to cling to the face of the many steep-sided canyons through
which the road passes. At times, it switch-backs up the timbered slopes of
the mountains. At Denver Station, siz miles from Skagway, a trail leads three
miles to the Denver Glacier, one arm of which extending 35 miles eastward into
British Columbia, near Atlin, is known as the Llewellyn Glacier, while another
arm, extending 90 miles southward, goes under the equally well-known name of
Taku Glacier. This great icefield is not only one of the largest, but one of

EA-Transp. & Commun.
(D. M. LeBourdais)

the most impressive on the continent.
After crossing the East Fork of the Skagway River, the railway climbs
the side of Sawtooth Mountain, in the course of which the old trail of '98
is crossed. Just before the site of White Pass City of Klondike days is
reached, Bridal Veil Falls can be seen across the chasm, while beyond White
Pass City, Dead Horse Gulch, which also gained its name in Klondike rush
days, is seen. At mile 14, the line follows a great horseshoe bend, when
a detour of four miles is necessary to make the grade up Tunnel Mountain,
along which the builders met with their greatest obstacles, since here the
roadbed is cut out of the solid granite, and threads the side of the mountain,
1,000 feet above the valley below. Here, too, is the only tunnel on the line,
which gives the mountain its name.
At Inspiration Point, the line has reached an altitude of 2,400 feet in
the 17 miles of its course (only 12 miles in a direct line), and from here an
impressive panorama can be seen; to the southeast, Sawtooth Mountain rises in
clear air, and off to the southwest the glaciers that top Mount Pinacle glisten;
while beyond, the blue waters of Lynn Canal, encased in their setting of rugged
mountains, stretch away to the far horizon. Two miles beyond, while still
climbing, the line crosses Dead Horse Gulch, first seen some miles below, by
what is claimed to be the most northerly bridge of its kind in the world, a
steel cantilever which spans the gulch at a height of 215 feet above the bottom
of the gorge. One mile farther and the summit is reached at an elevation of
2,900 feet. Here the boundary between United States and Canadian territory is
crossed, with the flag of each country flying side by side. Just beyond,
Summit Lake, one of the sources of the mighty Yukon, indicates that the other
side of the watershed has been reached, for beyond this point all the drainage is
toward that great stream.

EA-Transp. & Commun.
(D. M. LeBourdais)

While the railway immediately begins its descent, the grade is by no
means as great as on the southern side of the mountains; in fact, for the
first 13 miles from the summit, the line loses very little altitude; the
country consists chiefly of a rolling plateau, dotted with small lakes with
mountains in the distance. Descending from this plateau, the line follows
the valley leading to Lakes Lindeman and Bennett, where the stampeders of
1898 built their boats and rafts for the long land-and-river voyages to
Dawson. Bennett Station, at the head of Lake Bennett, lies at an altitude
of 2,160 feet above sea level, which is less than 800 feet below the summit
of White Pass. The distance from Bennett to the summit of White Pass is
approximately the same as that from the White Pass summit to Skagway; yet,
on the southern side of the pass, the railway climbs 2,900 feet as against
the 800 feet of drop to Lake Bennett.
The eastern shore of Lake Bennett is followed for 26 miles, mountains
rising abruptly behind the tracks and others continually visible on the
farther side of the lake. At the outlet of Lake Bennett, where a narrow
neck leads to Lake Nares, which connects lakes Bennett and Tagish, the rail–
way crosses by a swing bridge at the spot where, since time immemorial, vasts
herds of caribou were wont to cross. This place is now known as Carcross,
a [: ] contraction of Caribou Crossing. Leaving Carcross, the
railway ascends Watson River valley to the divide, crossing the summit at
an elevation of 2,533 feet, and then begins a slow descent to the valley of
the Lewes River, which, after leaving Lake Tagish, has described an arc to
the eastward, while the railway, reaching the Lewes a few miles above Miles
Canyon and the Whitehorse Rapids, forms the chord of the arc. From Skagway
to Whitehorse, the railway runs almost due north; both Skagway and Whitehorse
are approximately on the 135th degree of west longitude.

