The Ross River suspension bridge was built in 1943 as part of the Canol pipeline system. This oil pipeline came about because American military commanders were worried about the Japanese threat to marine supply lines along the western coast of North America during the Second World War.
CANOL, or Canadian Oil, was one of the largest and most expensive construction projects of the war but cost was not a consideration. The Alaska Highway was a necessary supply route and the Army and the construction companies needed fuel.
The pipeline supported by this bridge briefly connected oil wells at Norman Wells, in the Northwest Territories, to a refinery at Whitehorse. The first oil reached Whitehorse in April 1944 but lessened fear of attack and escalating costs closed the project down after just one year. The pipeline was dismantled in 1949 and the refinery at Whitehorse was sold and shipped south. The Canol project briefly opened up one of the most remote areas in the Canadian northwest.
The Ross River suspension bridge is 316 metres (1036 feet) long with a 192 metre (630 foot) span. It was built to carry Canol Pipeline #1 over the Pelly River. The pipe was a 10 cm (4") line that ran from Norman Wells 740 kilometres to Johnsons Crossing. A 15 cm (6 inch) line from there travelled a further 40 kilometres (25 miles) to Whitehorse. The pipeline, laid across the ice before the bridge was built, was an inconvenience to the dog teams who travelled the river.
In honour of Kaska Prospectors
In 1952, Al Kulan and lodge owner Bert Law formed a partnership with some Ross River First Nation hunters and trappers to prospect along the Pelly River. At one point, Law was supporting the families of Kulan and ten local men diverted from their normal livelihoods.
Many of these local men were skilled wilderness guides. During the Second World War, Arthur John worked with the United States Army surveyors on the Canol Road and Joe Ladue had been with a railway survey crew along the present course of the Robert Campbell Highway. Kulan taught them some prospecting skills and they taught family and friends.
In the spring of 1953, money was scarce and Kulan decided to take one last prospecting trip into the Anvil Range. Seven Kaska prospectors were on this trip and they reminded Kulan of a mineral outcrop that Jack Sterriah and his son Jack Jr. had found while hunting in the Van Gorder Creek area. Further exploration found a large deposit of lead and zinc ore.
The Cyprus Anvil Mine officially opened in 1969 and soon represented over a third of the Yukon economy. During the 1970s, it was the largest lead/zinc in Canada. The mine closed permanently in 1997.