wells in the region, but subsequently capped them due to the anticipated expense of delivering the crude to an outside market.
A hasty plan was developed by the War Department to pipe the Norman Wells crude across a thousand kilometers of Canadian wilderness to Whitehorse, where a new refinery could supply diesel and gasoline to the Alaska Highway and North West Staging Route aerodromes. As word of the pipeline leaked out, opposition to the proposal quickly mounted around Washington. Detractors declared the scheme was both absurdly impractical and prohibitively expensive. Still the project crept forward, cloaked in deception and secrecy, more to shield the venture from Congress than to hide it from the Japanese. Even the name ‘Canol,’ which is today widely accepted to have stood for ‘Canadian American Norman Oil Line’, was misleadingly represented by the Army’s Public Relations department as an acronym for ‘Canadian Oil’, a veiled attempt to guise the project’s location and intent.
When Japanese troops occupied Attu and Kiska (two of the outermost Aleutians) during June 1942, economics and practicality suddenly took a back seat to hysteria. Facing a looming threat of invasion, the War Department unilaterally moved ahead and passed final approval for the Canol Pipeline Project. A quick and simple five month construction period was forecast. Attention quickly turned elsewhere, for there were more pressing concerns facing the nation. Hidden from sight, the Canol took on a life of its own, and even the project’s worst detractors could never have foreseen the bottomless pit that it would eventually become, consuming vast amounts of precious time, money and effort.
Within weeks heavy construction equipment began to arrive at the railhead of Waterways, Alberta. Barges would move the supplies northwards along the Athabasca and Slave Rivers, and after a portage around the rapids of Fort Smith, across Great Slave Lake and up the Mackenzie to Norman Wells. After a late breakup of river ice delayed the beginning of transport, the Army was anxious to make up for lost time. Wharfs, barracks, construction yards, refrigeration buildings and power plants were quickly installed at waypoints along the route. Barges toiled around the clock, and larger vessels were requisitioned. But operating in the remote northern wilderness proved a formidable challenge. Mud, dust, and bloodthirsty hordes of insects