When the American Army built the Alaska Highway temporary camps were set up at about 100 mile intervalls. These quickly built accommodations were not meant to survive for very long. After the war ended and the rest of the country was returned to normal, the Alaska Highway remained under military control. Civilian traffic was restricted by both government regulation and the lack of services for the casual traveller until 1948.
But in 1946 the British Yukon Navigation Company or B.Y.N. as it was known in the Yukon started a bus service from Dawson Creek to Whitehorse. The company financed the construction of four highway lodges to provide gas for the buses and food for the passengers. These were early highway lodges and they varied greatly in appearance, including converted army barracks buildings, two-storey log structures and even framed wall tents.
Rancheria at mile 710 was one of the first lodges to open to the public in 1946. The original lodge was built of logs and longtime resident Bud Simpson helped build it. Simpson eventually acquired the property and he and his wife Doris operated the Rancheria lodge for nearly 30 years.
As the business grew the building was enlarged with material salvaged from a nearby abandoned highway construction camp. On a cold night in October of 1946, Doris Simpson served her first meal to a man and his son who arrived during a snowstorm. They feasted on ham and eggs.
By 1948 a roastbeef dinner with trimmings cost a dollar. Gasoline sold for 55 cents a gallon. Rooms were $3 for a single and $4 for a double. Often in bad weather complete strangers slept two to a bed or on a chair in the bar at Rancheria.
So how did a place on the Alaska Highway this far north end up with a Spanish name? It seems that in 1874 some prospector from Dease Lake ended up in the region looking for gold around the Liard River and found a pretty good strike on Sayae Creek. They named one of the rivers they prospected “Rancheria”.
Then when the noted Canadian geographer George Dawson came by on a mapping trip of the region in 1887 he discovered that the earliest miners had already named the Rancheria River. And he let the name stand on Canadian maps. Rancheria lodge at historic mile 710 is one of the few original highway lodges still operating today.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin