Over the past one hundred years, McCrae has played many roles. It began in 1899 as a flagstop station on the White Pass railway. It was named for Colin McCrae, one of the company directors. The wagon road between Carcross and Whitehorse crossed the railway tracks at McCrae, but it was a pretty quiet place.
Then, in 1942, things changed when the pioneer road known as the Alaska Highway was being built. This intersection of road and train was a logical place for the American Army to establish its railhead. By 1943, two hundred and eighty thousand tons of highway supplies were shipped to McCrae which became an army check-point, where travellers' passes were checked.
The relay station at McCrae became operational in 1943, and it also had a repeater station manned by the U.S. Signal Corps, who maintained the telephone line.
Relay stations were equipped with barracks, baths, mess halls, officers’ quarters, administration buildings and fueling stations. Most maintenance of vehicles on the highway were done at McCrae.
A major construction phase, in 1943, reflects the importance of this camp. This planned construction amounted to a total of 102 structures, with thirteen already existing. Evidently, not much of it was carried out, since an inventory of buildings in 1945 indicated that McCrae consisted of only twenty-four buildings.
It was still a big camp with a bakery, a fire hall, a theater and a recreation centre. Whitehorse residents were often bussed to the camp to watch the newest movies or attend dances in the recreation hall.
At the end of the War, the U.S. turned the highway over to the Canadian military. The site was surveyed and it was recommended that McCrae be closed as of March 31st, 1945. The headquarters were moved to Whitehorse, and responsibility for maintaining the highway was handed over to the Canadian Army on April 1st, 1946.
The Canadian Army used a few of the warehouses in the McCrae area for storage until 1963. They also allowed New Imperial Mines to use part of the camp during the company’s exploration of the Whitehorse Copper Belt. The Department of Public Works took over from the Canadian Army in 1964.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin