Many Canadian drivers meet the arrival of winter with grumbles and perhaps a trip to the garage to grudgingly retrieve their snow tires.
But for writer Dolly Connelly travelling along isolated northern highways was a joyful experience — an opportunity to revel in the stark yet stunning landscapes of the Far North.
In the Winter 1964 issue of The Beaver, Connelly described the awe-inspiring adventure of driving the Alaska Highway — a road stretching more than 2,200 kilometres from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, through Yukon Territory to Delta Junction, Alaska — during Canada’s coldest season.
“Driving at night, it is good to stop the motor and crunch along the road on foot in the dry sibilant snow,” she wrote. “Then stand and listen to the singing silence of absolute isolation. If the winter road offered no other gift, this would be enough. But to the austere beauty of nature is added the warmth and kindliness of the people living in this little world of The Road.”
During her journey, Connelly saw beauty in the starkest of scenes — including a mountain range scarred with “thousands of blackened snags left by forest fire.”
“Strange and lovely in winter’s snows, mountains outlined in black, near Liard River, resemble Japanese prints,” she wrote.
At Muncho Lake, west of Fort Nelson, B.C., she admires “hanging glaciers” that emerge from sheer rock faces along the highway. Further down the road, she stops to try her hand at ice fishing, enjoys a ride on a dogsled, and encounters all manner of northern characters, including Bert Cluett, the “loquacious, cantankerous” bartender of the Burwash Landing hotel, who arrived in Yukon in 1900 from England with hopes of striking it rich as a gold miner.
Connelly’s eloquent prose is enough to inspire even the most curmudgeonly among us to embrace Canada’s wintry delights.
“The wilderness winter air is alive as no other air is alive,” she said. “The Far North is most beautiful in the deep temperature lows of mid-winter.”
Winter 1964, The Beaver. Click the cover to read the whole issue in the Canada’s History Archive.