Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Heritage Sites

Welcome to Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Heritage Sites, an online resource dedicated to exploring our history and culture.

Black City: Dempster Highway

Many travel the Dempster Highway to experience unparalleled scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Many travel the Dempster Highway to experience unparalleled scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Yukon Government
Inspector William J. Dempster (front right) with a patrol party at Fort McPherson.

Inspector William J. Dempster (front right) with a patrol party at Fort McPherson.

Yukon Archives, Myers coll., 93/142, #161.
Dempster Highway construction took 20 years; maintenance and improvements are never-ending.

Dempster Highway construction took 20 years; maintenance and improvements are never-ending.

Yukon Government
Not all highway traffic is human. Three brown bears stroll along the Dempster Highway.

Not all highway traffic is human. Three brown bears stroll along the Dempster Highway.

The trip was to build a road from Flat Creek up the North Klondike over the divide and down the Blackstone River to the Peel River and across to the north side. It took at least a month. We had to build a road and make a crossing, a snow and brush bridge. Some of the creeks were nothing but dips that had to be levelled; some were quite large creeks and took a lot of time and work to make the crossing.

John Gould, 2005

Until the 1950s, the main travellers in this area were trappers, hunters and migrating caribou. The hunt for oil and gas drew exploration companies to Eagle Plains and the Peel Plateau. In February 1955, a “Cat train” created a winter route to the Peel River area and hauled in supplies. Their winter road became part of Prime Minister’s Diefenbaker’s “Roads to Resources” campaign.

Construction of the year round road began in 1959 but there were various delays and the road was not completed to Inuvik until 20 years later. This was the first public road to cross the Arctic Circle, a “Way to the Wild”. The highway was named after the Mounted Police officer who commanded the most winter mail patrols between Dawson City and Fort McPherson. In 1911, Dempster passed into legend as the man who discovered the tragic fate of the missing “Lost Patrol.”

To learn more about Dempster Highway history and various features along the road, see this booklet produced by the Yukon Government.