The beginning of September brings snow to Beaver Creek, home of Sid van der Meer’s Bordertown Garage & Museum.
On a chilly September morning, van der Meer takes time to remember the past and retell the stories about the building of the Alaska Highway. He wanders through his museum to a room dedicated to the construction of the Highway.
The Alaska Highway, built in 1942, had no fuelling stations during its construction. Van der Meer squats down and begins to explain the jerry cans the Alaska Highway builders used.
“Most of the ones I got here come from army camps along the highway.
“I have about 35 of them, probably, maybe 30 of them.”
They’re lined up in a row under a workbench in his museum. They are all different colours — red, yellow, black, but mainly “drab” or “army green.”
Many of them are covered in rust.
“The army couldn’t make anything out of them, gas cans and stuff . . . Most of them couldn’t be used after a while when they became rusted and dirty. Old fuel cans couldn’t be used anymore.”
However, they were reusable at the time for carrying gas or diesel. Van der Meer also has water cans that look similar to the gas jerry cans. The main difference is a screw on top for gas cans and a yellow interior for water cans.
“They’re made of metal and they’re pretty heavy.”
He pulls one of the jerry cans from under the workbench and points at an engraving. “U.S. stamped right in them, some even have the date 1942 or 1943 stamped on them. The U.S. Army just did things like that, dated their stuff.
“(The jerry cans are) mostly from the U.S., a few of them are Canadian, and one British. I happened to find a British one, it just happened to sneak in with the others. It’s a military one, too, though.
“I have one in the house with 1942 stamped into the steel. I keep it there because it’s the date the Alaska Highway was built.
“The army had special carriers for transporting fuel on the back of trucks. The army had to wait until it reached Whitehorse to refuel and fill up all of the empty jerry cans. They used barrels for carrying gas, too.”
These jerry cans were built to last long winters and difficult bumpy terrain. The builders of the Alaska Highway relied heavily on these containers to keep them going with construction.
The Alaska Highway era gas (and water) jerry cans can be seen in the Alaska Highway Construction room at Sid’s Bordertown Museum in Beaver Creek, Yukon.
The Bordertown Museum will be open until October 15, 2014 and will re-open on April 1, 2015.