EA-Transp. & Commun.
(D. M. LeBourdais)

Completion of the line to Whitehorse drove from the upper river
steamboats which had formerly plied from the head of Bennett to the top
of Miles Canyon. Most of them continued in operation for a while, carry–
ing goods and passengers from the end of steel at Whitehorse to Dawson,
460 miles below. Freight rates, which formerly had been from 40 cents
to one dollar a pound, while still high when judged by ordinary standards,
dropped to 4 1/2 cents a pound from Skagway to Whitehorse. In many cases
the freight cost from Skagway to Whitehorse was still higher than the cost
of the goods laid down at Skagway. For example, in 1910, the price of fresh
beef laid down at Skagway was $43.00 a ton, while the carload rate from
Skagway to Whitehorse was $60.00 a ton. Port, with a laid-down cost of
$51.00 a ton, cost an additional $60.00 a ton for freight to Whitehorse.
Potatoes, which cost $41.00 a ton on the dock at Skagway, carried a freight–
rate of $55.00 a ton. On other staple commodities the rate, while not so
high as the laid-down cost, nevertheless was almost in the same proportion
to the cost as those quoted above. Hay, for example, laid down at Skagway
was $1.00 a ton, but the freight rate to Whitehorse was $40.00 a ton, and
oats at a cost of $43.00 also carried a $40.00 freight rate.
Since the line ran through three different geographical and political
areas, no one rate-controlling body seemed to have jurisdiction, if, indeed,
at that time any existed. In 1909, however, the Dawson Board or Trade made
application to the Canadian Board of Railway Commissioners to have rates
on the White Pass & Yukon Railway reduced. This application was granted,
but on appeal, when the railway successfully defended its claim that it could
not remain in operation at the reduced rates, the Board reversed its decision.
Since then some reduction in rates has been made, but they are still very

EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: White Pass & Yukon Railway

much higher than the generality of freight rates on the continent, for which
the exceptional circumstances under which the road operates would seem to
offer some jurisdiction. On the other hand, it is contended that abnormally
high freight rates retard the development of the country, and thus, in the
end, react to the disadvantage of the railway itself. Certainly, there are
many dormant mining properties which might be in operation, and providing
traffic of various sorts for the railway, if transportation costs were lower
than they have hitherto been.
For so short a stretch of railway, it carries a heavy corporate load.
The Pacific and Arctic Railway and Navigation Company (incorporated in West
Virginia) holds control between Skagway and the summit of the mountains;
jurisdiction then passes to the British Columbia Yukon Railway Company
(incorporated May 8, 1897), covering the short portion within the Province
of British Columbia; and the, when the boundary (latitude 60° N.) was crossed
into Yukon Territory, the British Yukon Mining Trading and Transportation
Company (incorporated June 29, 1897), formerly was the company in control.
Originally, to operate the steamboats, the Canadian Development Company was
formed; but on May 16, 1898, all the above companies were united in the
Assets Development Company. This, however, on the following August 22, was
succeeded in 1902 by the White Pass & Yukon Railway Company. The British
Yukon Mining Trading and Transportation Company seems later to have been
broken into two separate entities, the British Yukon Railway Company, in
which is vested ownership of the railway line within Yukon Territory; and
the British Yukon Navigation Company, which operates the steamboats. The
head office of the Alaskan company is in Seattle, Washington; while that of
the Canadian companies is in Vancouver, British Columbia, Operational head–
quarters, however, are in Skagway.

EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: White Pass & Yukon Railway

On completion of the railway, the White Pass & Yukon (or the corporate
entity which preceded it) began to operate steamship services down the
river from Whitehorse, and shortly secured a monopoly of that traffic.
While operating principally between Whitehorse and Dawson, the company,
until 1922, also operated boats on the river the whole distance to Bering
Sea. After the United States Government had completed the Alaska Railroad
to Fairbanks, the Government began operating boats between Fairbanks and
Nome. The White Pass & Yukon Railway then agreed not to operate on this
section of the river if the United States Government would leave to it the
section from Nenana (where the Alaska Railroad first reaches the Tanana River)
into Yukon Territory. At the time of writing, the White Pass & Yukon Rail–
way was operating one steamer between Dawson and Nenana, usually making one
trip a year. Two boats are employed on the Whitehorse-Dawson run. The
downstream voyage on this run is made in about 40 hours, but the return
trip usually requires five or six days.
These Yukon steamers are wood-burning, stern paddle-wheelers, built
during the early days of steamboating on the river. Each has accommodation
for over 100 passengers, and is well equipped to cater to the needs of tourists.
Because of its tourist traffic, the White Pass & Yukon Railway handles a larger
percentage of passenger traffic in proportion to total traffic than do other
Canadian railways; passengers contribute, on an average, about 25 per cent
of the total revenue. Passenger fares are approximately 10 cents a mile on
the railway, while on the river they run from $40 for the voyage from White–
horse to Dawson to $60.00 for the upstream trip.
On October 1, 1942, the White Pass & Yukon Railway was leased to the
United States Army for the duration of the war and six months thereafter.

EA-Transp. & Commun. LeBourdais: White Pass & Yukon Railway

By terms of the lease, all employees of the company — many of whom had
been on the payroll for more than 20 years — were to be retained, and
it was further stipulated that there should be no lessening in the service
supplied to civilians. Any improvements made to the property during the
term of operation, including additions to equipment, were not to become a
charge against the railway, but were to become the property of the company.
This provision resulted in a considerable gain because the Army found it
necessary to lengthen all sidings and to straighten the line in a number
of places, as well as to make substantial additions to rolling stock.
References:
<bibl> Government of Canada. Sessional Papers , 1900, No.15. </bibl> <bibl> Dawson, C.A. (ed.). The New North-West . Toronto, 1947. </bibl> <bibl> Innis, Harold A. Settlement and the Mining Frontier . ("Canadian Frontiers
of Settlement"). Toronto, 1936. </bibl>

Yukon Telegraph Service

EA-Trans. & Comm.
[D. M. LeBourdais'

YUKON TELEGRAPH SERVICE

With the discovery of placer gold on the Klondike River and other tribu–
taries of the Yukon in 1896-98, and the stampede of gold-seekers and others to
Yukon District in the far northwestern corner of Canada, a region previously
unpopulated except for roving bands of Indians suddenly became overrun with
people. Dawson, the center of the mining area rapidly became a city, with a
population that at times reached about 25,000, while numerous smaller communities
sprang up along the various creeks. Access to the goldfields was chiefly by
ship to Skagway, Alaska, at the head of Lynn Canal, thence over mountain passes
to the headwaters of the Lewed River, one of the principal tributaries of the
Yukon, and from there by boat, scow, raft, or other water craft to Dawon. Naturally
the time required to make the trip from the headwaters of the Lewes to Dawson was much
less than that required for the return trip, against the current. And, in winter,
the time required, in both directions, was much greater because the only means of
communication was by horse stage or dog team. The White Pass & Yukon Railway (q.f.,)
begun in 1899, was completed in 1901 between Skagway and Whitehorse, and this made access
to the goldfields much easier, but the time required for a letter posted in Dawson
to reach the outside world was still very long.
Dawson at that time had three or four daily newspapers which, as well as
several banks and other large commercial concerns, desired much quicker communica–
tion than was possible, even with the completion of the railway; and to supply this

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Yukon Telegraph

need, the Government of Canada undertook to build and operate a telegraph line
connecting Dawson with the nearest point in British Columbia where connection
could be made with existing telegraph lines. This point was actually at Quesnel,
on the upper Fraser River, to which point the government already had a line from
Ashcroft, on the Canadian Pacific Railway, 220 miles to the south. This 220 miles
of single wire strung on poles along the Cariboo Road was a relic of the Collins
Overland Telegraph (q.v.), built in the middle of the nineteenth century to connect
North America and Europe by a line traversing western Canada and Alaska to Bering
Strait, which would be crossed by cable, thence through Siberia to Europe. The
line had been practially completed to Telegraph Creek (hence the name) when the
Atlantic cable was successfully laid and the whole scheme collapsed.
The Canadian Government had salvaged the 220 miles of line between Ashcroft
and Quesnel, which at the time of the Klondike Rush were being operated under lease
by the Canadian Pacific Telegraphs. When, however, the government decided to build
a line to the Yukon, it resumed operation of the Cariboo line as the southern end
of the Yukon line; but, since it was in a bad state of repair, a new line was
actually built from Ashcroft northward, the original wire of the Cariboo line being
restrung on the new poles. From Quesnel northward, only a single wire threaded
the wilderness of mountain and valley to carry the faint electric impulse by which was
transmitted the messages of people hungering for contact with the outside.
The line was constructed by the Department of Public Works, surveying of
the route and all details of construction being supervised by J. B. Charleson,
an officer of the Department, whose feat of building nearly 2,000 miles of telegraph
line through a wilderness and over an extremely rugged terrain hasnever been ade–
quately recognized. The chief difficulty was getting supplies to convenient points
for the use of the construction crews. How this was accomplished depended upon

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Yukon Telegraph

the general topography. In some places, the only means of transport was by pack–
horse. At other points, where the line followed rivers, scows could be used.
The right-of-way could be tapped at three places by access to the sea. The first
of these was at Hazelton, at the head of navigation on the Skeena; the next was
at Telegraph Creek, the head of transportation on the Stikine; and the third was
at the headwaters of the [: ] Lewes, where supplies were brought across the
mountain passes from Skagway.
Aside from the existing line between Ashcroft and Quesnel, the first
section built was that between Atlin and Dawson, a distance of 611 miles, which
was in operation by September 1899, with a dozen intervening stations. W. N.
Crean was district superintendent. The section from Quesnel to Atlin was cut
through in July 1901, total length of line from Ashcroft to Dawson being 1,896
miles. In addition, a branch 200 miles in length was built down the Skeena
River from Hazelton to Port Simpson; and an extension of 97 miles was built
northwestward from Dawson to connect with United States military lines in Alaska
at Boundary. The total cost of these lines was $786,224.41. The cost between
Ashcroft and Quesnel was $110 a mile; between Quesnel and Atlin, $540.77 a mile;
between Atlin and Dawson, $280.19 a mile; and $195.90 a mile between Dawson and
Boundary.
Between Quesnel and Telegraph Creek a pack-trail already existed, over
which for 30 years or more supplies had been carried by packtrains to miners in
Cassiar and traders at various points in between. Beyond Telegraph Creek, however,
the route led through a wilderness broken only by trails which rarely led in the
direction desired. Over the whole course, the valleys trend northwest and south–
east. Advantage was taken of this, but many difficult passes had to be crossed
in getting from one valley-system to another; and, of course, many large rivers
must be crossed.

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Yukon Telegraph

Between Quesnel and Hazelton, the trail was fairly well marked, and for
much of the distance traversed the broad Bulkley Valley, tapping a region in
which the Hudson's Bay Company had had trading posts since the beginning of the
nineteenth century, but which still remained a wilderness. The pack trail made
the job of transporting supplies easier than would otherwise have been the case,
but it was still necessary to chop the right-of-way for the line out of the
thick forest of pine and fir.
Crossing the Skeena at Hazelton, the line cut across the arc of the bend
which the river makes to the eastward, reaching its valley where its northward
course begins, continuing until the Skeena again veers off to the east. The
line then crossed the watershed to the headwaters of the Nass, thence, cutting
across the drainage for most of the distance to Telegraph Creek. This was a
most difficult section to build.
The stretch between Telegraph Creek and Atlin was also a difficult one.
Here, trails were [: ] non-existent and the course cut generally across the
slope of the land, few of the streams flowing in the same direction as the right–
of-way. The country was also much more mountainous than farther south, mountainous
though it likewise was; but in this section outliers of the Coast Mountains flung
barriers across the course.
From Atlin to Dawson, water transportation was possible all the way;
but, of course, the terrain across which the right-of-way must be cut was even
more rugged than before. The line followed the east shore of Atlin Lake, swing–
ing westward to cross the Lewes River between Lakes Tagish and Marsh, thence
along the west shore of the latter and the Lewes River to Whitehorse. From there
the line continued along the west bank of the Lewes and Lake Laberge to the
junction of the Lewes and Pelly at Old Fort Selkirk, near where the line crossed

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Yukon Telegraph

the Yukon and proceeded across the big bend to Dawson. From Dawson, the line
continued down the Yukon Valley to Boundary.
Operation of the line was almost as difficult as building it. Here was
a single strand of No. 8 galvanized iron wire strung through the wilderness along
a right-of-way so narrow that trees falling in its direction on either side
could easily fall across it, which they often did. In addition to this, where
the line crossed mountain passes, landslides often carried away long sections
of the line; at other places, rivers swollen beyond their usual size frequently
washed away long stretches of the line, requiring replacement not only of the
poles, but of the wire as well, a much harder commodity to replace.
In order to maintain the line, cabins had been built at about 50-mile
intervals. These were occupied by two men, a telegrapher and a lineman, al–
though both were required to work at line-repairing, which was the principal
reason for their employment. The telegrapher was necessary, of course, in
order to maintain contact with the wire chiefs so that he and his companion
would know when an interruption occurred in their territory, which was half-way
to the cabin on either side.
These men were usually engaged for a three-year period, and were kept
supplied by packtrain on the southern stretches, and by water-craft below
Atlin. Although they were in touch with the outside world by means of the
telegraph and could hear the news of the world passing over the wire every day
(when the line was working) to the newspapers at Dawson, many of them received
their mail only once a year — when the packtrain arrived with their yearly
supplies. In most cases, their salaries were deposited to their credit in banks
outside, after deductions had been made to cover payments made on their behalf by
requisitions sent by wire to the general superintendent at Vancouver.

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Yukon Telegraph

Although messages were transmitted directly from Vancouver to Dawson —
that is to say when there were no interruptions on the line — the Yukon line
was not a single circuit. In that distanceof 2,100 miles, there were five
circuits, connected by instruments called repeaters. The first section, from
Vancouver to Ashcroft, was over a CPR line, the sending (or receiving) operators
at Vancouver being in the employ of the CPR. At Ashcroft, where the staff was
jointly employed, the repeater automatically transmitted the message from the
Yukon Telegraph Service circuit to the CPR circuit, or vice versa. Then, at
Hazelton, Atlin, and Whitehorse, other repeaters picked up the message from one
circuit and passed it on to the next. In this way, operators in Dawson and
Vancouver worked directly with one another. At Ashcroft, where the transfer
from the CPR to the Yukon Telegraph Service was effected, all messages were
copied by operators as they were being transmitted, but this was merely for the
purpose of accounting. Control of the line was also maintained from Ashcroft.
Needless to say, it was not always possible for Vancouver and Dawson opera–
tors to work directly with each other; nearly always there was an interruption
somewhere. When this occurred, messages would be sent to the station nearest the
point of interruption; and then after the line was repaired they would be relayed
to their destination — or perhaps only to the next point of interruption. These
interruptions had not at first been anticipated, and many of the cabins had not
been supplied with stationery, since it had not been expected that any would be
needed. It happened, however, that some intermediate stations proved to be at
strategic spots for the relaying of messages during interruptions, and it
was necessary for the operators in these stations to copy, in the course of a year,
many thousands of messages. At some stations in that first winter telegrams were
written on the sides of packing cases, on scraps of paper, and, in fact, on every

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Yukon Telegraph

surface that would admit of a written legend. In subsequent years, of course,
ample paper was provided at even the most unlikely stations.
In some places where the line followed a sheltered valley, for instance,
little line work was required, and the two men responsible for maintenance there
often had little to do for months on end, especially if they happened also to
be in a spot where little relaying was required. In such cases, many of them
set out trap lines and did very well; in fact, some of them were able to accumu–
late small fortunes. On the other hand, those who happened to draw the trouble
spots had no easy time of it. Every storm brought its toll of fallen trees and
broken wires, which was the least that might happen. Then they would set off
on foot to repair the damage, which might be within a short distance of the
cabin, but could as easily be 25 miles away. In most cases, relief cabins
were built for use while away from the main base.
Despite all the interruptions, the Yukon line carried an immense amount of
business, not only for the people of Dawson, Whitehorse, and other points in the
Yukon, but also for the United States Government in Alaska. U. S. Government
business ceased after a cable was laid between Sitka and Seattle, but for many
years the volume of American business was considerable. The U. S. military lines
also handled commercial telegrams from Nome, Fairbanks, Valdez, Juneau, and
other Alaskan points, but the heaviest traffic was supplied by the United States
Government.
Although the rate from Ashcroft to Dawson was at first $4.50 for ten words
(later changed to $3.00), the people of Yukon Territory, including the newspapers,
considered the line a great boon, and they made full use of it. In the daysbefore
lettergrams were adopted — which allow deferred messages of fifty words to be
sent for the same price as an ordinary message of ten words — the Yukoners cheer-

EA-Transp. & Comn. LeBourdais: Yukon Telegraph

fully paid high tolls on letter-length messages. During its initial
years, the Service more than paid its way.
The line was operated by the Department of Public Works at Ottawa, but
actual control was in the hands of a general superintendent, with an office in
Vancouver. District superintendents were in charge at Ashcroft and at White–
horse. For many years J. T. Phelan was the district superintendent at Ash–
croft, and later was made general superintendent. He was [: ] appointed at the
time of the opening of the line and remained with the Service till his death.
Many others who took positions with the Yukon Telegraph Service in the early days
found the experience interesting and attractive and remained for long periods.
As the production of the mines in the Yukon dwindled, the population also
dwindled. Dawson and the other once-booming communities along the Yukon River
more and more became collections of empty shacks. As time passed, the line be–
came more expensive to maintan as poles rotted in the ground and wire rusted.
Then, during the second decade of the twentieth century, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway
was completed to Prince Rupert, on the Pacific coast, and later became part
of the Canadian National Railways System, which also operates a commercial
telegraph service. This line parallels long stretches of the Yukon telegraph
line in the Nechako and Bulkley valleys, and resulted in an unecessary duplica–
tion. Consequently, that part of the line between Telegraph Creek and Quesnel
was eventually abandoned. In some places, radio has been substituted. Radio
also connects Dawson and Whitehorse with points in the Northwest Territories
and Edmonton; but the Yukon Telegraph Service is still maintained for local
service between Dawson and Telegraph Creek, as well as between Quesnel and Ashcroft.
Now that radio is available, it is unlikely that any other line of its kind

EA-Transp. & Comm. LeBourdais: Yukon Telegraph

will ever be constructed; and as section after section falls into discuse,
and the men who helped build and operate it pass from the scene, it will
become one with the Collins Overland Telegraph, although it did have an oppor–
tunity to fill a pressing need, which was denied to the former.
Reference:
<bibl> Parliament of Canada: House of Commons Debates , 1899, 1900, 1901. </bibl>
D. M. LeBourdais

Alaska Highway Telephone System

EA-Geography [: ] Transp. & Commun.
(Richard Finnie)

ALASKA HIGHWAY TELEPHONE SYSTEM

Its total length 2,600 miles, the Alaska Highway telephone-telegraph
system was installed by the U.S. Army and civilian contractors during the
construction of the Alaska Highway and the Canol Project (1942-44), between
Edmonton, Alberta, and Fairbanks, Alaska, with spur lines running from
Whitehorse, Yukon, to Skagway, Alaska, and from Johnson's Crossing (82
miles east of Whitehorse) to Norman Wells, Mackenzie District, Northwest
Territories. It is one of the longest open-wire toll circuits in the world.
From Edmonton the line follows the Northern Alberta Railway to High
Prairie, then across country to Grande Prairie, whence it again follows
the railway as far as Dawson Creek, British Columbia. From Dawson Creek
to Fairbanks, more than 1,500 miles, it parallels the Alaska Highway. Re–
peater or "booster" stations were built at 100-mile intervals, each
requiring 50 tons of equipment. The main line, carried on 85,000 poles,
comprises four strands of welded-copper, steel-core wire which provide 21
communication channels: 12 telegraph circuits, two direct current telegraph
circuits, and seven talking circuits. At the height of activity as many
as 2,000 messages a day were carried by the system.
The project was carried on under the code name "Catel" (Canada-Alaska
telephone). The Miller Construction Company, Indianapolis, Indiana, was
the prime contractor, while the repeater stations were supplied by Western

