Over the past few years, the Alaska Highway Community Society (AHCS), a not-for-profit organization based in B.C., has accessed a generous grant from the Peace River Regional District to nominate the Alaska Highway Corridor as a National Historic Site of Canada. The nomination was submitted in the fall of 2015 by the AHCS with the Alaska Highway Heritage Society in Yukon. It links 12 nodes within the corridor that speak to a broad range of interconnected themes, including Indigenous archaeology, history and culture, natural heritage, and engineering history. Some sites are related to the construction of the Alaska Highway; others are much older. This set of notes shares some ideas that have emerged during the nomination work on one of the topics explored in the nomination; namely, the impact of military events during the Second World War on Indigenous geographies.
The strategic geographies of the Second World War are often called “fronts” or “theatres,” such as the “Eastern Front,” the “Pacific Theatre,” or the “Home Front.” Within Canada, however, there was also a distinct front – perhaps best named the Third Front – represented by places traditionally occupied by Indigenous people that were commandeered for military purposes. Well-known physical legacies from the Third Front are toxic wastes and unexploded ordnance, but for many Northern and Arctic communities there were enormous social, cultural, environmental, and economic impacts. In several places in Canada’s North, a large military presence consisting of tens of thousands of mainly United States troops appeared in 1942 to build and staff military installations. Almost as soon as they were gone, a smaller but more powerful presence in the form of Canadian government institutions and legal traditions was installed, followed by a post-war industrial economy powered by natural resources in the 1950s.