In 1943 all of the material to construct a telephone line to Alaska had been collected at end-of-steel in Dawson Creek, preparatory to an early start by the American Army. Much material was stored in a large frame-construction livery barn in the main commercial block in the village. Spikes, cross-arm braces, thousands of miles of wire, and all of the tools needed to build the line were also stored there. This included metal things such as crowbars, hammers, etc. and many vehicle tires. A sub-contractor had the use of the southern end of the structure. Somehow two hundred cases of percussion caps and a truckload of dynamite got into close proximity, before the whole building became enveloped in flames.
When everything was heated red hot, and the building was about to collapse, the inevitable happened – the whole thing blew up. A visiting doctor, who had seen “block-busters” and incendiary bombs in England, said that the resulting explosion was a combination of both. A windowpane shattered twenty-six miles away and dishes rattled in cupboards as far away as Spirit River.
Being an American Army enterprise, it would not be a subject for a Canadian Government report. However, the telephone exchange in Dawson Creek was burned in the holocaust that followed, leaving the N.A.R. telegraph line as the only communications with the “outside” until emergency facilities could be provided. Mr. Alan B. Elliott, the N.A.R. agent at the time, had a gigantic task to keep the military and domestic service going.
Radio service was available during the war, operated by the American Army, so that we got programs from New York. On one occasion an American program was being broadcast to the United States, and being picked up from the American network by local Station CJDC. When the newly arrived British bride of the Commanding Officer answered the question put to her by the interviewer, “What are your first impressions of the American soldier as compared with the British military?” Unaware that the broadcast was going outside the local Army headquarters recreation hall, she pronounced distinctly, to the delight of the local listeners, “Oh – their appearance is much more slovenly.” For that instant, before someone who had been tuned in to CJDC rushed in the Peace River area knew it was part of a continent-wide hook-up.
A few days after the explosion some citizens found that Dawson Creek had an intercontinental communications connection when “Lord Haw Haw” infamous British traitor-broadcaster from Germany, announced on British radio, in effect, “Attention everybody! Fifteen minutes ago, Dawson Creek, British Columbia, the beginning of the Alcan military Highway to Alaska was blown up, and the whole town is now on fire.”
Amazingly, after taking into account the time zones, he was correct.