If Peace Region residents notice over a hundred military vehicles passing through the area next week, don't be alarmed, it does not signal the start of World War III! Those vintage military vehicles are just here to help celebrate a major milestone for the Alaska Highway.
Two separate convoys of historic military vehicles (HMVs) will be arriving in Dawson Creek next week as the launching point for a trip down the Alaska Highway, also known as the Alcan Highway, in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the construction of the historic route. Members from the Port Coquitlam-based Western Command Military Vehicle Historical Society will be arriving in the Mile 0 City on July 31, while members from the Military Vehicle Preservation Association, an international organization based out of Missouri, will arrive between Aug. 1 and 3.
Tourism Dawson Creek has been working with both organizations to help plan and promote their visits, and tourism development co-ordinator Samantha Gibeault said the fact both convoys will be staying and gathering in Dawson Creek is a great opportunity to help those unfamiliar with the city learn the significance of the Alaska Highway to Dawson Creek.
"In their minds, it might be just Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, but once they get here they will realize the history, the heritage and the culture and what that really means to Dawson Creek," said Gibeault. "We really did boom when all the troops, resources and supplies landed here and they started building the highway."
She added while it is not known just how many people from outside of the region will be travelling here to watch the convoys, she suspects based on the reaction on social media sites that there is a lot of interest from other people besides those participating in the convoys.
"In our region alone - in northern Alberta and northern B.C. - people are really interested, they are really curious about what this is, what kind of vehicles there are and what kind of stories are behind those vehicles," she said.
The Western Command "Freedom Route Five" Alcan Highway Convoy will include between 10 to 15 HMVs, including a World War II Canadian Military Pattern (CMP) truck that one member is having shipped over from Europe. They will gather in the parking lot of the Dawson Co-op starting at 10 a.m. on July 31 and then will gather at the Mile 0 Cairn at the NAR Park for a send-off ceremony at 1 p.m.
The convoy will arrive in Fort St. John that evening and will camp out at the Rotary Campground overnight. On Aug. 1, the convoy will travel to the Charlie Lake Memorial at Mile 52 for a re-dedication ceremony and a United Service Organizations Show, the type of variety show in honour of military service members made famous by American entertainer, Bob Hope.
The Western Command convoy will return to Fort St. John, where they leave the next morning at 7:30. The convoy's destination is Fairbanks, Alaska, and they anticipate arriving there on Aug. 10.
Meanwhile, over 200 members of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association - some from as far away as Australia, New Zealand, France and Belgium - with over 80 HMVs will begin arriving in Dawson Creek on Aug. 1 for the Alaska Highway Convoy. An official launch ceremony for the convoy will be held at the Mile 0 Cairn on Aug. 3 at 6 p.m., which the public is invited to attend. That convoy will feature a rare, 1937 Marmon Herrington Ford truck and a 1942 World War II Harley motorcycle.
The convoy will leave Dawson Creek and travel approximately 322 kilometres a day at speeds of about 56 kilometres an hour towards Delta Junction, the official end of the Alaska Highway, which they expect to arrive at on Aug. 21. They will then return through Fort St. John and Dawson Creek on Aug. 29 and 30, respectively.
Gibeault said the recognition and attention the Alaska Highway will receive with the convoys coming through will no doubt only help the Peace Region's push to have the highway recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada in time for the 75th anniversary in 2017.
"When you're having two convoys coming up and recognizing the engineering feat that it was in 1942 to get that highway finished in eight months with 11,000 American soldiers, it really is incredible," she said.
She added while the convoys certainly recognize the military importance of the highway during World War II, it is also a chance to reflect on just how important that route has become for the movement of goods and people as well and how it has helped communities in the Peace Region grow.