At the beginning of World War Two, the importance of Whitehorse as a transportation hub grew when a fully operational airport was built as part of the Northwest Staging Route. The Canadian and American military made their headquarters in Whitehorse, and built hundreds of buildings to house personnel and equipment.
Originally operated by the Department of Transport, the Whitehorse airfield was transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942. After the war, the RCAF Station continued to function primarily for refueling on the Alaska air route. In 1948, the RCAF station at Prince Rupert closed and the "listening post" positions were moved to Whitehorse. By then, RCAF duties were to monitor Russian signals during the height of the cold war.
At one time, the RCAF personnel and dependents numbered about 1000. As with the army in Whitehorse, they needed housing and thus they created the community of Hillcrest.
The first Hillcrest houses were built in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The original Hillcrest is composed of six house designs common to Canadian military bases at the time. Unique to Hillcrest though is the seventh style of house, the "Steelox" brand of prefabricated housing. Steelox buildings were purchased for several RCAF bases until at least the 1960s. Those at Hillcrest were delivered on the White Pass train in 1951.
Another megaproject was the Canol Pipeline between Norman Wells and Whitehorse. A refinery was built to process the crude oil on the flats by the river on the northern outskirts of Whitehorse. The former tank farm north of Hillcrest was part of this massive project.
On either side of the Alaska Highway, there was already an extensive complex of barracks, mess halls and storage buildings. Other structures built over the next decade included a store and a bowling alley. In 1958, the firebreak, still to be seen, was constructed when huge forest fires threatened Whitehorse.
In the 1960s, a column called "the Hillcrest News" appeared in the Whitehorse Star. In it were nuggets such as news about the local bowling and badminton championships, dances at the Airmen’s club with music supplied by the Downbeats and the Honkey Tonks, a Safe Driving contest, and activities at the Protestant chapel.
In 1968-1969, the RCAF base in Whitehorse was closed and the housing in Hillcrest was considered surplus and was sold. The neighbourhood was expanded in the early 1970s to include thirty-six single homes. Today, approximately 400 people live in Hillcrest.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin