History and Culture Along the Alaska Highway

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A road trip along the storied Alaska Highway offers jaw-dropping scenery and wildlife at every turn. But it’s not all views and photo-ops. The area’s museums, art galleries, and historic points of interest weave together the rich and fascinating story of the region and the people who live, work and play here. 

Add the following stops to your journey and you’ll get the chance to meet local artists, see engineering feats up close and personal, and witness the hardy and indomitable spirit of Northern locals, both past and present.

Mile 0 Sign Post & Historic Walking Tour, Dawson Creek

Dawson Creek is the start of the Alaska Highway and you can’t make the trek north without posing for a picture at the iconic Mile 0 Sign Post—it’s a good luck tradition. Next, take in Dawson Creek’s eclectic past on a self-guided stroll of the city’s downtown core. Pick up a complimentary pamphlet at the Visitor Centre and wander from mural to mural to learn the story of Dawson Creek’s colourful cast of characters.

Dawson Creek Art Gallery

The agricultural heritage of the Peace is very much on display at the Dawson Creek Art Gallery, thanks to its unique location housed in a repurposed 1930s prairie granary. The gallery features a permanent photo exhibit on the building of the Alaska Highway, along with rotating exhibits from local and international artists. Don’t forget to swing by the gift shop to peruse locally-made products and souvenirs. Located on-site at the Northern Alberta Railway Park, the complex is also home to the Railway Station Museum, also well worth a visit.

Dawson Creek Exhibition and Stampede

Do rodeos, stampedes, and great times grab your attention? Be sure to check out the Dawson Creek Exhibition & Stampede, a quintessential Northeast experience. Held in August, the Dawson Creek Exhibition & Stampede includes events such as chuckwagon races, a downtown parade, the West Coast Amusements Midway, an Agriculture Fair, and so much more.

Bear Mountain Wind Farm, Dawson Creek

A different kind of engineering marvel is on display at Bear Mountain Wind Farm. Located a short 20-minute drive from Dawson Creek, here you can check out the 34 powerful wind turbines that power parts of Dawson Creek. The area is also home to a number of hiking trails, including the moderate seven-kilometre out-and-back Rim Rock Trail, which takes you to a scenic vista overlooking a sprawling valley dotted with these giant renewable energy turbines.

Pouce Coupe Museum

A short ten minute detour south of Dawson Creek will land you in the neighbouring village of Pouce Coupe. At the Pouce Coupe Museum, artifacts, vintage clothing, tools, and a reconstructed homestead show you life as an early Pouce Coupe settler. The museum is also home to an incredible collection of watercolour paintings by Emily Henrietta Woodsone, an early childhood drawing teacher of Emily Carr’s—one of BC’s most revered and famed artists. While in Pouce Coupe, stop in at the historic Hart Hotel and don’t miss the property of local artist Gary Caldwell, who recreates western scenes with salvaged mannequins.

Rolla Pub, Pouce Coupe

The fabled Rolla Pub is one of the area’s kitschier stops .What looks like a nondescript pub from the outside quickly proves otherwise. Every square inch of the pub’s interior is covered with trinkets, collectibles, postcards, photographs, art, and other tchotchkes. On most nights there’s a live band playing, but a jukebox offers a good standby for when the stage sits empty. Located in the former Columbia Hotel building, the pub has been serving thirsty and hungry road trippers for over a century.

Chetwynd Chainsaw Competition

Established in 2004, the Chetwynd International Chainsaw Carving Championship has steadily gained notoriety in the carving world as one of the best managed events. Every year, in the second weekend of June, Chetwynd opens its doors to 12 carvers (4 International, 4 US, and 4 Canadians) who are invited to bring their skills and show off their best work. This family friendly event is a free event where patrons can experience local food vendors and arts and crafts vendors. Don’t worry if you miss the event, Chetwynd has nearly 200 chainsaw sculptures around town for visitors to enjoy!

Dinosaur Discovery Gallery, Tumbler Ridge

Established in 2007, the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery is the only of its kind in BC! Experience informative presentations, Tumbler Ridge dinosaur footprints, and incredible full scale exhibits. Explore the Triassic Period right through to the Ice Age at the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery.

North Peace Museum, Fort St John

The North Peace Museum covers a wide swath of the area’s history, starting with the first dinosaur footprint discovered in the Peace River Canyon and local Indigenous peoples to later settlers like the fur trapper Alexander Mackenzie. Learn about Tse’K’wa, a cave near present-day Charlie Lake, where a bead—the oldest example of human adornment in all of North America—was discovered. Take in a replica teepee made by the Dane-Zaa and learn about the long legacy of beadwork and moose hair tufting in the Peace. There’s a replica trapper’s cabin and early 19th-century storefronts, including a former post office where you can find a 1942 copy of the Alaska Highway News and read first-hand of the difficulty in building this infamous route.

