Alaska-Canada Highway, 50 Years: 1942-1992
During World War II, Carcross played an important role in Alaska Highway construction. The connection here between the White Pass rail and water transportation systems gave the U.S. Army access to the Yukon's interior.
By early 1942, Carcross residents were well aware of the war. Many young men had joined the armed forces, and their families anxiously followed the news from Europe. That spring, however, the war moved much closer to home when 1200 Black troops of the 93rd Engineers stepped off the train. Over 10,000 soldiers would pass through town, and Carcross became the distribution centre for road construction east to Teslin and northwest to Whitehorse. That fall, the contractor for the Canol pipeline, Bechtel-Price-Callahan, set up a supply camp near the railway station.
It was a busy time. Up to 25 trains a day rolled through town. Army trucks met the trains, then carried supplies to outlying road camps. Military planes flew in and out of the small airport. There was no lack of work for the local people. Johnnie Johns, a well-known big game outfitter, leased and sold horses to advance parties for both Alaska Highway construction and the Canol Project. Johnnie and Peter Johns also guided army surveyors through the country they knew so well. Other aboriginal people worked at a variety of jobs, ranging from cutting logs for telephone poles to chauffeuring a general up and down the barely-completed highway.
The town's services were modernized. Civilian contractors supplied many buildings with electricity and year-round piped water.
Communications also improved when the gold rush era telegraph line along the railway was replaced by an eight-wire telephone/telegraph service.
The "Friendly Invasion" also brought tragedy to Carcross. Many Tagish and Tlingit people were infected with diseases introduced by the soldiers. Despite the efforts of army doctors and devoted nursing by family members, many Indians died from measles, chicken pox, and dysentery.
The soldiers and contractors departed as quickly as they had arrived. Their legacy was the network of roads that permanently altered the character of the community.
[Photo captions:] Some members of the 93rd Engineers in front of the Carcross train station - oval
Courtesy of the Dickson FamilyJohnnie Johns, 1947 - bottom right
Courtesy of Art JohnsMap, circa 1943, showing the route of Carcross & Tagish Roads