At a turnoff on BC Highway 3, 9 KM east of Hope BC, there is a sign that commemorates the road camps that housed Japanese Canadian workers who were separated from their families and forced to work on the construction of the partially completed highway between the towns of Hope and Princeton in 1942-1945. This sign is one of nine signs erected on BC highways to commemorate the internment camps and road camps where 12,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated following their forced removal from the 100-mile protection zone during WWII. Other signs are located near Tashme (Sunshine Valley), East Lillooet, Greenwood, Slocan, Kaslo, New Denver, Revelstoke-Sicamous, and Yellowhead.
At the outbreak of war with Japan, the Canadian government saw the completion of the unfinished Hope-Princeton Highway as an opportunity to be the alternative route to the Trans-Canada Highway in case of sabotage. The goal was to successfully connect the towns of Hope and Princeton, a distance of 133 kilometers through the Cascade Mountains. Initially, two road camps were established; one at Hope and one at Princeton, and work proceeded from both ends of the proposed route. The first Japanese Canadian workers arrived at the initial camp near Hope in March of 1942.
As work progressed, camps were added to both sides of the newly developed road; ultimately there were seven road camps along the route – two on the Hope end of the route, and ve on the Princeton end – ranging in size from 23 men to over 200, depending on the location. In many cases, existing Depression-era military work relief camps were repurposed as road camps. Living quarters were 1930s shiplap houses covered in tarpaper, with crude woodstove heating in the harsh winters.
The separation of men from their families was a major point of contention for Japanese Canadians during the initial internment period, and eventually, some action was taken to bring married men closer to their loved ones. The internment camp at Tashme, fourteen miles southeast of Hope, was built largely to allow road workers to be closer to their families.
The building of the Hope Princeton Highway was a colossal undertaking. At first progress on the route was slow and work conditions were harsh due to a lack of heavy equipment deployed to the project. Men were expected to scale treacherous rock faces using ropes, cut down hillsides, fill in low areas, blast rocks using dynamite, and build and install log culverts over 30 meters long. Almost all work was done using manpower and hand tools – shovels, picks, and mattocks – until mechanical equipment such as bulldozers and gas shovels arrived.