He had a distinguished record in World War One. This American soldier achieved the rank of Brigadier General in the U.S. Army, but his major challenge came when he was ordered to build the Alaska Highway.
On February 11th, 1942, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt signed the order to begin one of the most massive construction projects in Canadian history. A road some 1500 miles long would be pushed through the B.C., Yukon and Alaska wilderness. The fear of a Japanese attack on North America was real. Fortress Alaska had to be protected. A military road, then called the Alcan Highway, would have to be built expeditiously.
Brigadier General William Hoge was a career soldier. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in the First World War. Now, on February 25th, 1942, he was in Edmonton as commanding officer of the entire highway construction project. Such was the rush to build the road that Hoge told reporters that day he wasn’t sure which route would be taken from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks. Two weeks later Hoge, and his team of military engineers, chose the route through Fort Nelson, Whitehorse, and on to the Alaska border. That summer of ’42 was a mad-house as troops poured into Dawson Creek. Others arrived in Skagway to begin the northern section. General Hoge had been in command of troops during both world wars, but never this many. There were more that 10 thousand of them, along with another 10 thousand civilian contractors and workers.
There was no time for strategic planning. General Hoge told me many years ago that his first maps were taken from National Geographic magazines. He said engineers estimated that permafrost might be 10,000 feet deep. In the beginning, the survey crews consisted of local people on horseback and bush pilots who had flown the route in small planes.
However, the project was too big for one commander. In the summer of ’42, Hoge was placed in charge of the northern section with headquarters in Whitehorse. Colonel James O’Conner would command the troops building the southern section from Dawson Creek. By November, in just nine months, the so-called Pioneer road, snaking 1531 miles from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks, was completed. Still, it was far from being a highway, and wouldn’t be until November, 1943, that the Alaska Highway became an all-weather road. A street in Whitehorse and a mountain in the Donjek Range are named for Brigadier General William Hoge.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin