Canadian Pacific Railway Set-off Siding
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7 November 2010

Last Spike
(Canadian Pacific Railway)
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A plaque commemorating the driving of the last spike.

Craigellachie British Columbia - The Last Spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was the final spike driven into the Canadian Pacific Railway at Craigellachie, British Columbia, at 09:22 on 7 Nov 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 Last Spike signalled the completion of the CPR (although the need for other work besides the track itself meant that the railway did not actually open until June 1886), and remains today a symbol of national unity in Canada. At the time, it 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. 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. The work was then assigned to a newly incorporated CPR company, which was allowed an additional ten years to complete the line, and did it in five.

In contrast to the ceremonial gold or silver final spikes often used to mark the completion of other major railroads, the Last Spike was a conventional iron spike identical to the many others used in the construction of the line. A silver spike was created for the Governor General who was to present it to the CPR, but he was required to return to Ottawa before the completion of the railway. The Last Spike was removed from the track shortly after the official delegation left because it was believed that souvenir hunters might attempt to tear it up in the future. Another normal spike was inserted in its place. The actual spike was given as a gift 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

The most famous accounts of the construction and completion of the CPR are Pierre Berton's twin volumes "The National Dream" and "The Last Spike". Another important recollection of this event is the narrative poem entitled "Towards the Last Spike" by Canadian poet, E.J. Pratt.

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