The CANOL (Canadian Oil) project was one of the most expensive of World War II. Undertaken at the same time as the Alaska Highway project, the CANOL project was designed to provide oil for vehicles used in construction of the Alaska Highway and to ensure an oil supply for US and Canadian troops in the far north.
With the Japanese occupation of the Aleutian Islands, the US Army was very concerned about the security of Alaska, then a US territory. The US Army decided that it needed to have land-based access to Alaska, and set about to build the Alaska Highway, connecting Dawson Creek, BC to Fairbanks, AK. At the same time, the US Army decided to run a pipeline from Norman Wells on the Mackenzie River to Whitehorse, YT, to provide oil for the machinery working on the Alaska Highway. At the time, the oil in Norman Wells was more easily accessible than that in Alaska's North Slope.
Although more easily accessible than Alaskan oil, the oilfields in Norman Wells were not easily reached. Construction of the pipeline and a road to support the pipeline took up most of the war. Construction began in 1942 (slightly prior to notification of Canadian authorities) and lasted until February 1944. Horrible conditions meant for slow going in the construction process, and, even after the pipeline opened, it operated for a very short time- until March 1945. Problems in welds meant for large amounts of oil being lost from the pipeline. The effects of these oil spills can still be seen on the land around the Canol Heritage Trail today.
After the pipeline was closed, the road fell into disuse except for the section in the Yukon Territory. The CANOL project remained largely forgotten until the 1960s, when an increase of interest into wilderness hiking led to the establishment of the Canol Heritage Trail. While basically unmaintained, the Canol Heritage Trail provides an opportunity to see this unique part of the Northwest Territories and see the remains of one of the most colossal wartime projects in Canadian history.
Other sites for historic information on the Canol Heritage Trail may be found at: