In 1941, months after I was born, my father took a job with Curran and Briggs, a paving and construction company with the first Canadian contract to work on the construction of the Alaska Highway. My father made that decision without consulting my mother, so she was very angry he was going off for a year, leaving her with a newborn baby and a rooming house to manage in downtown Toronto. From his point of view, it was an opportunity to work at his trade as a welder and earn a lot of money. After finishing a welding course at night school, he’d found it difficult to obtain work in his trade in the 1930s and continued to work in the restaurant business out of necessity. He first heard about the job from a friend, Fred Caruk, who owned Master Welding in Port Credit, just west of Toronto. When Dad was offered a chance to work as welder maintaining all machinery and equipment for this paving company, he saw it as a great chance and a bit of an adventure. It also gave him a way of contributing to the war effort.
|Jack Zaryski Pulling Welding Machine for|
Curran & Briggs
An Alaska Highway had been proposed and debated in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until fear of a Japanese invasion via Siberia and the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941, that such a road, as a supply route, was thought to be essential for the defence of North America. On February 11, 1942 President Roosevelt officially authorized work to begin by the United States Army Engineer Troops.
According to family lore, my father was already in Alaska by September 1941. He travelled by train from Union Station in Toronto to Edmonton and from there to Dawson Creek, BC. Over the year he would travel with his firm as they advanced construction from Dawson Creek to the highway's middle point. Others were working from Fairbanks, east to the middle point at around Watson Lake.
|Route of Alaska Highway|
Govt. of Alberta
aka. Johnny the Welder
While Dad was in Alaska, Mom would tell me stories about him and read his letters to me. After about a year my dad came home for a two month visit when I was about 18 months old. I have no recollection of his visit in October 1942, only the family story that I cried and clung to him in Union Station when he boarded the train to return.
The highway officially opened November 1942, though improvements continued to be made for months and years later. Dad worked in Alaska for another 4 months before coming home for good in about February 1943, just before I turned two years old.
Dawson Creek, B.C.
Copyright © 2010, Ruth Zaryski Jackson