The post was situated at the corner of 8th Street and Alaska Avenue in the city and was the same as those posts which marked every mile throughout the length of the highway. Jaycees in the city noted the damage and took it upon themselves to have it corrected. The job was passed on to one of their members who happened to be a sign painter by trade, Mr. Ellis Gislason.
Jaycees at that time were well aware of the future impact the highway would have on this city and Ellis saw the chance to draw more attention to the fact. He proposed an elaborate post to be placed in the city’s centre. He designed and constructed it out of wood.
“Mind you, we never had any idea how well it would catch on”, he says.
On Christmas day 1946, the 10-foot-high post was presented to the city and was placed at the corner of 102nd Avenue and 10th Street. It wasn’t geographically the exact beginning of the highway but it did mark the center of the city.
There was possibly some psychology used in placing the post as well. It was to become the traditional place for tourists to have their picture taken before embarking on the world-famous Alaska Highway. This brought them into the city’s center.
The original post was slightly smaller than the one which is presently secured to the pavement.
“The one I built was only about 10 feet tall, but it was almost exactly the same in design,” he says.
“It wasn’t fastened permanently either and on Halloween kids used to steal it… they even put hay on it and tried to burn it once,” he recalls. One Halloween the post had been loaded into a truck and replaced with a wooden privy. It [the milepost] was later found hidden under the Pouce Coupe bridge.
When the post was replaced with a metal one in the early 1960’s it was permanently fastened to the spot.
Shortly after the post was originally erected, the Canadian president of the Jaycees visited the city and Ellis constructed a miniature replica as a memento of the city. Although he didn’t then realize it, this was the beginning of a lifetime career for him.
The idea of presenting mileposts to dignitaries visiting the city was quickly picked up by the village commission and most other civic organizations. Constructing the replicas started taking up more and more of Ellis’s time.
When the miniature posts started retailing in the stores for tourists he developed systems for mass production. His wife, Johanna, helps in assembling and he now buys his materials in bulk.
New sizes and styles were developed. The smallest is seven and one-half inches high and they are worked into convenient desk pen sets, trophies and mementos. Sporting clubs use them for awards, tourists purchase then and very few VIP’s get out of the city without at least one given from a civic group.
Ellis is proud of the fact that they are constructed almost entirely of local material. In the summer he and his wife spend Sundays collecting suitable wood and rocks. They polish the rocks and process the wood themselves.
Although another firm in the city has them imported from Japan they are not as well received by the public as the home made ones of Mr. and Mrs. Gislason.
“We make thousands a year,” says Ellis, and he estimates that during the past 30 years they have manufactured more than 75,000 of them.
“I guess they’re all over the world by now,” he says.
He estimates that he averages about 50 cents profit on each one which doesn’t make for a very lucrative business.
“I use it to fill in slack periods in my sign-painting and you know how it is . . . when you start something you want to stay with it.” says Ellis.