EA-Geography. Finnie: Alaska Highway Telephone System

Electric. The first hundred miles out of Norman Wells toward Whitehorse
were built by Bechtel-Price-Callahan, the Canol constructors, while the
110-mile line between Whitehorse and Skagway was subcontracted by the
Hatfield Electric Company. The outdoor work was done in the main by men
of Scandinavian descent recruited in Wisconsin and Minnesota, although
almost every state in the Union was represented in the ranks of the builders.
Initial surveys for the main line were made by the U.S. Army Signal
Corps, beginning in June 1942, when radio communication was set up along the
route. The line was completed as far as Dawson Creek by December 1st, 1942;
as far as Whitehorse by May 21, 1943; and as far as Fairbanks by October 15,
1943.
Locally out spruce poles were used, and in cold weather they were scorched
over open fires to loosen the bark preparatory to peeling. Frozen ground
was blasted to open up pole holes, steam jets being first applied from
portable boilers to make pockets an inch and a half in diameter and five feet
deep for charges of from ten to fifteen sticks of dynamite. The poles were
ordinarily spaced 155 feet apart.
For river crossings, especially those greater than a quarter of a mile
in width, catenary spans were constructed, the longest being 1,250 feet,
mounted on 60-foot wooden towers on each bank.
The line connecting Skagway with Whitehorse was erected close to the
right-of-way of the White Pass & Yukon Railway. Begun in December 1942,
it was a year in course of construction. Deep snow and severe weather on the ascent
to the White Pass forced suspension of work during part of the winter. A
temporary circuit was in operation over the entire distance by July 1943,
but much time was consumed in drilling holes in solid rock between Log Cabin,

EA-Geography. Finnie: Alaska Highway Telephone System

Pennington, and Fraser Loop. No sooner had the permanent installation been
finished, early in December, than a severe storm battered down lines and
poles, which had to be replaced.
The telephone line paralleling the Canol Road and pipeline, 520 miles
in length to its juncture with the Alaska Highway, was begun in July 1943
and completed, along with the pipeline, in February 1944.
Of the 100-odd river and stream crossings on the Canol line, the most
difficult was that of the Mackenzie, four miles in width between Norman Wells
on the right bank, and Canol Camp on the left. This was accomplished with
submarine cable, some of which was laid during the winter.
All of the poles for the Canol line were of local spruce. About 3,000
were out near Fort Simpson and floated downstream to Canol Camp, the balance
being obtained in the valleys of the Carcajou and Twitya rivers on the Mackenzie
side of the divide, and along the valleys of the Macmillan, Rose, Nisutlin,
and Rose rivers on the Yukon side. Spaced 38 to a mile, they were 25 feet
in length, with top diameter not less than six or eight inches, sitted with
cross arms to carry two wires. They were set at extra depth in permafrost
areas to allow for heaving. Horses as well as tractors were used to bring
cut logs out of the bush to the right-of-way, and to draw the sled-mounted
boilers used to thaw frozen ground.
Supervising the construction operations over the whole system were
Lt. Col. O.F. Roberts, commanding officer of the U.S. Signal Corps detach–
ment with headquarters in Edmonton, and Major J.H. Bartlett, who was con–
tracting officer and engineer adviser on the staff of the Northwest Service
Command, U.S. Army Service Forces.
Reserved exclusively for military business until the end of World War II,

EA-Geography. Finnie: Alaska Highway Telephone System

the telephone line, together with the Alaska Highway and other related
appurtenances, was turned over to Canadian authorities April 3, 1946. As
of April 1, 1947, its operation was undertaken by the Canadian National
Telegraphs, thus establishing commercial land telephone communication with
interior Alaska for the first time.
Richard Finnie
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