The Haines Cut-off: From Native trail to modern highway
The Chilkat Pass corridor, crossing the Coast Mountains in Southeast Alaska, connects Lynn Canal with the Kluane Lake area of the Yukon Territory. The 1977 environmental impact statement for the Shakwak Project, a joint U.S./Canadian road construction and maintenance project, states that in late prehistoric and early historic periods this corridor was a trade route used by coastal Chilkat Tlingit who traded with the Southern Tutchone in the Kluane Lake area.
Westerners began exploring the area in the late 1800s. Jack Dalton, along with E. J. Glave, reconnoitered the Alsek River region in 1890 using Indian trails, crossing Chilkat Pass into the Interior. In 1894 Dalton opened a trading post at Haines Mission (now Haines). After hearing of the 1896 Klondike gold strike he began developing a pack-horse trail over Chilkat Pass, opening the Dalton Trail toll road in 1899.
The Dalton Trail was easier to traverse than nearby White and Chilkoot Passes. However, the route to the Yukon River via the Dalton was 280-miles-long, while only 40 to 50 miles via the Chilkoot and White Pass, so the Dalton was less frequented.
After the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway (WP&YRR) was completed, traffic along the Chilkoot and Dalton Trail plummeted. According to the Haines Sheldon Museum, the Dalton withered, but did not disappear. Gold was discovered at Porcupine, 40 miles northwest of Haines, in 1898, prompting construction of a wagon road following the Dalton Trail. Other mineral discoveries led to development of new trails utilizing the southern portion of the Dalton.
Talk of completing a road through the Chilkat corridor was bandied about beginning in the 1930s, but not until the 1940s and World War II was a road completed. The Alaska Highway, punched through in 1942-43, was the wartime project that brought the Haines road to fruition.
During that period the WP&YRR from Skagway to Whitehorse was a vital conduit for construction materials and personnel to build the Alaska Highway and related projects. Fearing disruptions on the railway, military planners decided another transportation link from the Pacific coast to the Interior was necessary. That link was a road from Haines across the Chilkat to the vicinity of Champagne Landing (a Dalton Trail way station) in the Yukon.
The Alaska Highway opened in November 1942 (although still needing much work). Work on the 150-mile-long “Haines Cut-off” began in January 1943 and was completed by December 1943. The road roughly followed the Dalton Trail, connecting with the Alaska Highway at a road construction camp (now called Haines Junction) west of Champagne Landing.
The Canadian portion of the Haines Cut-off, built with U.S. funds and personnel, was transferred to the Canadian Government in 1946. The drawing is of a 1947 International KB-6 dump truck used by the U.S. Public Roads Administration on the U.S. portion of the Haines Cut-off prior to Alaska statehood. The truck, donated to the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry by the estate of Anne Rogers, is now on display at the museum, just outside Wasilla.
The Haines road became involved with another military project when the 8-inch diameter Haines Pipeline was built in 1954-55 to carry fuel for military installations from the port of Haines to Fairbanks. The pipeline paralleled the Haines and other highways along the route and was operational until 1971.
By the 1960s Haines had become the northern terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway, attracting increased traffic. In 1976 the Canadian and U.S. government entered into a cooperative agreement for the Shakwak Project, named for the valley Kluane Lake lies in. This project saw a major rebuild of the Canadian portion of the Haines Highway, as well as the Alaska Highway between Haines Junction and the Alaska Border. The cooperative agreement is still in effect, providing for maintenance of the affected highways.
- “Environmental Impact Statement, Skakwak Highway Improvement.” Department of Public Works, Canada & U.S. Department of Transportation. 1977
- “Haines Highway.” Merle Lien. Haines Sheldon Museum website, . 1987
- “Jack Dalton, The Alaska Pathfinder.” M.J. Kirchoff. Alaska Cedar Press. 2007