Tag Archives: 75th anniversary of alaska highway

Where I Live: The City of Dawson Creek

Three Major Districts of Import

Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada
Virginia Stark

 

The Health Care and Hospital District

Dawson Creek Hospital has a complex of buildings around it that show the regions need for an increase of medical resources in a hurry. The complex consists of a three story hospital with three wings that house a variety of patients and facilities including an X-ray, Laboratory, Ultrasound and recently and MRI. Although it has a lot of space and facilities, it is often lacking in doctors for the Emergency Room. Patients are frequently flown out of Dawson Creek to Vancouver or Edmonton for emergency procedures that outstrip the areas technology or the availability of qualified medical personnel.

The entire facility encompasses a large park-like area that allows patients some easily accessed green space. Dawson Creek is a city that is known for its boom and bust economy and the set up of buildings shows how the municipal government utilizes bursts of money to build smaller, but well outfitted buildings. These buildings include a walk-in clinic for transient workers with no local doctor. It also has a health unit complex that treats the elderly and other patients who need help with physical care but may not need or qualify for in-home care workers. It also administers vaccinations and narcanone kits.

The Mental Health and Addictions Centre is housed in the same building as the Health Care Unit and offers help for anyone seeking assistance in dealing with any drug or addiction problems, group therapy and both psychologists and psychiatrists who are available through a General Practitioners recommendations. This is a sizeable amount of permanent resources available for a population whose permanent residence level is fairly small.

There are many people involved in the construction of these buildings including oil and gas companies who make financial contributions to offset the burden that transient workers they bring in put on the health care system. The workers at these places seem content and although they are less likely to stay in Dawson Creek permanently due to the remoteness of the location and the hostile weather conditions. The buildings themselves are slightly awkward because workers often have to go from one building to

The Walk-In Clinic offers the service of doctors for non-emergency services for patients who do not have access to a General Practitioner. It is pictured across the road from the hospital. There is a bus stop between the hospital and the clinic for increased access.

 

another in inclement weather to access the array of resources.

Shown here is the entry to the hospital. Now covered in snow, this expanse is covered in grass in the summer months. There is also a large parking lot that offers free parking for easy access to the many resources offered.

The Health Unit and Hospital are ringed with easy access to bus stops to further facilitate accessibility.

 

 

 

The Parks and Recreation Public Use District

The Rotary Park is a large park that is vital to the city in all seasons. It is utilized for walking, snow shoeing, cross-country skiing and for various other games and sports as well as a training ground for emergency workers who must learn to move through the woods and snow in all conditions. Pictured here is the tennis courts. They are of little use in the winter but are utilized heavily in the summer. There is also a baseball diamond on the far side of a parking lot. All parking and usage of the park are free. It is maintained by park workers and the land was donated to the city by the Rotary Club of Dawson Creek.

The park offers greenspace and protects the creek, Dawson’s Creek, that the city was named for as a protected watershed. The Arts Society has contributed interesting markers with poetry and historical markers along the extensive walking trails to enhance its interest and encourage people to visit the park.

Part of Rotary Park, an outdoor gym sits unused in the winter months but offers free access to sophisticated gym equipment for anyone to use day or night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Railroad District

 

The railroad is another vital piece of infrastructure. The city was brought into existence by the railroad and is one of the oldest parts of the city. The grain silos pictured are now abandoned but they are likely to be utilized in the future. There are more active grain, feed and other agricultural as well as other natural resource transportation that relies on the railroad to this day as its artery to the outside world.

 

The original railroad station brought in many people anxious to get in on the Klondike Gold Rush. Later it was instrumental in bringing in American soldiers to build the famous Alaska Highway that protected the entire west coast of North America from invasion through the Pacific Ocean. The railroad station is now a Museum and popular tourist attraction but the original railroad line is still active behind it.

Immediately beside the former railroad station is the last standing grain elevator in Dawson Creek. It has been transformed into a magnificent art gallery that supports local artists, potters and crafts persons of all sorts. Classes are offered for young or accomplished artists and it is a hub of culture in the city.

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Dawson Creek as a New City

Dawson Creek and The Alaska Highway

By Virginia Carraway Stark

Dawson creek is a unique city and a relatively new one. Built in Northern British Columbia, Canada, there were few resources or incentives to colonize the area. It started off as a very small settlement but was mostly settled by Indigenous People who had made it their home for hundreds of years.

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Despite the northerly latitude of the city, it is located in the Peace River District which is unusual for northern cities in that it gets far more hours of sunlight especially in the winter than most regions at the same latitude or even lower. The Peace River wound its way through the region creating fertile soil and many crops that wouldn’t grow so far north anywhere else would grow in the Peace Region due to this confluence of events.

peace-river

Nevertheless, the region remained unpopulated for many years because it was so difficult to get to and there were no roads or trains going to the area. It wasn’t until World War 2 that Dawson Creek became significant as a strategic outpost for the Pacific theater. The American military used a railroad spur to expand the small settlement and to use it as a base for one of the most difficult and beset engineering projects of the day: Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway.

As a result of this, the city is built around several features:

The greenways and parks to keep the creek it is built around removed from construction projects and unhindered in its natural route. This was extended to include a large network of walking trails and parks. Many empty lots were also converted into parks rather than built on.

The Axis’ that it follows that make up both an irregular pattern and then try to establish a more ordered pattern through a grid design.

The new modern area that caters to entertainment, tourism and long term stay hotels for the oil and gas industry.

Additional green spaces and waterways have been highlighted in the maps below. The axis have also been marked out in pink. The city has left the surrounding area to agriculture and to wind farms to increase it’s green spaces. Even the Modern area ensures that trees and areas of grass or field are left to break up the intense building in the Modern Industrial Area.

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It follows two axis, one axis is the Alaska Highway itself that forms a unique layout to the city planning since it protrudes in a Northwest direction. The second axis is 8th street, it too is part of a highway that turns into one of the major markers in town. It is along this second axis that a grid for subdivision was laid out and most of the commercial areas are located and is the most modern area of Dawson Creek. Nearly all of the buildings in this zone are new or have been significantly renovated to give them a modern feel.  This area includes the Aquatics Center, several large hotel chains, a Walmart, Canadian Tire, a row of fast food restaurants,  Northern Lights College, the Encana Center and many more such buildings. The Encana center and the Aquatics and recreational center are very large buildings where thousands of people can gather.

Below shows the exterior and interior of The Encana Center.

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One of several hotels, behind the Pomeroy you can see the back end of the Walmart building.

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Journey’s performance at the Encana Center shows how exciting this modern aspect of Dawson Creek is.

 

 

These modern areas are in stark contrast to the old downtown area of Dawson Creek. This area is enclosed on both sides by the arms of 8th street and the Alaska Highway. The place where the two roads interconnect is a roundabout that is the actual location of Mile Zero.

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One of the things that was easy to observe was how the city of Dawson Creek had worked to re-purpose old buildings to create not only a still vibrant downtown that seems to leap out of the 1950s, but to create centers for artists and tributes to history in what was the ‘old downtown’.

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Located near the Mile Zero round about, this last grain elevator from the days when agriculture was the sole industry in the area was preserved and turned into an utterly unique and beautiful art gallery. Visitors follow a circular walkway that leads up to the top of the grainery that is now regularly covered in artwork from local and visiting artists.

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In another example of repurposing and preservation the former railroad station was converted into a museum that preserves much of the past of Dawson Creek and the building of the highway.

Much of Dawson Creek is devoted to green spaces including the windfarm that tops nearby Bear Mountain. Bear Mountain and the surrounding areas are dedicated to agriculture so the entire area is surrounded by green and yellow fields of canola.

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Field of Canola blowing in the wind shows how Dawson Creek borders on the prairies. It is juxtaposed between prairies and mountains resulting in the ability to establish the windfarm in addition to the massive amounts of agriculture still being practiced in the area. These fields contribute to the greenspaces available to the people of Dawson Creek and keep the area’s air clean.

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The Bear Mountain windfarm as seen from the edge of the city.

Dawson Creek has made a point of making access to green areas a priority. In addition to preserving the natural waterways the city has also made a man made lake and park called Rotary Park. This offers a free place for residents and tourists to swim and picnic. It borders a campground and a second historical area that has preserved settlers homes, churches, general stores and other buildings.

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The man-made lake and surrounding park known as Rotary Park. Not pictured are acres of land that consist of play ground space, biking and walking trails and areas for cook-outs.

 

Among the re-purposed buildings was the original post office. A brick structure with marble interior, the building was a long term landmark and no one wanted to see it torn down but it cost too much for a private company to purchase and maintain it. As a result it was completely renovated as a complete center for the arts including a performance theater, cafe as well as studios for artists and room for the Potter’s Guild and the Quilter’s Guild amongst others. 

The post office boxes were partially left intact and were used as plaques to dedicate to patrons of the arts.

Not all buildings were successfully renovated. The old swimming pool building was filled with toxic waste and was a difficult issue for many years. It was recently torn down and the waste removed. The area is now a green space and park adjacent to the ice arenas.

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 An unusual building, the swimming pool served the people of Dawson Creek for many years. It is now a memory in a photograph. 

75 years of Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

75th Anniversary of the Alaska Highway
A Coffee Table Book and Production Celebrating Our Great Achievement

From War to Alaska:

75 Years of Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

By Virginia Carraway Stark and additional authors

Produced by StarkLight Press in conjunction with the StarkLight Players, The Songwriters of The Peace, The Dawson Creek Arts Gallery, The Peace Liard Arts Council and the South Peace Community Arts Council, this celebration of northern heroes is sure to inspire young and old alike with the vibrancy of our history in the north!

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The original definitive guidebook to the Alaska Highway was published in 1949. The Alaska Highway was one of Canada’s largest contributions to World War 2 but it was nearly completely shrouded in secrecy. The path that it took was designed to optimize hooking up with key points of military importance. It is thanks to the Alaska Highway that American Fighter planes had a jumping off point into the USSR to fight Germany and its allies. A key point to winning the war and fighting against Japan’s ingress into North America’s West coast.

Because of the secrecy and its strategic importance there is still little known about the work, struggles and dramas that played out during the all important building of a highway that had been proposed since 1920. 75 Years of Putting One Foot in Front of Another strives to pull off the shroud of secrecy and to make the story available to the world.

So secret was the mission that built the Alaska Highway that many of the residents who have lived along the road their entire life are unaware of the origins of the road. Without the Alaska Highway the world north of Prince George would have remained a nearly uninhabited wasteland. The first engineers who planned the building of the road traveled by dogsled to map out the terrain and plan the best mode of attacking the enormous endeavor they were charged with.

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The original highway was much longer than the modern highway, or than in this artist’s conception of how straight and easy a road would be to build through such harsh, unbroken landscape.

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With the loops necessary to reach remote military outposts and with improved technology the road was streamlined into a modern road for transport and for tourists who want to enjoy this gateway to the hard to reach State of Alaska. Transportation, fuel costs and rubber were at a premium and how to get resources to the troops was one of the largest hurdles Generals faced. The Alaska Highway solved many of these problems.

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The Alaska Highway was one of the most diverse projects of the war. 10,000 men were initially sent to begin working on the road that would start off as more of a rutted trail than as what we now consider to be a highway. Pontoon bridges served in place of stable, modern bridges in the haste to build the road that would play silent but key roles in an Ally victory. About a third of the American Soldiers sent to work on the road were black.

 

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Perhaps as remarkable, one of the lead engineers was a woman! ‘Rusty’ Dow, nicknamed for her auborn hair asked for the challenging assignment herself.

‘Without the ruffles and stiff stuff that is the usual decorum between a general and one of his workers, “Rusty” Dow sat cross-legged in the office of the late Simon Buckner, Jr. She told the commanding General of Alaska Defense Command in World War II, “There are two places I want to drive a truck: the Burma Road and the new ALCAN Highway.”

I can do nothing about the Burma Road,” the general told the auburn-haired truck driver. “The ALCAN might be different,” he said to the woman in coveralls, driver for the Anchorage Corps of Engineers. (The Great Lander Shopping News, October 1975)’

Upon receiving her orders on June 1, 1944, Rusty was ecstatic and the following was her reaction in her own words:

Immediately I put in an appearance at the major’s desk. We have been informed that you wish to drive the Alcan highway said he. Yessir I stammered. Well here are your travel orders, approved by General Buckner. Report to Merrill Field in two hours where you will take a plane to Fairbanks. Upon arrival there report to North West Service Command, from whom you will receive further orders.

Yessir – I was able to reply weakly thinking of just how much preparation I could make in two hours.

But evening found me reporting to my new assignment at Fairbanks with a clean pair of G.I. coveralls under my arm, and my toothbrush and pair of pliers and a screwdriver in my pocket.”

The event was published the next day in The Anchorage Daily Times. An excited reporter got word of the story before she boarded her plane and was able to conduct a quick interview with her. The headline read: “‘Rusty’ Dow To Drive Highway: Will Be First Woman Piloting Military Road”

“‘I don’t know what it’s all about,’ Mrs. Dow said in her rushed interview between gathering her few things together. ‘But I do know it’s going to give me the biggest thrill of my life.’

Rusty was a true hero and a role model for women and men to look up to. Born in Texas, her name was Benzie Ola ‘Rusty’ Scott, her maiden name was changed to Dow when she married years later. She was one of the first of the lady Two years later, Texas-born trucker Benzie Ola “Rusty” Scott packed up her two-ton Chevy and traveled first to California and then was deployed to Alaska.
Only a few years after Amelia Earheart broke stereotypes wide open, Rusty started on her own rash of stereotype blasting. Rusty Dow had a big line of firsts under her belt: first woman truck driver in the territory, first woman to drive trucks for Alaska’s Fort Richardson, first woman to drive the newly constructed Alaska Highway, first woman to drive through the Whittier tunnel.

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Rusty Dow in her iconic Studebaker driving the Alaska Highway.

She wasn’t the only woman to be deeply involved in the highway, its construction, maintenance and the health and transportation of the many people who contributed to its building.

75 years of Putting One Foot in Front of the Other focuses on the firsts that are what we, as Mile 0 are all about. We are the starting point for The Alaska Highway and so much more. This lineage is going to be celebrated between the covers of this beautifully formatted coffee table book as well as on stage as Rusty Dow and other key players come to life for the first time in the modern era.

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Even though we start with ‘firsts’, 75 Years of Putting One Foot in Front of Another celebrates endings as well. This wasn’t just something we started, it was something we finished and in doing so, we contributed to keeping the world free.

 

Sources:
Dawson Creek Art Gallery Archives/Photos

https://www.questia.com/magazine/1G1-16460323/the-black-corps-of-engineers-and-the-construction

http://www.alaskahighwayarchives.ca/en/chap2/4highwaywomen.php

Project 49: Benzie Ola ‘Rusty’ Dow, ‘The dean of women war workers in Alaska’