I have been on an ad hoc personal journey to find my father’s heritage for several years. He passed away when I was only about six-and-a-half years of age. What I know about him I know from my mother and from older siblings from his first and second families.
It was the early ‘40s in British Columbia. The United States Army was quickly constructing the Alaska Highway; it was completed in 1942.
My father, Elmer Raymond Peterson, and his two oldest sons from his first marriage, Raymond and Harold, secured a trucking contract to haul supplies for the US Army based in Whitehorse.
E. Peterson & Sons drove the new highway from Dawson Creek to the Yukon, time and time again. I’m not sure when, but the youngest son of my dad’s first family eventually joined him here and also became a trucker.
I heard that there was a time my father, Elmer, had a mishap on the muddy highway — his truck slipped off the road and ended up partially in a creek. He couldn’t get out. He had to overnight there, waiting for help. The story goes that this creek was named after him. Peterson Creek winds in and out of the highway a couple of times at approximately Mile 300.
Elmer wanted to settle in the Yukon. He brought his second family from Dawson Creek. It turned out that his wife decided she didn’t want to settle here. She returned to British Columbia and they divorced. Harold and Raymond also decided not to settle in the Yukon, and they left, too.
My dad stayed on and in 1943 met my mom, Carrie, literally, on the Alaska Highway. She had become a single mom and would go hunting on “the new trail,” as she saw the Alaska Highway. My dad noticed her walking with her children. Eventually he gave her a ride whenever he saw her on the highway. Their friendship grew into a relationship, which in turn, brought my mom up in Whitehorse in 1944.
Our home was one of the army barracks that was fixed up to live in. This house first sat on Cook Street, and was later moved to Seventh Avenue by the clay cliffs. I was born in December 1945 — mom’s first baby born in a hospital.
I was the also her first Peterson child, and she later had two more daughters and one more son. We were the third Peterson family.
My dad’s youngest son from his first marriage, Ronnie (apparently he was known as Petey), didn’t leave the Yukon. He was married here. He would visit us often while dad was still alive.
Our sister and two brothers, from my dad’s second marriage, would come up to stay with us sometimes. I remember happy times, especially once when we chased chickens in our yard. Dad tried to bring some of his farming ways with him but I don’t think it lasted too long. One sister, Dorie, stayed on in the Yukon and was married here.
In late summer of 1952, my dad, Elmer Peterson, passed away. He is buried in the Whitehorse Pioneer Cemetery. I barely remember, but Dorie was still here in the Yukon; however, she moved away after that. I don’t remember the year Petey had a tragic truck accident on the other side of the Takhini Bridge, but it didn’t seem too long after dad had passed on.
We lost contact with the other Peterson families.
In 1975, we learned that Dorie had settled in Williams Lake, B.C. I eventually moved there and we reconnected. Then, I learned a bit more about our father.
I actually met one of my oldest brothers, Raymond, because he came to visit Dorie there. There we were, the three eldest children from each family; it was during this time that I also reconnected with other family members.
Then in 1981, I met Harold.
He told me that Peterson & Sons hauled a variety of supplies for the army. He laughed when he said that he once had a very interesting load; it was all bats, baseball bats.
Family connections are so important, to “know who you are and where you come from”, as my mom, Carrie, would say.
I know this, without a doubt, on my Tlingit mother’s side. I still don’t know exactly this on my father’s side.
I do know that the Alaska Highway is what brought him here, and where I began.