1946 Yukon Nuggets
Alaska Highway Turnover Ceremonies
April 3rd, 1946. It was plus 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0° Celsius on today’s thermometers. The afternoon sun shone brightly, and nearly 300 Whitehorse residents were there to witness history in the making. On the gravel road between the Two Mile Hill and the airport, American and Canadian military personnel were present as the United States handed over the Alaska Highway to the Canadian Army.
The impressive ceremony kept a bargain struck when, back in 1942, the U.S. asked Canada for permission to build an all-weather route to Alaska.
At war’s end, the highway would become Canadian property but, for the duration of the conflict, the United States would own it.
Now on April 3rd, 1946, the American Ambassador to Canada, Ray Atherton stood before the microphones of local radio CFWH and officially offered the highway to Canada. It was accepted by General McNaughton, chairman of the Permanent Joint Defense board.
McNaughton told the crowd that, although the highway was still gravel and in need of work, he hoped that, by providing hotels, gas stations and restaurants along the fifteen hundred mile route, it would attract tourists and business enterprises.
For a half-hour before the official ceremonies, the 13th Military District band from Calgary entertained the Yukon crowd by playing a selection of popular tunes of the day.
Then, military jeeps and heavy loaders drove onto the ceremonial grounds followed by a parade of Canadian and American armed forces members. The large crowd was ready as the band played “God Save the King” and the “Star-Spangled Banner”. The Red Ensign, Canada’s flag at the time, and the Stars and Stripes were unfurled and the official salute was given.
The raised platform was bedecked with flags, bunting and spruce boughs. The Whitehorse Star reported that, on this clear crisp day, the snow-capped mountains made a suitable backdrop, so characteristic of the north and fitting for the occasion.
Distinguished guests on the podium included George Black, a military captain from World War One and now the Yukon’s Member of Parliament, along with Brigadier-General Geoffrey Walsh, who would assume Canadian command of the highway, and Major-General William Hoge.
Hoge was the original American commander when highway construction began in 1942 and, though he did not see the construction through to completion, was widely regarded as the man who made the job possible. Hoge Street in Whitehorse is named for Brigadier-General William Hoge.
Hoge had made many friends in Whitehorse in the early days of construction. Now he returned as a genuine American war hero, having led his troops in battles in the Philippines. In 1945, he had commanded an armoured division in the final assault on Nazi Germany. His key victory came when his troops captured an intact bridge over the Rhine River at Remagen, thus saving many lives by shortening the allied push across the river and on to Berlin.
During the inspection of the guard, the Bagpipes of the Scottish Highlanders played “Auld Lang Syne” and “Road to the Isles”.
At five o’clock, there was a public reception in the U.S. Officers' club, and at 8pm a dinner was held for distinguished visitors and guests. Everyone sang “Auld Lang Syne” as an era of US military occupation – although a friendly occupation – came to an end.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.