1948 Mackenzie Highway, Grimshaw to Hay River

In November of 1945 the Alberta and Federal Governments signed an agreement to build an all-weather road that followed the old cat train trail north from Grimshaw to the south shore of Great Slave Lake at Hay River (map).

Numerous construction difficulties delayed completion of the road, originally planned for the fall of 1947, until the early winter of 1948 but even before it was finished people had started to use it. On August 20, 1948 the first tourists to travel the road arrived in Hay River by motorcar. Arthur Borchald and Luther Loftus from Minnesota traveled the 560-kilometre distance from Peace River to Hay River in nineteen hours.

Two days later the first commercial traffic arrived at Hay River when the W.R. Menzies Fishing Company of Faust, Alberta hauled three thirty-five foot fishing boats over the new road and launched them in Great Slave Lake.

There were major problems with the Alberta portion of the road just south of the Northwest Territories border. This section of the highway, that even today is a roller-coaster ride, became known back in the spring of 1949 as ‘The Hole’. The 40-kilometre section from Steen River north to the NWT-Alberta border had been hastily completed in the fall of 1948. Too little gravel had been laid down and heavy trucks were banned from using the road for seven weeks during the spring of 1949. When the ban was lifted the condition of the road continued to deteriorate.

In July a tourist traveling the road reported that ruts were two to three feet deep and that thirty trucks were bogged down in ‘The Hole’. These truckers were referring to the Northwest Territories as ‘The Promised Land’!

The road was so bad by the end of July 1949 that commercial fishing was closed on Great Slave Lake because the fishermen couldn’t send their catch south by truck. The road was in no condition to accept carloads of dignitaries from the south so talk of a ceremony officially opening the highway was quietly forgotten.

Timeline Link:1959 First on the Yellowknife Highway