As we left Fort Nelson we admired the lumber mills and natural gas plants, which are located in a sizeable strip of industrial activity along the highway south of town. This is a railroad terminus, and the chipboard is loaded on long W. A. C. Bennett Dam trains heading south to markets. And it's the northern terminus of the West Coast Energy gas pipeline, which follows the highway south towards Dawson Creek.
The Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks, first called the AlCan highway, was cut in about nine months in 1942, primarily by U.S. Army engineers. It served to guard against possible Japanese incursions into Alaska (they had already invaded the Aleutians) and also to facilitate the transfer of airplanes to the Soviet Union through Siberia. The Canadians reengineered and improved the road in 1943, and many times thereafter. While the northern section still suffers frost heaves and subsidence, the southern part, which we're now driving, is a fast and smooth two lane road with wide shoulders. There are plenty of roadside panels talking about the highway construction.
The museums along the way show films of the building of the highway, and display old signs, photographs, and highway memorabilia. Suicide Hill was the name given to one steep portion which claimed at least one life and many trucks. For a while some wag had posted a sign at the top reading Prepare to Meet Thy Fearless deer Maker.
So our drive today was characterized by civil engineering. First the road and the gas pipeline, and later the huge W. A. C. Bennett Dam on the Peace River, which took 12 years to complete, and is the largest producer of hydroelectric power in the province. Fortunately for California, B.C. produces almost 50% more power than it consumes. The visitor center showed the North American power grids, which extend north and south, ignoring the U.S. - Canadian border. We drove across the dam and took photographs from many angles, but the Bennett Dam is not as photogenic as Hoover Dam.
The engineering accomplishments were interspersed with wildlife sightings, which today included a sandhill crane, two caribou, nine deer, a pond full of blue-winged teal and lots of beaver dams and lodges.
We spent the night in Chetwynd, which calls itself the "Chain Saw Sculpture Capital of the World," but we think its carvings definitely inferior to last summer's wooden statues of civic heroes in Truro, Nova Scotia!