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Suicide Hill on the Alaska Highway, 1942-1943

by Murray Lundberg

Alaska Highway History

An Explorer's Guide to the Alaska Highway ("Alcan")

Dateline: March 14, 2020

    Perhaps the most famous (or infamous) hill on the road to Alaska was only in use for a very short period. We haven't yet, however, confirmed exactly when it was built - it could have been as early as the Spring of 1941 when airfield construction began, or in June 1942 during the early months of the actual Alaska Highway construction (see our Alaska Highway chronology.

    In the late summer of 1943, the Brown & Leguil company of Minnesota was working on the section of the road from Mile 105 to Mile 130, building a five-mile piece of completely new road around Suicide Hill and making a wide, gradual grade down to the Sikanni Chief river. See a newspaper article describing their operation.

    An article in the January 1944 issue of Sports Afield magazine, by the same writer as the newspaper article above, verified that Suicide Hill had been eliminated.

Suicide Hill on the Alaska Highway, 1942-1943
This is the most famous photo of Suicide Hill, having appeared in countless publications and as a postcard.

Suicide Hill on the Alaska Highway, 1942-1943

Suicide Hill on the Alaska Highway, 1942-1943

    The two signs below were erected at Mile 148 (Km 233.4) for the 1992 Alaska Highway anniversary celebrations. The upper photo was shot in 2013, the lower one in 2004.

Suicide Hill on the Alaska Highway, 1942-1943

Suicide Hill on the Alaska Highway, 1942-1943

    Sign text: The pioneer highway completed by United States soldiers in 1942 was a rugged, boggy trail that tested the skills and determination of even the most experienced driver. One of the most notorious sections, located just 4 few miles northeast of here, was given the ominous name "Suicide Hill".

    The original highway veered to the east across the south end of the Sikanni Chief flight strip, built by the army for survey aircraft and, later, construction supply planes. After passing the airstrip, the road climbed to avoid a muskeg bog over which the new highway now runs. Within a short distance, a sign announced "SUICIDE HILL," followed by another, more descriptive warning, "PREPARE TO MEET THY MAKER". The hill claimed countless vehicles and at least one driver before the highway was re-routed several years later. The original road from the north end of Suicide Hill joins the present highway at Historic Mile 156. The south end, from the airstrip, is now closed to traffic.

Tucker's Eating Place

    Pioneer E.A. Tucker operated trading posts at various locations throughout the north before U.S. troops arrived in the region. When he heard the military was going to push its pioneer road across the Beaton River at Mile 147, he moved quickly to establish one of the area's first "restaurants". His Beatton River eating house was located just south of the existing bridge on the west side of the road. Tucker's northern operations later included an interest in the famous Lum and Abner's operation at Historic Mile 233.

    I've not yet been to the site of Suicide Hill - the timing has just never been right. My attempts to reach it many years ago were always stopped by snow and/or mud (one of them from 2004 seen in the upper photo below), and my last attempt in May 2013 was blocked because what I believe to be the access road, now called the Lily Lake Road (seen in the lower photo below), was a restricted-access industrial road. Maybe this year (2020)...