last battalions pulled out, very few signs of their massive efforts remain. The wooden structures were slowly rotting, the oil drums and vehicles sinking under a carpet of brush. Every single bridge had been washed away. The immense stands of forest that once burned where smudge fires spread out of control had reestablished themselves5. Wildflowers could be seen engulfing fallen telephone poles and poking innocently through the floors of abandoned cabooses. Swaths of land that had once been bulldozed and scarred were already covered in blankets of alder and willow. Given a time of reprieve, the land was healing, reclaiming itself.
While heartening to see, this progress towards a natural state should not be taken lightly. There are exceedingly few examples where access, once granted or created, has been revoked of allowed to dissolve. Development ratchets exclusively in one direction - forwards.
The fact that the Canol was allowed to crumble into disrepair was largely a fluke of timing and circumstances. The road ends at a river, making it a useless connector. And at the time of its abandonment, there were lucrative mineral and resource extraction projects closer to Whitehorse. Why would one bother to go further when riches awaited in the back yard? But with the growing pressures being exerted in the north today, such a byway would never stagnate. And the remains of the Canol road, while fading, remain an Achilles heel to the remote mountains and valleys they traverse. Only a tiny spark of economic interest would be required to rekindle thoughts of pushing a new road along the old route. Such an incursion is far easier for government and public to palate, as the land has already lost its virginity. With lead, zinc, and emerald interests growing in the region, such dangers are not unfeasible.
But even more timely are the matters of a pipeline through the Mackenzie Valley. Whispers of this development have turned to a juggernaut, and it now seems likely that a pipeline of one form or another, following one route or another, will be pushed down this remote valley. What can be learned from the
5 During the summer months, massive smudge fires were lit in an attempt to keep bugs at bay. These, combined with careless cigarette butts and welders sparks conspired to ignite a litany of fires in the region. At time so many infernos blazed that aircraft were grounded and river boat captains were forced to pull over due to an utter lack of visibility.