A convoy of military vehicles is marking the 70th anniversary of the building of the Alaska Highway with a trip along northern roads, but something important is missing from the travel schedule of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association.
The convoy is skipping Fairbanks.
The logo for the expedition says “Dawson Creek to Fairbanks,” which is as it should be, but the drivers aren’t planning to visit Fairbanks, according to the schedule released by the association.
Driving the Alaska Highway and stopping short of Fairbanks is like driving cross-country and turning around before you reach the Hudson River.
The convoy is scheduled to take the Top of the World highway from Dawson City to Alaska on Wednesday before heading to Glennallen and west to the Anchorage area. Then the military vehicles will travel to Denali National Park on Saturday before turning back and taking the Denali Highway to Paxson.
The convoy is set to hold a program in Delta on Aug. 21, which is fine, but Fairbanks should be on that agenda as well.
This is probably part of the natural fallout of the ill-advised decision by Fairbanks some years back to abandon our claim to be the northern terminus of the Alaska Highway. On many documents Delta is listed as the “official” end of the highway.
It is true that the Richardson Highway was already in existence in 1942, connecting Fairbanks with Valdez. However, when the road was built it was universally recognized that the Alaska Highway led to Fairbanks.
At the Alaska Highway dedication ceremony on Nov. 20, 1942, Gen. James O’Connor, the head of the Northwest Service Command, put it this way: “This highway, stretching from Dawson Creek on the British Columbia-Alberta line to Fairbanks in the core of Alaska is a real and unique tie between our countries.”
There was and is no doubt that the Alaska Highway connects Fairbanks and Dawson Creek. That a portion of the road is also a portion of the Richardson Highway does not change anything.
When the Lincoln Highway was built, it was not as if every inch of it was new. Part of it was over long-established routes. The same was true with the Alaska Highway.
The old milepost downtown along the Chena River recognized Fairbanks as the end of the highway for decades, but the wording was changed some years back to say that most people figured Fairbanks was the end because the traffic was headed to Fairbanks.
That’s not exactly correct. In 1943, the U.S. government and the Canadian government agreed that Fairbanks was the end of the road.
On July 19, 1943, Secretary of State Cordell Hull wrote to Leighton McCarthy, Canadian ambassador to the United States, to say that the Roosevelt administration agreed with Dimond that the official name of the highway from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks should be the Alaska Highway, instead of the Alcan.
Hull said it was important that both governments agree on the name, especially because most of the road was in Canada.
“In accordance with the foregoing, I have the honor to propose that the highway from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska be designated the ‘Alaska Highway.’
“If the Canadian government is agreeable to this proposal, it is suggested that this note and your reply in that sense shall be considered as placing on record the agreement of the two governments in this matter,” Hull wrote.
On that same day, the Canadian concurred.
“I have the honor to inform you that the government of Canada concurs in the proposal contained in your note of July 19, 1943 that the highway from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska be given the official name Alaska Highway,” McCarthy said.
The agreement was announced July 22, 1943.
Dermot Cole can be reached at email@example.com or