Canadian Rockies Road Trip – “The Last Spike”, Craigellachie

From Salmon Arm we continued east of Trans Canadian Highway 1 and followed a narrow pass through the mountains. We made an interesting stop at Craigellachie to see the site of “The Last Spike”. This was particularly interesting as there is a small village in Scotland called Craigellachie.

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.

The circumstance of the CPR’s last spike ceremony led several spikes to assume the honour of being the “last spike”. 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 by poor weather to return with the spike to Ottawa, Ontario. 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.

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.

Interestingly there was a large Chinese contingent involved in the construction of the railway.

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.

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.

Passionate Photographer …. Lost in Asia

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