The Canol Heritage Trail is the remnant of a roadway and oil pipeline that was built in the second world war through a remote section of the Northwest Territories from Norman Wells on the Mackenzie river to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. The American army corps of engineers took on the responsibility of building the Alaskan highway through vast stretches of the Canadian west to give the army access to Alaska (there were no other roads to Alaska in the early 1940's) in order to defend Alaska from the Japanese army who had invaded the Aleutian Islands. Canada gave America permission to build the highway through Canadian territory and America paid for the construction. The oil pipeline was built to feed the American army with oil as it was deemed safer to pipe the oil overland from an oil field in Norman Wells to a refinery in Whitehorse rather than ship it directly up the coast where it would be vulnerable to being sunk by the Japanese navy. The pipeline was a massive project beset by problems from its inception. Frigid Canadian arctic winters made the oil as thick as sludge and it was difficult to pump. The pipeline leaked constantly and bridges that were built for construction vehicles washed away frequently in the river surges of spring thaw. On top of all of that, the pipeline wasn't really a necessity for the army anyway because the Japanese had no real way in pushing a viable invasion of Alaska past the Aleutian Islands, (which were largely uninhabited at the time anyway). Realistically, Alaska wasn't under any true threat. Regardless, the pipeline did pump oil for thirteen months during the war but it was immediately shut down once the war ended and the entire pipeline and roadway were quickly abandoned. Some sections of the pipe itself were removed for the metal and some of the vehicles were brought back, but many sections of pipe and a large number of rusted vehicles remain along the 222 miles of the trail. What remains of the pipeline and roadway is now a heritage trail and is attempted by experienced and hardy trekkers from around the globe. I chose to challenge the trail with a good friend in the summer of 2004. We hiked in July when the sun remained in the sky for all but a few hours each day. When the sun dipped below the horizon it got dusky, but never dark. We were fortunate in that we had very dry weather with very little rain for the entire trek. That was a blessing as relentless rain for much of the trek would have made it a much different experience, to be sure. There were enormous forest fires burning through much of the Yukon Territory that year and smoke from those fires drifted eastward over the N.W.T. and the sky was a hazy grey for almost every day. You could smell the smoke in the air. Mosquitoes were not just a casual nuisance. They would have made the trip unbearable were it not for bug jackets and the occasional windy day that kept them at bay so we could remove our jackets. We had food flown in and dropped at three points along the trail so we could resupply our stocks. We carried a nine pound inflatable raft with us to cross the three major rivers, and had phoned ahead to arrange the 3 km crossing of the Mackenzie River. We carried a satellite phone for emergencies and had informed the R.C.M.P. in Yellowknife of our intended start and end dates of the trek and expected arrival in Whitehorse. We also had arranged a small plane to fly in and retrieve us from mile 222 and deliver us to Whitehorse once we'd completed the trail. We gave ourselves as many as twenty three days to complete the trail, planned on doing it in twenty one, (giving ourselves two days for contingencies), and actually completed it in nineteen. It was a truly great experience and I highly recommend it to any avid trekker. This was my first foray into digital imaging and I shot these images with a Canon 10D body and 20mm f/2.8 prime and 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses. You can click on any image to enlarge it to full screen.
© Steve Tambosso - "The Wandering Fireman"