forgotten trail built more than 50 years earlier by the U.S. Army.
During the latter years of the Second World War, this quiet and remote corner of Canada’s northwest played host to what would later be described by a U.S. military historian as ‘the biggest construction job since the Panama Canal.’ Following Japan’s crushing attack on Pearl Harbour, and the ensuing systematic destruction of the remaining American Pacific Fleet, a land invasion of North America via the northern chain of Aleutian Islands became a threat Washington could no longer ignore. American military planners, who previously had been distracted by events on the European fronts, now went into high gear. Continental defense became an almost obsessive focus, and Alaska was of primary concern. With no road or rail connections to the south, and only limited air supply capabilities, the territory of Alaska (not a State at the time) represented a strategic weakness.
Initial priority was placed on completing the North West Staging Route, a series of aerodromes linking Edmonton with Fairbanks. Runways and aprons were expanded to handle heavy transport aircraft, while housing and service facilities were installed. Heavy attention was also placed on the creation of an overland route to Alaska, for without a ground link, the north would remain an Achilles heel. Over ten thousand men were dispatched, and in eight months they bulldozed a one thousand five hundred and twenty mile (2530 km) road through the wilderness. The Alaska Highway, only commissioned for military use, connected Dawson Creek, British Columbia with Fairbanks, Alaska.
The question of how to supply fuel for aircraft and ground troops operating in the northern arena soon became paramount. Coastal shipping was growing increasingly risky due to Japanese naval dominance, and transporting gasoline by truck along the new Alaska Highway could never meet the estimated demands. As the U.S. War Department began to weigh their options, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a veteran Arctic explorer, advised that a viable source of crude lay beneath the isolated Canadian community of Norman Wells, on the banks of the Mackenzie River. Mackenzie himself, the river’s namesake, had reported spotting oil seepages along the banks in 1789, and Imperial Oil had drilled several productive