The Alaska Highway: A Personal & Historical Account of the Building of the Alaska Highway


80 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-919783-26-0





Reviewed by William A. Waiser

Bill Waiser is a professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan,
and the author of Saskatchewan’s Playground: A History of Prince
Albert National Park and Park Prisoners: The Untold Story of Western
Canada’s National Parks, 1915–1946.  His


The greatest event in the history of northern Canada, next to the Klondike Gold Rush, was the construction of a highway link between Alaska and the United States — the so-called Trail of ‘42. In fact, for Phyllis Lee Brebner, a former clerk in one of the highway construction camps outside Fort St. John in 1942-43, the 1500-mile “Alcan” highway from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks was a “miracle” and the men and women who worked on the project “heroes.”

The Alaska Highway is Brebner’s personal account of this great engineering feat. She describes the Canadian/American highway agreement, the rationale behind the “Road to Tokyo”, and the various construction problems, from permafrost to bridging, that had to be resolved. She also briefly discusses the other, largely American projects that were undertaken in the Canadian Northwest during World War II: the Canol pipeline between Norman Wells and Whitehorse, the North-West Staging Route airfields, and Catel (Telephone and Teletype Aid Communication). Finally, she provides a first-hand account of life in the Fort St. John camp, recounts the American withdrawal from the region, and gives short descriptions of the larger communities along the road. The drama of the events is further driven home through the use of contemporary photographs. Comprising half the book, these pictures highlight the different construction phases (surveying, blasting, clearing, filling, grading, bridging) and document daily life in the camps.

Although Brebner does briefly question the need for the highway, her overriding concern is to laud American determination to undertake the project and, more importantly, pay tribute to the soldiers and civilians who got the job done. She looks forward to the day when the highway will become important once again, this time as a means of unlocking the resource wealth of Alaska and the Yukon.


Brebner, Phyllis Lee, “The Alaska Highway: A Personal & Historical Account of the Building of the Alaska Highway,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 25, 2024,