During the summer of 2016 a representative of the Northern Woods & Water Highway Association travelled from Winnipeg to Dawson Creek, BC. reminding communities and businesses along the highway of the economic benefits of being located on a highway system.
This trip was an effort to re-establish the Northern Woods & Water Highway Association and to restart to market the highway to generate more traffic into the various communities along the way.
The Northern Woods & Water Highway was established during the mid-1970 by a retired CN employee from McLennan, Alberta.
George Stevenson arranged groups of campers yearly to travel from Dawson Creek to Winnipeg, and from Winnipeg to Dawson Creek along a series of roads that were the furthest north acrossed the western provinces starting in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
This group of campers stopped in the various communities along the way and shared the idea with municipal representatives and over time got them involved in the Association through memberships.
The highway was 62 communities representing a population of just over 140,000 people.
The Association lobbied the provincial and federal governments to recognize the route travelled as a highway. When first established there were four sections that were not paved. The Association lobbied provincial and federal governments and managed to get three sections paved.
They created the symbol for the highway and got the highway signed and included on provincial highway maps.
There are several cairns located along the highway acknowledging the work of promoting the Highway.
The Manitoba government established a site at the start of Highway 6 near Winnipeg, another by the Saskatchewan government at the north end of Cowan Lake and there is one in George Stevenson’s hometown of McLennan, Alberta.
In the early 1990’s, for four years there was a Highway Guide published and distributed to encourage travellers to explore the northern parts of western Canada.
The Association partnered with municipalities to share information about the Highway at tourism, golf, boating, and RV tradeshows and even participated in a few under the Association banner.
As with almost all organizations there is an ebb & flow of energy. Several key players changed jobs, the publisher closed their business, and George stopped doing the cavalcades after 15 years and the Association ended its efforts.
The Highway was developed and promoted to showcase the great scenic beauty located in northern parts of the province and to encourage people to seen western Canada in a new way.
Dawson Creek is Mile Zero on the Alaska Highway. A report 2014 Yukon tourism visitor count indicates that 125,343 travellers entered the territory via the Alaska Highway.
The eastern and southern US travelling part of this group are a target to travel along the Northern Woods & Water Highway either on their way to or back from the Alaska Highway.
Beyond the Alaska Highway, the Northern Woods & Water Highway is also the jumping off point for destinations further north.
The Highway provides access to the resource industries of the far north, in Alberta, the MacKenzie Highway starts near Peace River and Fort McMurray is accessed from Grassland and Lac La Biche. In Saskatchewan, Green Lake is the access the northwest and Buffalo Narrows, as well as Smeaton and the Hanson Lake Road to Flin Flon. Manitoba eastward. Flin Flon is also reached north out of The Pas and Churchill is accessed south of the Pas.
Having more people travelling the highway strengthens the frontline businesses of gas stations, restaurants, hotels, campgrounds, recreation sites, museums, etc. Travel dollars inject new money into local economies to create or sustain jobs.
In the smallest communities, these dollars can mean the difference of survival as local populations dwindle and shopping gravitates towards larger centres.
Governments determine infrastructure spending on traffic counts, so increasing traffic will improve roads and maintenance.
It is important to get the Northern Woods & Water Highway name recognized so that we can create word of mouth and brand recognition. The intent is to use the guide to expose people to the name, then lead them to the website for more current information about each community and region.
The Yellowhead Highway Association has been linking communities, marketing, and promoting their highway since 1970.
The 2016 trip along the Highway was an effort to breathe some new life into the Association again.
There is a new website for the Association There will be 20,000 copies of a new Highway Guide produced and distributed in 2017 to start to get the word out about this great highway.
If people are interested in supporting this economic development initiative contact the Northern Woods & Water Association through the website.