The other day a fellow was telling me about his recent road trip up to Alaska and back. Spectacular scenery and all that.

I’ve never been, but I sure would like to. It might not be accurate to call the north unspoiled, but it must be a lot closer to it than whatever else is left of wild North America.

One thing that impressed him was the highway.

“Pavement the whole way!” he said.

I’m not sure what the history is there, but I thought it had been paved for a few decades. Maybe not.

What sort of highway would there be connecting B.C.’s Peace country with the Yukon and beyond, if the Japanese hadn’t decided to bomb Pearl Harbor in December of 1941? Because they did, the U.S.A. got very antsy about protecting Alaska from invasion. They decided a road connecting Alaska and the Lower 48 was needed, pronto.

The U.S. poured huge resources into highway construction and in something like eight months, it got pushed through. Lots of people from this area got good-paying jobs on that project. I interviewed some of them, back in the early 1990s as the 50th anniversary of the highway approached.

If the wartime incentive to build that road hadn’t existed, I wonder how long the B.C. Government would have taken to get around to it, and what kind of shape it would be in today.

As it was, in the 1960s when I was growing up in northeastern B.C., the pavement ended at Mile 82. After that, you took your chances. The highway had a reputation of being pretty sloppy when it was wet.

But that didn’t stop thousands of Americans from making the journey. Alaska beckoned, and they couldn’t resist. A lot of vehicles got damaged, and business was created for the people who set up service stations and restaurants along the way.

One of those was Dave Close and his wife, who had the Chevron station and café at Wonowon (I.e. Mile 101). That was our postal address for a few years, when we lived 20 miles off the highway on a farm on the Cameron River. It wasn’t exactly the middle of nowhere, but you could see it from there, as the saying goes.

One time in August, there was a heavy snowfall on the highway. It was annoying to us, but not anything too unusual. It wasn’t the first time we’d seen early snows. But the travellers on the highway from the Lower 48 States were shell-shocked. Some were turning around – giving up on their Alaskan adventure and heading back south through the snow and mud.

So things have changed. Pavement all the way, and mid-August snows are unheard of. When was the last one around here? A garden-destroying hailstorm is more likely, or even a tornado.

Not only that, temperatures are generally rising. It makes for great gardening in these parts, but over in India, it’s hitting 50C, day after day. Not good. Where are all those people going to go, when life becomes unlivable there and elsewhere? You can see where this is heading.

When I was a kid, growing cucumbers and tomatoes, successfully, outside of a greenhouse, was pretty much unheard of. Now? Everybody and his dog is doing it in this growing zone. If this keeps up, you’ll be able to pick peaches in Whitehorse, on your way up the highway for an Alaskan adventure.

Commentary by Joe McWilliams

This item copyrighted by / Lakeside Leaader   Slave Lake, Alberta

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