6 November 2010
Where is the Last Spike?
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 train was taken by Alexander Ross, the same photographer who
took the famous photo of the driving of the Last Spike.
Craigellachie British 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
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 metal.
"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 (9:22 a.m. 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 unclear.
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
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
"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 many years.
"He was noted as the last of the witnesses to the Last Spike to be alive," said English.
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