Yukon Register of Historic PlacesYRHP

Watson Lake Air Terminal Building

Watson Lake Air Terminal Building

Watson Lake Air Terminal Building

Watson Lake Air Terminal Building

Watson Lake Air Terminal Building

Watson Lake Air Terminal Building

Watson Lake Air Terminal Building

Construction Period: From 1940 to 1965

Designation Level: Territorial

in Watson Lake

The Watson Lake Air Terminal Building (ATB) is a single-storey building with four-storey control tower, located next to the apron and runways at the Watson Lake Airport.

Construction Period: From 1940 to 1965        Designation Level: Territorial

Designation Date: September 17, 2019

The Watson Lake ATB was designated a Yukon historic site for its aesthetic, historic and cultural significance. Built in 1942, the Watson Lake ATB is the last remaining air terminal building from the Northwest Staging Route still in use in Yukon. It is significant as the main administration and air traffic control building at one of the key refuelling bases on the Route and for the integral role it had in the development of Yukon’s transportation system, as well as for its role in advancing scientific research for northern air transportation.

In 1939, a crudely cleared civilian airstrip on Watson Lake became part of an emerging Department of Transportation project to develop the Northwest Airway System which, at the start of World War II, grew into a joint Canada-US military project to assist with the defense of Alaska, known as the Northwest Staging Route. By 1941, the RCAF, US Army and civilian contractors descended upon the area and, over the course of the next year, built nearly 100 buildings, paved runways with lighting radio communications and meteorological facilities to support the airport operations. The ATB and the nearby hangar are the only two buildings remaining from this period. After the US entered the war, thousands of US Lend-Lease planes travelling the Northwest Staging route stopped in Watson Lake for refuelling and maintenance.

The construction style, with logs sawn on three sides using butt and pass cornering, is reflective of the haste needed to construct the large number of buildings required to support the military operations at the Watson Lake airport. The early expansion of the control tower from 2 to 5 stories illustrates the increased demand for the site during the Lend-Lease program and tells an important part of the evolution of the of Air Terminal Building.

The Watson Lake ATB was a Royal Canadian Air Force Base until 1957 when its operation was transferred to the Department of Transport. It also served as an advanced base for the Winter Experimental Establishment from 1947-1951. Its continued use as a commercial airport facility further adds to the social significance of the terminal. The ATB is a cultural site that serves as a reminder of Watson Lake’s strategic location for air travel in Yukon and the period of intense growth and development of air transportation systems in the North-west during World War II.

Source: Historic Sites Unit file #3630-32-16, Cultural Services Branch, Government of Yukon.