The Town of Watson Lake owes its existence to two major factors: the construction of a military airport in 1941 and the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942.
In 1939 the Government of Canada committed to building a chain of airfields across the Northwest under the Northwest Staging Route Program. The airfield at Watson Lake was a link in this chain. The site for the airport was surveyed, funds were made available towards the end of 1940 and construction began in 1941.
When the United States entered the Second World War, there was a threat of a Japanese invasion of Alaska. The necessity of a military overland supply rout linking the State of Alaska to the lower 48 states became an immediate wartime measure.
During the course of planning, it was decided that the highway would be modified in order to service the airfield sites selected under the Northwest Staging Route Program. The road alignment was purposely engineered to meander and avoid long, straight stretches which would jeopardize large supply convoys from strafing air attacks. In recent years, highway improvements have all but eliminated these winding sections of road, and now the Alaska Highway is maintained to a very high standard. The road surface is mainly pavement or Bitminous treated surface. Gravel surfaces now occur only in construction zones.
The original highway from Dawson Creek, B.C. to Fairbanks, AK was little more than a pioneer trail wandering through 2,450 kilometers (1,522 miles) of mountains, muskeg and permafrost. The new highway was built in a short 8 months and 12 days by the United States Army Corps Engineers.
The Robert Campbell Highway was started during the post world War 11 era as the service road to mining developments in the east-central Yukon and completed in 1968.
The original Watson Lake town site was at the Airport but moved to the “Wye” as it was now the regional link between the Alaska and Robert Campbell Highways.The community of Watson Lake began as an accommodations and supply center for the construction of the highway. In that same year, a roadway was built between Watson Lake and Lower Post, the northern most community in B.C.
Today, the Town of Watson Lake is the key transportation, communication and distribution center for mining and logging activities in the southern Yukon, Northern B.C. and a portion of the N.W.T. It also serves as a major service area for tourism and is the site of the Regional Territorial Government administration services.