As restrictions are lifted across the country, your wandering heart might have the itch to start travelling again. There are still many questions surrounding where Canadians will be welcomed and when it might make more sense to look for places to travel that don’t involve a border crossing.
An area you could consider is the BC and the Yukon, an exciting and very different area for folks who have grown up in Ontario. An unusual attraction in Watson Lake is the famous Sign Post Forest. As the name implies, this unique area is home to tens of thousands of signs, including one of our own signs. Located along the Alaska Highway in Canada, starting in Dawson Creek, BC, you can travel the expanse and explore the one-way highway for 2,232 km. Here’s what to expect.
The Sign Post Forest is a by-product of the massive construction project of the Alaska Highway. Spanning thousands of kilometres, it goes through some of the most beautiful countries in the world, making it one of Canada’s must-see, ultimate road trips. The final leg of the journey lands you in Delta Junction, Alaska, USA. But what makes it so intriguing is the Sign Post Forest, located at the 966-kilometre mark on the border of BC and the Yukon.
Located in Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, the forest was unknowingly started by Private Carl Lindley of Company D, 341st Army of Engineers. He was injured as a crew member working on the construction of the highway in 1942 and taken to an aid station in Watson Lake. While there, his commanding officer asked him to post and repair some directional Sign Posts. Hailing from Danville, Illinois, he was feeling a little homesick as he laboured away. When the job was finished, Carl’s homesick blues inspired him to post a sign pointing towards his hometown with the distance. This simple act was performed without any clue that his gesture would lead to thousands of other visitors to the area following suit. The original sign was posted at Mile 635 on the Alaska Highway but isn’t there today.
Now there are over 90,000 signs in the Forest, with new signs being added every day. The Town of Watson Lake continues to add Sign Posts to help maintain the site and provide new spots for people to hang their signs. So when you visit the site, be sure to bring your own signs, Torontonians! You can also stop in at the Visitor Information Centre, where you can make a sign if you prefer. The forest also acts as part nature walk, part museum, with pieces of equipment left behind from the construction of the Alaska Highway. The town even buried a time capsule and cairn in 1992, scheduled to be open in 2042.
Located nearby, the Alaska Highway Interpretive Centre welcomes visitors to the area. Here you can learn more about the building of the Alaska Highway browsing the many photos, murals, audio-visual material, and dioramas that tell of the rich history behind the highway’s construction. You can even take in a “movie” in the 60-seat theatre about the highway’s origins. While in the area, you can also visit the Watson Lake Airport, part of the US Army’s World War II lend-lease program. That is the only remaining military hangar of its kind in Canada, where you can also see the log-sided Watson Lake Air Terminal Building. It served as a refuelling station for the US army back in 1942. It can be hard to imagine this quiet airport played a key role during the war and was the parking lot for military aircraft.
Log structures were the building of choice in the area, and the army built dozens of them, including barracks for the US and Canadian militaries. The area’s shops and facilities were also made of logs and were so sturdy they were later moved into town, where they still stand today—one of the oldest log buildings remaining in the historical Air Force Lodge.
If you plan to visit the forest to post a sign, be sure to get an early start. It might take a while to find the perfect spot for your sign amongst tens of thousands of other signs. You’ll need a hammer and nails to hang your sign as well.
Today, the Sign Post Forest is home to around 100,000 signs from around the globe. The signs of all shapes and forms share unique messages that tell a different story about the individuals who travel to this spot. One might consider it the first social media network! So if you love the idea of a quirky, eccentric vacation, this is the ultimate roadside attraction.