The Dempster Highway, summer
The Dempster Highway : "the great ride North".
photo’s By Sebastiaan van den Heuvel
We left a sunny Dawson City
on the first of august of 2003 to travel the 750 km. long Dempster
Highway to the City of Inuvik which lies 200 km.
above the arctic circle.
The Dempster highway is a 750 kilometer long
gravel road in the Canadian Arctic, the road begins about 50 km. east of Dawson
City in the Yukon
Dempster highway near Engineer creek
The Dempster Highway goes threw rough mountain
territory, high arctic woods, tundra and many rivers including the mighty MacKenzie river.
Driving on this year open gravel road can be dangerous; in summer the road
can be very slippery in cold and wet weather in drier days the road in known
for it’s dusty conditions, in winter temperatures can far below zero and
high winds poor visibility and no daylight can make it a very difficult drive.
Traffic in summer is about 100 vehicles per day, in winter this can be as
low as 15. In winter ice roads provide access to the towns of Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk, ice
roads are open from late December until March.
The Dempster Highway can be driven on any vehicle but a very large four wheel
drive SUV is no luxury (and bring those spare tires !!).
The Dempster Highway runs through Tombstone Territorial Park.
After 365 km. there’s the first gas pump on the Dempster Highway, this place
is called Eagle Plains, here you can find a Hotel, Restaurant and repairs can
be done here. Eagle Plains was build in 1978 a year
before the opening of the road. The place is build on a hard surface where
there is no pilings are needed against the permafrost, the population of eagle
plains fluctuates between 25 in summer and 8 in winter.
Approaching Eagle Plains.
The “Dempster” is widely used for
transportation of goods to the MacKenzie delta Oil
and Gas industry.
Truck on the highyway.
The Arctic Circle lies at 66.33.3 degrees north, on 22 and 23 December the
sun does not come above the horizon and in June there’s 24 hour of
sunshine, in Canada this is the only permanent road that crosses the Arctic
The arctic circle.
In the winter of 1931-1932 a man named Albert Johnson killed a mounty here, a manhunt had begun
he wounded two others and eventually he was shot he became known as THE MAD
The mad Trapper looking not so healthy……(that’s because he’s jus shot).
In summer calcium chloride is used to reduce dust, but in wet conditions
this makes it very slippery.
Dusty roads becoming very slippery…
Richardson mountains, near the Yukon-NWT border
The border with the North West Territories
is shown, from now on we are in different time zone and can’t buy beer anymore
(or at least not in the supermarket).
The border with the North West Territories, time to change time !
In the summer (from early June until Oktober)
ferries take you across the Peel and Mackenzie rivers, in the four or five
weeks after closure of the ferry service the “ice bridges “ will open and you can drive over the frozen rivers.
The Peel River crossing point.
is a town located at the east bank on the Peel river,
it is home to about 800 people.
Fort McPherson’s main street..
On the 21th
of december 1910 an
four man expedition led by Inspector Francis J. Fitzgerald set off from Fort Mc Pherson
by dogsled they intended to reach Dawson City 475 miles south but something
went terribly wrong they perished near Fort
The search party was led by corporal W.J.D Dempster,
they found the “ lost patrol” all of the
members frozen to death. The lost patrol was buried in Fort
McPherson, the graves can still be seen today. The Dempster highway is named after corporal Dempster.
The graves of the Lost Patrol
in Fort McPherson.
Further on we come threw
Tsiigehtchic (or former Arctic Red River) which is another village along the
mighty MacKenzie river, it is home to about 200 people.
At the end of the Dempster
Highway there’s the town of Inuvik. Inuvik is a “big town”
, 3500 people live here. Inuvik
was ceated by the Canadian government as a
replacement for the village of Aklavik which was prone to flooding and had no room for
expansion. A number of people decided to stay in Aklavik and the village exist
until today. Most people however moved to “new Aklavik” because the
confusion the name changed to Inuvik . Between 1971 and 1990, the town's economy was supported by
the local Canadian
Forces Station (a naval station that maintained part of the DEW Line) and by
petrochemical companies exploring the MacKenzie Valley and the Beaufort Sea for petroleum. This all
collapsed in 1990 for a variety
of reasons including disappearing government subsidies, local resistance to
petroleum exploration, and low international oil prices.
In winter you can drive further
on ice roads to the town of Tuktoyaktuk, but that’s another story.
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