ExploreNorth, your resource center for exploring the circumpolar North

Return to the Home Page The ExploreNorth Blog About ExploreNorth Contact ExploreNorth

Search ExploreNorth

The Whitehorse Star

Whitehorse, Yukon,     Friday, September 3, 1943

United States and Canadian Officials Participate in Colorful Ceremony
as Peace River Bridge is Formally Opened

    Exactly 150 years ago (1793) the great explorer, Alexander Mackenzie, discovered the Peace river when he made his famous trip across Canada. On Monday [August 30th] another historic event was recorded when one of the finest and largest steel bridges on the North American continent, which spans the Peace River 37 miles north of Dawson Creek and forms part of the great Alaska Highway system, was formally opened with an impressive ceremony attended by high ranking military and government officials of the U. S. A. and Canada. At exactly 10 a. m. on that day Senator James G. Scrugham of Nevada and Hon. Herbert Anscomb, Minister of Public Works, Province of British Columbia, cut the red, white and blue ribbon. The 2,275 foot bridge, constructed at a cost of $1,750,000, was covered with bunting for the occasion. A large concourse of soldiers and civilians were in attendance at this memorable event.

    The distinguished visitors from the United States of America were Major General Philip D. Fleming, of Washington, D. C., who designed the bridge and is Administrator of the Federal Works Agency, Mr. Thomas M. MacDonald, P.R.A. Administrator of Washington, D. C.; Senator James C. Scrugham of Nevada, chairman of the sub-committee of the U. S. Senate Committee on post roads and post offices; Senator C. Douglas Buck of Delaware and Senator William Langer of North Dakota, both committee members. Accompanying them were Mr. J. S. Bright, Chief of Public Roads Administration for the Northwest district with headquarters at Edmonton and Mr. Frank Andrews, Superintendent for the P. R. A. at Whitehorse, Lt-Col. J. L. Friedlich and Major Harlow. Local celebrities attending the function were General James A. O'Connor, Col. K. B. Bush, Chief of Staff, Northwest Service Command, Lt. Richard L. Neuberger, aide to General O'Connor and Capt. Bishop, Public Relations Officer, N. W. S. C. The Hon. Herbert Anscomb represented the government of British Columbia and Hon. W. . Fallow that of Alberta.

    Senator Scrugham dedicated the bridge "to a lasting peace" and said he was sure that this opening ceremony was symbolic of a closer co-operation and friendship between the United States of America and Canada in the future.

                            Major-General Fleming

    Major-General Fleming in his address termed the bridge "an important link in the armor of the North American continent. Over it will pass men and material to help make us secure from attack and more quickly bring peace to this war-weary world. Perhaps we may also think of it as one of the keys that will unlock the yet untold wealth of Alaska, that fruitful land which, until yesterday, seemed to many of us, both in Canada and the United States, so remote and inaccessible. New waves of pioneers to settle in Alaska and exploit its wealth will count this structure an important milestone along the way." General Fleming paid tribute to the splendid co-operation between the Dufferin Co. of Toronto who built the sub-structure and the John A. Roebling & Sons Co. of Scranton, New Jersey, who built the superstructure. "I think I can say," continued General Fleming, "that the gratitude of our two nations goes out today to the workers who labored here. Their comrades on the battle fronts of the world have not toiled more heroically or, at times, under greater hazard, to bring victory to our arms."

                            Brig-General O'Connor

    It is both an honor and a privilege for me to speak briefly on this historic occasion as the representative of the United States Army. This great bridge across the Peace River fittingly symbolizes the 1,630 mile highway of which it is a part. Beyond the northern tower of the bridge stretches the vast wilderness of the Canadian Northwest, and beyond that the strategic Territory of Alaska; and beyond Alaska lies the immense battleground of the North Pacific Ocean, where inevitably the armed forces of the United Nations will punish the Japanese aggressors.

    Off to the south, beyond this span's opposite abutment, are Edmonton, Winnipeg, Minneapolis, Chicago, and countless other North American cities where the weapons of democracy are being produced in ever-increasing quantities. The Peace River Bridge, which we dedicate today, may almost be said to be a link between the productive centers of freedom and the battle-front where free men will at last bring the Japanese to book.

    It is particularly fitting that today's ceremony should be attended by high officials of the two great countries of the North American Continent. We are honored by the presence of a Cabinet Minister of the Province of British Columbia. We also have the pleasure of being host to a delegation of leading businessmen from the great Canadian city of Vancouver. We are similarly honored by the attendance of a committee of distinguished members of the United States Senate, who have come to see for themselves the results of American handiwork, tenacity and resourcefulness.

    A wise philosopher once said that history was made subconsciously. I wonder how many of the men, soldiers and civilians alike, whose heroic efforts went into this bridge and the road it carries, actually realized that they were participating in events of historic magnitude? Who here can measure the future significance of the first land route to Alaska.

    Perhaps this is the beginning of a network of roads penetrating the farthest reaches of the American Northwest. The Highway on which we stand today is a military road. It was authorized under the impact of urgent military necessity. Its two-fold purpose is essentially military in purpose - first, to supplement, supply and anchor the air route to Alaska, and, second, to provide an alternative thoroughfare to the North Pacific in case the sea lanes should be lost.

    This road accomplishes that twin objective. Yet in years to come, other objectives will surely be recognized. Alaska, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Northern Alberta and Northern British Columbia - who can estimate the natural resources which those immense domains hold in trust? Across the roof of the world a new artery of travel is in development, an artery which may link us more securely to our allies in Asia and the East.

    Before I conclude these brief remarks, let me tell you a few facts about the imposing span we are about to open. The over-all length of the Peace River Bridge is 2,275 feet, nearly half a mile. It is thus one of the great bridges of the Dominion of Canada. The main span, from tower to tower, is 930 feet long. The width of the roadway is 24 feet, ample for a constant flow of two-lane traffic.

    This bridge cost $1,750,000. It was designed by the U. S. Public Roads Administration; the super-structure was built by John Roebling & Sons, and the smaller sub-structure was the product of the Dufferin Company of Canada. Construction was started in November of last year. Construction was carried on throughout last winter, when the temperature often dropped to 55 degrees below zero. This bridge represents not alone steel and concrete, cable and timber. It also represents human talent, skill, persistence and heroism.

    I think we may safely predict that this line on the Peace River Bridge, where soon the dedicatory ribbon will be severed, is an historic threshold in the development of our Continent. And I believe we all owe prayer and thanks to God for making possible this advanced stage in our task. We pray to Him that this great bridge, spanning one of Canada's mighty rivers, will prove of use and benefit to mankind - now, in the stern job before us, and later in the peace to come.

                            Col. K. B. Bush

    I would be remiss if I did not open this program with a brief message of appreciation to the men, soldiers and civilians, whose efforts have made possible this magnificent structure over one of Canada's great rivers. It is their achievement which we honor today. The ceremony about to begin is merely symbolic of what they have accomplished.

    I also want to thank the distinguished visitors of both Canada and the United States who have come long distances to attend this dedication of the Peace River Bridge. Their presence here together is further indication - if such indication were needed - of the solidarity and Good Neighborliness of our two nations.

    The dedication of this imposing bridge marks a new era in the development of the Far Northwest. I believe it deserves to rank with that historic morning 45 years ago when Inspector O'Brien of the old Northwest Mounted Police led northward through this very region the detachment of scarlet-coated men who were to bring law and order to the Yukon.

    In concluding these introductory remarks, I want to express the gratitude of the Northwest Service Command to the men and women of this section of Canada who have co-operated so whole-heartedly in the many undertakings for our joint defense and security which have been started here.

The photo below shows the Peace River Bridge in 1950, looking across to the south side of the valley. The bridge collapsed on October 16, 1957 when the north tower, which had stability problems for years, was hit by a rock slide of shale from the north bank. Click on the photo to enlarge it.