The site is important for its historic and social values related to the Forest’s humble beginnings and to its eventual growth as a territorial icon. The Sign Post Forest is a tangible link to the construction of the Alaska Highway and the development of Watson Lake and Yukon. Carl Lindley started the Sign Post Forest in 1942 when he was a homesick soldier from Danville, Illinois. He was working on the construction of the Alaska Highway and added his hometown sign to an army mileage post. A tradition of adding signs slowly gained momentum over the years as the single signpost grew to a forest. People from all over the world continue to add signs connecting their faraway homes to the town of Watson Lake. The Sign Post Forest illustrates the historic and universal relationship between a traveler and their journey and reinforces the connections between visitors and their origins.
Now designated as an event of national significance, the Alaska Highway was constructed during the Second World War to provide a land based route to Alaska and ground support for the construction of runways and airstrips of the Northwest Staging Route. The Alaska Highway changed the landscape of the Yukon by providing year round access to the rest of Canada, increasing transportation routes, improving communication systems, altering settlement patterns and bringing new services and expanding economic opportunities throughout the territory. These events had significant and ongoing economic, social and cultural impacts on the Yukon. The growth of the Sign Post Forest mirrors the post-war development of the territory and its tourism industry, which escalated in the 1980’s to become one of the leading economic drivers.
The oldest and most extensive site of its type, the Sign Post Forest evokes a sense of awe that captivates visitors. People are inspired to be part of the evolution of the site by adding signs that represent a piece of their life and joining the longstanding tradition of ‘leaving your mark’. While the tangible aspects of the Forest will continue to evolve, it is the intangible associative values, such as the emotional connection people make with the site and the stories and memories they conjure, that give the Sign Post Forest its enduring qualities.
Source: Historic Sites Unit File # 3630 32 11
This landscape is composed of multiple rows of posts covered by various signs, integrated within a natural setting of trees and hills. The majority of the signs relate to places such as cities, towns and street names. The Sign Post Forest site covers 14,390 square metres and is located at the junction of the Alaska Highway and the Robert Campbell Highway. Currently the site has approximately 75,800 signs and 1,600 posts and surrounds a small amphitheatre near an outdoor exhibit of heavy equipment.
Character Defining Elements
- Location at the Wye, the corner of the Alaska Highway and the Robert Campbell Highway, and proximity to the road
- The site’s prominence in views from the highways and the surrounding area
- Formal rows of sign posts covered with a variety of signs arranged in meandering, evenly spaced rows divided by gravel walkways.
- The setting of the sign posts within trees and rolling hills
- The growth and evolution of the Sign Post Forest as a living landscape that pays homage to the original spirit of the site
The story of Carl K. Lindley is well-known. As a 21-year-old soldier with Company D of 341st Engineers, Lindley was involved in the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942. At their camps along the highway, the Army Corps of Engineers followed a practice of installing mileage posts listing places and distances to other places in the Yukon, and other parts of North America and the world. One such army sign post was installed at the Wye, the corner of the Alaska Highway and road to the military airport of Watson Lake. Lindley worked at a sawmill that provided logs for the bridges until he was injured and was sent to Watson Lake. As he related the story:
I had received an injury near the border of B.C. and Yukon, just North of Lower Post. My foot was smashed while building a platform to fill dump trucks. I was taken to the Company aid station at nearby Watson Lake where I spent the next three weeks recuperating. Not able to do much work the C.O. asked if I could repair and repaint the sign that had been run over by bulldozers. I asked if I could add my hometown sign of Danville, Illinois as I was homesick for my hometown and my girlfriend Eleanor.