1964 Yukon Nuggets
Canadian Army leaves Whitehorse
The Canadian army invaded the Yukon in 1946. Well, invasion may be a strong word, and their presence was more than welcome. They came to fix up a mess known as the Alaska Highway. The road had been built in a hurry by the American military. Now Canada had to fix it or forget it.
A lot of work had to be done before the highway could be of any use to the expected tourist and business traffic. In April 1946, the Canadians took over maintenance and construction of the highway. In an impressive ceremony at the top of the Two Mile Hill, the Americans handed over their "work in progress".
For the next 18 years, the Canadian army struggled to make the road passable to more than military four-by-four trucks. Many millions of dollars were spent on straightening, upgrading, and relocation.
More than fixing a road, the military became an integral part in the growth of Whitehorse, from a tiny backwater in the middle of nowhere to a substantial city in the emerging north.
Two thousand enlisted men and women with their families shopped in downtown Whitehorse, sent their kids to schools and participated actively in all aspects of city life, including sports. The rivalry between the Army and civilians in basketball and hockey was as strong as any professional sports league.
Beat the big bad army sports teams was a year round topic on the ice surface and the basketball courts. It was always a sad day for townsfolk if the Army won a championship of any kind.
The Canadian military also built a community called Camp Takhini, a show piece in a town built from purloined lumber and other supplies. Camp Takhini featured the usual collection of well-kept buildings, includings barracks, PMQ's and repair shops. It also boasted an impressive headquarters building. Although the army families were housed in Camp Takhini, the kids filled the ranks of the Whitehorse elementary and high schools. The first radio station in Whitehorse was owned and operated by the military, from a building in Camp Takhini.
The army also operated several mess halls. Some of the most fancy balls in Whitehorse took place in the Officer's Mess as locals dressed up and mingled with the town's high society.
Thirteen maintenances camps dotted the highway where civilians found both part- and full-time employment, in a time when jobs would otherwise be scarce. I worked for the army for two years while attending University and always thanked my lucky stars for their presence.
In 1961, The Whitehorse Star wrote a feature story called "DND Bankrolls Local Economy".
"The backbone of the economic life in Whitehorse is the Department of National Defense payroll, providing a stabilizing element in the community."
But the end of the era came on June 29th, 1964. After 18 years, the Army turned control of the highway over to the federal Department of Public Works.
In a colourful ceremony at the original Federal Building at Fourth and Main, hundreds turned out to watch the final military parade. The famous band of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery played a marching tune. Commissioner Gordon Cameron thanked the army for the tremendous service it provided through the Northwest Service Command.
Mayor Ed Jacobs bid a fond farewell with the words: "We all wish you could have stayed longer." Chamber of Commerce President Ralph Buzz Hudson presented a bronze plaque which was to be placed in the Federal building until a new city hall was built.
With a salute and march-past of uniformed members, the Canadian Army's official presence in the Yukon came to an end.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.