Prime Minister Harper participated in a groundbreaking ceremony marking the beginning of construction of the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway in the Northwest Territories, effectively extending the Dempster Highway through to the Arctic coast. He was accompanied by Bob McLeod, Premier of the Northwest Territories, Nellie Cournoyea, Chair and Chief Executive Officer of Inuvialuit Regional Corporation as well as Robert Alexie Jr., President of the Gwich’in Tribal Council.

“I am tremendously proud that our Government’s investment in this all-season Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway will, for the first time by road, connect and unify Canada from sea to sea to sea.  This historic project realizes the visionary initiative of Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker back in the 1960’s,” said Mr. Harper. “Prime Minister Diefenbaker knew then what our Government is undertaking today: constructing a highway will improve the lives of people living in the North for generations to come, facilitating economic development, creating jobs and enabling cost-effective, safe and reliable transportation of goods to and from Northern communities.”

The 137-kilometre gravel Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway will be the very first year-round road between the Arctic coast and the rest of the country. Once completed, the 137-kilometre all-season highway will link the Town of Inuvik and the Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, an Arctic community currently accessible only by an ice road, barge or air.

The new stretch of highway, which is expected to be completed in 2018, will provide more efficient transport of northern products and resources to southern markets, will better connect Northerners to high quality, well-paying jobs, and will help bring lower cost supplies and materials up to northern communities and families.  The Government of the Northwest Territories will be responsible for the full implementation of the project, and all costs necessary for its implementation over and above the $200 million federal contribution.

History of the Dempster Highway:

In 1958, the Canadian government of the day, which was headed by John Diefenbaker, made the historic decision to build a 671 km road through the Arctic wilderness from Dawson City to Inuvik. The Dempster Highway – Canada’s first all-weather road to cross the Arctic Circle – was officially opened on Aug. 18th, 1979, at Flat Creek, Yukon. It was touted as a two-lane, gravel-surfaced, all-weather highway that ran from the Klondike Highway near Dawson City to Fort McPherson and Arctic Red River in the Northwest Territories. It also linked with the Mackenzie Highway at a point 67 km south of Inuvik. The highway sits on top of a gravel berm to insulate the permafrost in the soil underneath. The thickness of the gravel pad ranges from 1.2 metres up to 2.4 metres in some places. Without the pad, the permafrost would melt and the road would sink into the ground. The highway is named after a celebrated RCMP Inspector William John Duncan Dempster, who, as a young constable, frequently ran the dog sled trail from Dawson City to Fort McPherson, NT.