One day in the mid-seventies, my buddy Cal Waddington and I travelled to a construction site and spent a glorious afternoon in the company of friends who were building the Skagway Road. The work included blasting solid rock faces and moving endless tons of rock and gravel. The road was a mess, but my friend, the late Scotty Munro, was philosophical when he said that all great works of art are a mess until they are finished.
Today, the Skagway Road, better known as Klondike Highway 2, is indeed a work of art. A proud reminder of persistence and creativity. Especially persistence. As far back as 1913, newspaper articles publicized the efforts of both the Yukon and Alaska governments to get the road pushed through.
In August 1913, headlines in Dawson read that the "Auto Road From Skagway to Dawson May Be Opened Soon." The optimism was premature and then some. British Columbia said it would construct the necessary 35 miles of road through the province, but never approved funding, and the project died.
Then, more surveying was done in 1920, and speculation was that the road would be completed in 1921. Nope.
In fact, they did not revive the project until 1961. That year, a crew of Skagway volunteers, and the State of Alaska, began work on the toughest part of the road, blasting through the solid granite of the Coast Mountains. However, except for a rough road built in 1966 for the re-opening of the Venus Mine, nothing happened on the Canadian side until 1974.
From then on, progress was erratic because of constant money woes, several legal challenges by the White Pass Railway and, of course, engineering difficulties, especially on the Alaskan side because of the major problems with blasting through seventeen miles of solid rock to reach the Canadian border.
Between 1970 and 1972, Canada built a new bridge at Carcross and extended the road to the B.C.-Yukon border because of renewed activity at the Venus Mine. In February 1972, Canada agreed to build the remaining thirty-three miles to the Alaska border, and Alaska agreed to construct its remaining nine miles.
The road was completed between Skagway and Carcross in August 1978 but it was open for only a few weeks before it was closed for the winter. The first full summer of use was in 1979.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin