The Dark Side of the Alcan Highway…

Mother Goose continues her research about life in 1942, working on the Alcan Highway up there in the Yukon territories, ya know. If you have been following along these past few days, then you too have learned more than you ever thought possible about the road crews, the soldiers, the adventurous women and the somewhat uncomfortable if not downright dangerous living and working conditions these brave folks faced daily. We talked a little bit yesterday about the social side of this hard life — we began a discussion of “fun and games”. Well, dear and gentle reader, Mother Goose is warning you right here and now that this report will be taking a good hard look at some unpleasant situations up there in the Yukon.

First of all, these men and women had to contend with some monster mosquitoes as they worked day and night to build the great Alaska highway. Obviously, these men had forgotten to pack their can of OFF!

Holy Mackerel, look at that mosquito...

And by the looks of these next two pictures, I’d say the guys were doing a lot more fishin’ than bulldozin’ and road buildin’. I might even suggest that they had caught more than their legal limit of those walleyes.

But what is most shocking of all to Mother Goose is this: the women who came to the Yukon to work legitimate jobs on real projects were expected to “entertain” the troops and the civilian workers. Let’s just let that sink in for a minute….

Gettin' all spiffed up for his hot date.

We are not talking about the USO shows with Bob Hope and friends. The guys invited the girls to dances and movies, to skating and tobogganing parties, to picnics and country get-togethers expecting “entertainment”. I’m sure they were not looking for a song and dance and some light comedy. Not expecting juggling or magic acts either…

Here’s what I’ve learned from the Alaska Highway archives website: “Military authorities tried to control moral and social behaviour, but it was almost impossible to police soldiers on leave and civilian workers. Sexual activity was not openly condoned, but WOMEN WERE EXPECTED TO “ENTERTAIN” THE MEN as evidenced by these organized social activities.” There it is in black and white, my friends.

And what was the result of this entertainment? The birthrate in the Yukon Territories jumped sharply during the road construction years, especially amongst the First Nation’s population. Everybody loves babies… And not only that, but “VENEREAL DISEASES REACHED EPIDEMIC PROPORTIONS causing the Yukon Government to introduce “The Venereal Diseases Protection Ordinance” which allowed WOMEN WITH VENEREAL DISEASES TO BE JAILED until they were cured. However, MEN WERE NOT CHARGED under this law and it had little effect on controlling the problem.”

The dark side of the Alcan Highway. The women who were diagnosed with VD had to go to jail until they were cured? What? And the men were not charged with any crimes? What? Hence the Venereal Disease Protection Ordinance had little effect on controlling the epidemic… Hello? Anybody home? I’m sorry but even Mother Goose in all of her glorious silliness is seeing the injustice and the inhumanity of this situation.

Good thing we all live in modern and enlightened times now where women are no longer publicly shamed for illicit goings on behind the bulldozers and in the lean-to’s of road construction workers and lonely soldiers…

Anyway, Mother Goose is just learning so much about the life and times of Grampa Lawrence — NOT that he ever got involved in this whole entertainment business. After all, he had a pretty wife and four children waiting for him back in Nimrod, Minnesota.

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The Women Up North, Way Up North

Mother Goose has been happily researching times in the Yukon during the construction of the Alcan Highway and also the Canol Project (which was an oil pipeline building project concurrent with the Alcan). Mother Goose is excited and pleased to inform that not only brave men worked these mammoth adventures, but women as well. Mother Goose is absolutely honking with delight to find these pictures at a very very interesting website about the Alaska Highway.

Here’s Audrey Coey, the first woman to drive a car on the Alaska Highway! I bet the fellas were mighty glad to see her coming up the road…

And here’s Belle Desrosiers who prepared and served food to highway workers near Champagne during the summer of 1942. Most First Nation women retained their traditional roles during the construction time. But some, like Belle, who lived near the highway began working for wages as launderers, cleaners, cooks, seamstresses. They also sold handicraft work. By the way, First Nation men were also employed by the construction contractors as guides and surveyors.

Margaret Freeman, on the far right, with four other women who were traveling from Toronto for jobs on the Alaska Highway. Margaret Freeman worked with the Public Roads Administration for 18 months. ca. 1942

And here’s Margaret wearing her best pair of rubber boots near Dawson Creek circa 1942.

Women seem to have fun wherever they find themselves, even in the Yukon Territories.

Having women in the Yukon made it more fun to go to the movies.

And, of course, there were invitations to dances.

Of course, Mother Goose realizes that life on the Alcan Highway wasn’t ALL fun and games. But how nice that there might have been SOME fun and games. Of course, Grampa Lawrence was married to Gramma Clara at the time, and she was waiting back home in Nimrod for him. So we would not expect to see him involved in any of these fun and games pictures…. He just kept building and working the Alcan Highway day and night. And I just want to say “thanks again” Grampa for doing whatever it took to support your family. You will always be loved and missed.

Lawrence and Clara Frame of Nimrod, Minnesota. Photo circa 1939.

Grampa worked on the ALCAN Highway

Mother Goose continues her history lesson with the news that Grampa Lawrence worked on the Alaska Highway in 1942. According to my dad, Grampa and his best friend Jack built cabins and eating places for the Army Corps of Engineers who were clearing the land and doing road construction on the 1,522 mile highway into the wilderness. The Alcan stretches from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska through mountain ranges and over crazy dangerous rivers.

Here are some ancient pictures I’ve borrowed from online sources so that you can get a feel for the conditions and the environment of Alaska in 1942.

Photo courtesy of Olive-Drab.com. Thank you very much!

Thanks to Olive-Drab.com for this pic.

Thanks to Reese-Olsen Construction for this pic.

Photo courtesy of Reese-Olsen Construction

The long, lanky and lean man on the right MIGHT be Lawrence Frame. Photo from Reese-Olsen Construction.

This is what I found most notable of this amazing story: The number of U.S. soldiers who built this road through a rugged unmapped region of North America was 10,607. This was the first time that a U.S. government agency integrated white and black men — 3,695 of the soldiers were black. They worked twenty hour days, seven days a week for eight months and twelve days. An impossible task!

“According to the testimony of their commanders, these men did an exceptional job under duress. Ill housed, often living in tents with insufficient clothing and monotonous food, they worked 20 hour days through a punishing winter. Temperatures hovered at 40-below-zero for weeks at a time. A new record low of -79 was established. The majority of these troops were from the South; yet, they persevered. On the highway’s completion, many were decorated for their efforts and then sent off to active duty in Europe and the South Pacific. The veterans of the Army’s Black Corps of Engineers were members of the 93rd, 95th, 97th and 388th units.” (Quote courtesy of visi.com)

Photo taken by First Lt. Samuel Land, 95th Engineers. Thank you for your service!

Folks, I am going to study this further. I am convinced of the great heroics of these soldiers from the 95th Regiment of the Army Corps of Engineers and want to learn more about their work on behalf of the United States of America. One of my first questions was this: why the incredible urgency to build this road after years and years of talk and bureaucracy? The answer is this: Japan had captured several islands of the Aleutian chain and had established military bases there. They also had submarines patrolling the coasts of Canada and Alaska making travel by sea very dangerous. America needed a land-based route to Fairbanks in defense of its people.

Mother Goose says “thanks” to these brave soldiers for helping to keep America safe and free.

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