When the Canadian military took over the operation of the Northwest Highway System in 1946, a new era began in Whitehorse. The town became the headquarters for a substantial military presence in the Yukon. As many as two thousand Army members and their dependents eventually ran the system, which included maintenance and upgrading of the Alaska Highway.
But where would all these people live? The tiny town was ill-equipped to handle such a population explosion. So military brass in Ottawa developed a plan for a full-fledged community. They would call it Camp Takhini.
Back in 1944, Standard Oil, which operated the Canol Project refinery at Whitehorse, had built housing for refinery workers in what is now the Camp Takhini area. These temporary houses were called Cemestos.
In the early fifties, the Canadian Military began construction of a headquarters building, barracks, a power plant, mess hall and new housing called PMQs, or permanent married quarters.
It had become military tradition to name streets after personnel or military operations associated with the Canadian armed forces. Thus, the streets in Camp Takhini were named for famous battles such as Antwerp, Cassino, Ortona, Nijmegan, Falaise, Normandy, Dieppe, and Vimy.
So what do these names mean? Two brigades of the 2nd Division of the First Canadian Army led the ill-fated Dieppe Raid in 1942. Dieppe was a military disaster. More than half the six thousand troops that landed were killed, wounded or captured.
The Battle of Ortona, in December 1943, was a small, yet extremely fierce, battle fought between German paratroops and assaulting Canadian forces from the 1st Canadian Infantry Division. It was the culmination of the fighting on the Italian front and was considered among Canada's greatest achievements during the war. Canadian casualties included nearly 1400 soldiers killed in the fighting in and around the Italian city of Ortona.
In June 1944, the Army went into action on D-Day and conducted operations at Falaise, helping to close the so-called "Falaise pocket". A critical battle in October and November 1944 opened the Belgian port of Antwerp to Allied shipping.
The First Canadian Army liberated the Dutch city of Nijmegen in November of 1944. The city was then used as a springboard for the invasion across the Rhine River by Allied Troops.
Vimy Street recalls the assault on Vimy Ridge by Canadian solders in World War One, an event considered the finest hour by Canadian troops in European conflicts. It is home to the famed Vimy Memorial.
So the next time you drive around Camp Takhini, have a look at the street signs and recall the great sacrifice made by Canadians in war.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin