Last week I got to go on a field trip. Yay, field trips are fun! This field trip consisted of driving to the Sikanni Chief River Bridge.
Anyone ever heard of Juneteenth? I hadn’t. Basically what it is a celebration of the ending of slavery in the United States. June 19th is African American Emancipation day and Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and achievements. For more information, you can go to: http://www.juneteenth.com/.
In honour of Juneteenth, a couple of fellows wanted to place a wreath on the Sikanni Chief Bridge. The people of the Peace River Region thought that this deserved more than just 3 men going to place the wreath and they organized some events to go along with it. They had a historical presentation and a jazz concert at the cultural centre on the Saturday and then on the Monday, which was Memorial Day in the states, they had a ceremony at the Sikanni Chief Bridge.
You’re probably wondering what the Sikanni Chief Bridge, which is in Northern British Columbia, Canada, could possibly have to do with the emancipation of slavery and African American rights in the US. Well, here’s your history lesson for today…
In 1942, it was determined that a road connecting the continental United States and Alaska was of national importance. The idea to build a highway to Alaska had been kicking around since the early 1930s, but it wasn’t until the bombing of Pearl Harbour during WWII, that the idea was finally put in motion. It was thought that if the Japanese were going to invade, the easiest way for them to do it would be to go through Alaska. So Canada agreed that a highway could be built…if the US paid for it.
Several of the regiments sent to build the highway consisted of African American soldiers. There was much racism towards them and they were made to do the most back breaking jobs. Many of them were from the southern United States and had never experienced such cold temperatures. But at the same time, the fact that white soldiers and black soldiers were working together was considered to be a symbol of unity and co-operation that foretold eventual victory.
The building of the highway was not a whole lot of fun for any of the men working on it. They had to deal with extreme temperatures, mosquitoes, mud, muskeg, loneliness and isolation. It was back breaking labour from start to finish. They had to go through mountains, over rivers and streams and watch out for dangerous wildlife while they were at it.
One of the rivers they had to build a bridge across was the Sikanni River. One of the regiments, with African American soldiers, built the original bridge in 1942. The story goes that the Black soldiers bet their wages that they could build the bridge in less than 3 days. The bridge was built in less than 84 hours.
Unfortunately, this bridge no longer exists. It was one of the many bridge casualties of the first spring thaw after the Alaska Highway was built. The second Sikanni Bridge also doesn’t exist anymore, except for the foundation. This is about a thousand feet or so from where the current bridge stands.
Since the wreaths couldn’t be placed on the original bridge, they were placed on the foundation of the second bridge.
It was an interesting ceremony amidst some awesome scenery.
The original highway route followed the path of least resistance when it came to construction time. This meant that it was kind of winding and had some steep grades (ever heard of Suicide Hill anyone?). In this picture, in the middle on the left side, you can see the wreckage of an accident that happened lots and lots of years ago. The original highway came down and there was a sharp turn and a steep drop. The truck didn’t make it and went over the side. It was a truck and a trailer. The truck was pulled out, but the trailer was pulled behind, where it remains to this day.
But the one thing I learned from this?
The RCMP wear funny pants. (Sorry for the blurry picture). Seriously, what’s the point of the bagginess in the thigh area?
And there you have it. I hope that you learned something from reading this.