Cathy English with a photo of a train crossing the Columbia River
sometime in early November, 1885. The buildings along Front Street are visible in the background of
the photo. The photo was taken by Alexander Ross, the same photographer who took the famous photo of
the driving of the Last Spike.
Columbia - This summer, as part of it's 125th anniversary, Canadian Pacific along with the
Canadian Museum of Science and Technology, embarked on a tour of Canada with the Last Spike, that
symbol of Canadian unity, determination, and industry.
The silver spike was on display in Revelstoke during Railway Days in August and many
Revelstokians came out to see the historic artifact.
The only problem is, it probably wasn't the actual Last Spike.
The mystery of the Last Spike was one of the topics brought up at a talk by Cathy English as part
of the Revelstoke Museum and Archive's Brown Bag Lunch series Wednesday.
English, the museum's curator, related several different accounts of the driving of the Last
Spike, all of which raised the question of what exactly happened to Canada's most famous piece of
"There's all sorts of different stories," English told the gathering of a dozen people
upstairs at the museum.
One thing that is agreed upon is that Donald Smith drove the Last Spike into the ground shortly
after 9 a.m. on 7 Nov 1885 (09:22 according to CP vice-president Sir William Van Horne, who checked
his watch to make sure).
"It took Donald Smith a couple of blind tries when he didn't hit anything, and another one
where he hit it and bent it, so they pulled it out and replaced it," said English. "He
finally got the hang of it and banged it half-way home as the men sent up three cheers."
The Last Spike was a standard iron railway spike, where it went is
One story says the bent spike was discarded and picked up by a lucky observer and the second
spike was made into broaches. According to Edward Mallandaine, the boy next to Smith in the famous
picture (he was actually 18), "The Last Spike was extracted and hammered to bits,
the last rail was cut off and chipped, and the last tie was splintered and everyone who wanted it
secured a memento."
Another account English related was that the bent spike was carved into broaches and the second
spike was kept as an heirloom.
And then there's the story from the railway construction boss James Munroe that English related.
According to Munroe that the spike was made of 18 carat gold and encrusted with diamonds
spelling out Craigellachie and it was driven in by Jane Sym, the "widow" of Canadian Prime
Minister Alexander Mackenzie.
The only problem, English laughed, is that Mackenzie was still alive at the time and there never
was a golden spike, English said.
Then there's the matter of the silver spike that was on display this summer. It is speculated to
be the one that was supposed to be used that morning but didn't make it to the site on time, along
with Governor General Lord Lansdowne.
The driving of the Last Spike marked the culmination of years of work on the railroad and a
flurry of activity in the days leading up to 7 Nov 1885.
The western end of the railway was "completed" on 28 Sep 1885 when Andrew Onderdonk and
his crews ran out of rail in Eagle Pass. At the time, said English, crews coming from the east were
about eight kilometres west of Albert Canyon. On 17 Oct 1885, they crossed the Columbia River at
Farwell (now Revelstoke) and by 5 Nov 1885 they were down to the last few kilometres.
The night before the Last Spike was driven the railway managers, including Smith, Van Horne, Sir
Sanford Fleming, and others, stopped in Farwell for the night before moving on to Craigellachie.
They, along with upwards of 150 other railway managers and workers were in Craigellachie the
morning of 7 Nov 1885 for the Last Spike ceremony, a low key affair compared to similar ceremonies
elsewhere in the world.
The construction of the railroad through Farwell was a real boon to the town. Farwell was a real
hub of activity, with between 4,000-6,000 residents and numerous hotels and saloons open.
Several people with connections to Revelstoke were likely present at the event. Lou Patrick, who
was a locomotive engineer on the line during construction and later drove engine 592 through the
mountains, was likely there, said English. He drove the first passenger train through the Rocky
Mountains and later settled in Revelstoke.
"He had his engine fit up with a special whistle so that when he was getting close to
Revelstoke he could blow this whistle and he knew that when he walked in the door his wife would
have heard this whistle and would have dinner on the table," English said.
Also present was local railway pioneer Matt Crawford, who ran the Revelstoke-Kamloops line for
"He was noted as the last of the witnesses to the Last Spike to be alive," said
This Sunday, 7 Nov 2010, a ceremonial spike will be driven as part of a celebration at
Craigellachie. Maybe the real Last Spike will make an appearance too?
Canadian Pacific Railway Set-off Siding Vancouver Island British Columbia Canada