Last Spike (Canadian Pacific Railway)

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The Last Spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was the ceremonial final spike driven into the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) at Craigellachie, British Columbia at 9:22 am on November 7, 1885. It was driven in by CPR railroad financier Donald Smith, marking the end of a saga of natural disasters, financial crises, and even rebellion that plagued Canada's first transcontinental railroad from its beginning.[1]

Donald Alexander Smith drives in the Last Spike

The Last Spike signalled the completion of the CPR, driven through under engineer James Ross, and it remains a symbol of national unity in Canada, though due to the need to build protective snowsheds in Rogers Pass and Kicking Horse Pass in addition to the actual rails and roadbed, through trains did not run until June 1886. At the time, the railway's completion fulfilled an 1871 commitment made by the Canadian federal government to British Columbia which stipulated that a railroad be built joining the Pacific province to Central Canada. The promise of a transcontinental railway had been a major factor in British Columbia's decision to join the Canadian Confederation.[2] However, successive governments mismanaged the project and by the original deadline of 1881 little of the railway had been completed, resulting in threats of secession by some BC politicians.[citation needed] The work was then assigned to a newly incorporated CPR company, which was allowed an additional ten years to complete the line, and they did it in five.[3]

A plaque commemorating the driving of the Last Spike

The circumstance of the CPR's last spike ceremony led several spikes to assume the honour of being the "last spike".[4] In contrast to the ceremonial gold or silver final spikes often used to mark the completion of other major railroads, the CPR's "Last Spike" was a conventional iron spike identical to the many others used in the construction of the line. A silver spike had been created for the Governor General, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne, who was to be present at the ceremony but he was forced, due to poor weather, to return with the spike to Ottawa.[5] The silver spike remained with the Van Horne family until 2012 when they donated it, along with other artifacts, to the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.[6]

The symbolic iron spike driven by Donald Smith was badly bent as he pounded it into the railway tie. Roadmaster Frank Brothers extracted the spike and it was given to Smith as the "last spike". Smith had the bent spike straightened and cut several strips of iron from it which were mounted with diamonds and presented to the wives of some of the party assembled at Craigellachie. This spike was later donated to the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa. It is on long term loan to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia where it is displayed as a tribute to the immigrant railway workers who were critical to the railway's construction.[7]

Smith later used another iron spike, usually called "the ordinary" or "fourth spike" to provide iron to make symbolic jewelry for the wives of other officials, but he made the strips larger to distinguish these souvenirs from the original brooches.[4]

The second last spike, which Smith successfully drove into the tie, was removed from the track shortly after the ceremony to prevent theft by souvenir hunters. A regular spike was inserted in its place. This spike was given to the son of the patent office president at the time, and is still in the family's possession, fashioned into the shape of a carving knife.[8]

The now-famous photograph of Donald Alexander Smith driving in "The Last Spike" was taken by Winnipeg photographer Alexander J. Ross.[8][9]

In popular culture[edit]

Memorial "Last Spike" Craigellachie

The most notable accounts of the construction and completion of the CPR are Pierre Berton's twin volumes The National Dream and The Last Spike,[8] which together were depicted in the Canadian television docudrama miniseries The National Dream, an eight-part series whose rated audience of three million within Canada set a record for CBC in terms of dramatic programming.

Another important recollection of this event is the narrative poem entitled Towards the Last Spike by Canadian poet, E. J. Pratt.

A board game published under the name "The Last Spike" had as its object the financing and construction of a trans-Canadian railway.[10]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rudolph L. Daniels (2000). Trains Across the Continent: North American Railroad History. Indiana University Press. p. 63. ISBN 0-253-21411-4. 
  2. ^ Tom Murray (2011). Rails Across Canada: The History of Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways. MBI Publishing Company. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-61060-139-9. 
  3. ^ Derek Hayes (2006). Historical Atlas of Canada: Canada's History Illustrated with Original Maps. Douglas & McIntyre. p. 219. ISBN 978-1-55365-077-5. 
  4. ^ a b Sandra Martin, "Legendary railway spike thought lost to history – until now", The Globe and Mail, June 22, 2012
  5. ^ "The silver Spike Meant to Unite Canada". Kudos! (5). Fall 2012. Retrieved 22 December 2012. 
  6. ^ "A Great Canadian Legacy". The Canadian Museum of Civilization. Retrieved 26 July 2012. 
  7. ^ Charlotte Gray, The Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder, Random House Canada (2004), p. 263
  8. ^ a b c Berton, Pierre (1971). The Last Spike. McClelland and Stewart. ISBN 0-7710-1327-2. 
  9. ^ "Description found in Archives: C-003693". Library and Archives Canada. Government of Canada. Retrieved 3 November 2012. 
  10. ^ 'The Last Spike'. Designers Tom Dalgliesh, Lance Gutteridge, Ron Gibson. Gamma Two Games, 1976. [1]

Coordinates: 50°58′31″N 118°43′25″W / 50.97528°N 118.72361°W / 50.97528; -118.72361 (Craigellachie)