Tok, "The Gateway to Alaska," is the first major community on entering Alaska from the Canadian border, 93 miles to the east. It is located at the crossroads of the Alaskan Highway and the Tok cutoff to the Glenn Highway, 206 miles south of Fairbanks. Tok, pronounced "Toke" (rhymes with "poke"), takes its name from the nearby Tok River, which was known by surveyors in 1887 as the "Tokai River."
Tok began as an Alaska Road Commission camp in 1942. So much money was spent on the camp's construction and upkeep that the highway crew called it the "Million Dollar Camp." In 1946, the Alcan Highway was completed, a post office and roadhouse were built, and the town of Tok was established.
In July, 1990, Tok faced a trial by fire when a lightning-caused forest fire jumped two rivers and the Alaskan Highway, putting the whole town in its blazing path. Tok was evacuated while over a thousand firefighters fought the blaze, but they could not stop the fire. At the last second a "miracle wind" (so labeled by Tok residents) came up, diverting the fire just short of the first building.
The region was traditionally Athabaskan when Tok was founded, but its current population (1,271 according to 2011 Alaska Department of Labor Estimates), is a multi-cultural mix. Subsistence remains a prevalent lifestyle. Moose, bear, rabbit, grouse, and ptarmigan are taken. Salmon are caught in the Copper River to the south.
In September 1949, thirteen years before northern Alaska became the Diocese of Fairbanks, a missionary priest of the Society of Jesus arrived in Tok. Bishop Francis Gleeson, S.J., then Vicar Apostolic of Alaska, assigned the priest the tasks of building a chapel and bringing priestly ministry to the region. While living in his truck, he built a crude 8x10 cabin for shelter the winter of 1949-50. When winter broke, he began building the 20x40 foot log chapel that still stands as part of Tok's Holy Rosary Church. Midnight Mass of 1950 was the first liturgy celebrated at the small church, which has since been enlarged. The priest served the Tok community until 1954. A number of missionary priests have served since, some in residence, most visiting from Copper Valley or Delta Junction. They have included Jesuit, Benedictine, Diocesan, Dominican, and Franciscan priests. A deacon, who was a Holy Rosary parishioner before being ordained to the permanent diaconate in 1986, also served the parish.
Religious Sisters who helped preserve a strong Catholic presence in Tok include Sisters of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and Sisters of St. Joseph. A Sister of St. Joseph presently serves as Pastoral Administrator of Holy Rosary. A Diocesan priest visits from Delta Junction.