Pioneer Pathway Walking Tour, Fort St. John

Stretch your legs on the self-guided walking Pioneer Pathway Walking Tour, which winds its way around downtown Fort St. John. This historical walking tour brings you to murals and large-scale photographs that tell the story of some of Fort St. John’s earliest noted locals. Pick up a map from the Visitor Centre, then make your way to the tour’s start at the south end of 100 Street. Stores, cafes and restaurants provide ample places to rest and shop in between.

Tse’K’Wa (Formerly the Charlie Lake Caves)

Tse’K’Wa, or the Charlie Lake Caves, is an archaeological site located near Charlie Lake, just north of Fort St. John. The Site dates back more than 11,000 years and is a well preserved stratigraphic record of early human activities. Stone artifacts, arrow points, human bones, and animal remains are some of the things found at Tse’K’wa. Interested in checking out the site? Reach out to the Tse’K’Wa Heritage Society’s Executive Director, Alyssa Currie at tsekwaheritage@gmail.com.

Note* Tse’K’Wa is located on private property. Please reach out to the Tse’K’Wa Heritage Society for visitation requests.

The North Peace Cultural Centre and Indigenous Artist Market, Fort St. John

The North Peace Cultural Centre, located in the heart of the city, is a one-stop-shop for all things arts and culture in Fort St. John. The centre is home to a 413-seat theatre that hosts live music and entertainment throughout the year, as well as the North Peace Art Gallery, which features a rotating exhibit of local and international artists. You won’t want to miss the centre’s Indigenous Artists’ Market, located near the front of the complex, which displays traditional and contemporary Indigenous art and products, both locally and from across Turtle Island.

Fort Nelson Heritage Museum, Fort Nelson

Plan extra time for this one. Located just west of the historic Mile 300 milepost, this unique memorabilia museum is the life’s work of legendary Fort Nelson local, Marl Brown. Marl’s love of antique vehicles first started as a salvage yard then took shape as a museum some thirty years later (rumour has it Marl raised funds for the museum by repeatedly shaving off his beard for money). While transportation is a main theme of the museum—it’s home to WW2-era machines as well as Model T Ford—it’s packed with other treasures, such as the uniform Marl wore as a torchbearer for the 2010 Winter Olympics and a rare albino moose. 

The Fort Nelson Heritage Museum in Fort Nelson, BC. Photo: Northern BC Tourism/Andrew Strain

Fort Nelson Northern Lights Festival and Street Festival

Are Northern Lights on your list of Northeast BC sights to see? Nestled in the northern community of Fort Nelson, at mile 300 of the Alaska Highway, the Fort Nelson First Nations and the community of Fort Nelson welcomes visitors from far and wide to experience the breathtaking northern lights, local First Nations culture, local artists, and much more.

Who doesn’t love a good street festival? Check out the Fort Nelson Street Festival, which occurs in annually in September, where you can experience local artists, music, street food vendors, a classic car show and shine, and heritage story tellers! The best part? The event is free to attend!

Sign Post Forest, BC-Yukon Border

Just across the BC-Yukon border is Watson Lake’s Sign Post Forest, a collection of more than 80,000 licence plates, laminated pages, road signs and handmade plaques that point to hometowns all over the world. They’ve been left by thousands of Alaska Highway road trippers ever since the first sign was tacked up in 1942 by a homesick American soldier. Like the Mile 0 cairn in Dawson Creek, it’s tradition to stop here and leave your own signpost behind. Don’t have one? The on-site office has materials (plus a hammer and nails) so you can make your own. 

Sign forest in Watson Lake, Yukon, decorated by travelers on the Alaska Highway. Photo: Michelle Holihan

How to Get to Northeast BC

Direct flights are available into Fort St. John and Dawson Creek from Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. Vehicle rentals are available from local airports; make sure to reserve in advance.

By road, there are multiple points of entry to Northeast BC. From Vancouver and the Okanagan, expect a two-day drive via Highway 1 and 97. Coming from Edmonton and Grande Prairie? Highway 43 is an easy one-day straight shot; from Calgary, Highways 2 and 22 will connect you to the main artery heading west in a longer but scenic route.

Highway 16 in Northern BC will connect you to Prince George, then onto Highway 97 north. Make sure you have all-season tires and check road conditions before you embark.

What To Know Before You Go

Be sure to check hours of operation in advance. Cell service, fuel and supplies are limited on the Alaska Highway. Bring essential items with you and make sure to stock up on food, fuel and other supplies for long stretches of road between service stations.