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Canadian Pacific Railway Set-off Siding
The Last Spike

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There are at least three photographs depicting the official ceremonial driving of the Last Spike on the Canadian Pacific Railway. In this particular one Donald Alexander Smith, the most senior director of the company then present, and later to become Lord Strathcona, taps in the Last Spike on the Canadian Pacific Railway at Craigellachie, British Columbia, at Eagle Pass in the Gold Range. Also in the photo are (left to right) William Cornelius Van Horne (CPR General Manager), Sir Sandford Fleming, and Edward Mallandaine (teenager). Major A.B. (Hell's-Bells) Rogers was also present but cannot be seen in this particular photograph - 7 Nov 1885 Alexander J. Ross - National Library and Archives of Canada na-1494-5.

The Last Spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPR) was a final iron spike completing the CPR between Montreal and Port Moody driven at Craigellachie, British Columbia. It was driven into the tie by Donald Smith, later to become Lord Strathcona, on the morning of 7 Nov 1885. This event marked the end of a saga of natural disasters, financial crises, and even a rebellion, that plagued the CPR since its incorporation.

The Last Spike signalled the completion of the CPR which today remains a symbol of national unity in Canada. At the time, it fulfilled an 1871 commitment made by the Federal government to British Columbia which stipulated that a railway be built joining the Pacific province to Eastern Canada. The promise of a railway connection had been a major factor in British Columbia's decision to join Confederation. Although construction of a railway did not begin in British Columbia until 1880 (The Onderdonk contracts), resulting in threats of secession by some B.C. politicians, a railway was ultimately completed five years ahead of schedule.

In contrast to the ceremonial gold or silver spikes often used to mark the completion of a major American railroad, the CPR Last Spike was a conventional iron spike. When it was suggested to Van Horne a gold spike be used he replied "The last spike will be just as good an iron one as there is between Montreal and Vancouver, and anyone who wants to see it driven will have to pay full fare." 1 One can read a lot about the CPR into that statement.

At exactly 09:22 hours on the morning of 7 Nov 1885 Donald Smith swung the spike maul at the awaiting iron spike, giving it a glancing blow, bending the spike. It was pulled out and replaced with a fresh one, which Smith, with careful agility tapped home. There ensued a moment of silence until all present broke into spontaneous cheering. Van Horne was called upon to make a speech but only came up with "All I can say is that the work has been well done in every way." 2 In a scramble for souvenirs Van Horne's secretary picked up the discarded bent spike but Smith asked him for it. Smith later had a portion of the spike made into a broach encrusted with diamonds which he then presented to his wife as a gift.

Source:  Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia   (With corrections by this editor.)


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An internet search found three photographs of the Craigellachie ceremony as shown to the right. There was a fourth but it appears to be a cropped enlargement of the third, na-1494-6.

Major Rogers, with his white mutton chops, is barely visible in the left photo standing second to the left of Van Horne. Names of some individuals in the photos are listed beneath. These names accompanied each photo on the Glenbow Museum's web site page. With the exception of well-known figures like Van Horne, Smith, Fleming, and Rogers, the other names in the captions may, or may not, be identified correctly. It is my experience with archived photographs that attached captions are quite often incorrect.

One other person noted in the photographs is Edward Mallandaine. He was born in Victoria, B.C., on 1 Jul 1867, the very day of Canada's Confederation. Edward left school when he was 14-years-old and began providing a pony express delivery service to the railway construction workers in B.C. He made good money for several months, until the two ends of the track drew close to each other and most workers left the area. Before ending his adventure, Edward decided to attend the historic Last Spike event. So, he hopped aboard an open flat car, enduring a bumpy ride through a bitterly cold night to reach Craigellachie on 7 Nov 1885. At the ceremony, Edward, who was short for his age, wormed his way forward between the burly track workers crowding around the CPR dignitaries, until he was in the front row. A few moments later Edward poked his head around Donald Smith's shoulder just as photographer Alexander Ross took his famous picture. Soon after Edward had his picture taken he returned home and studied to become an architect and surveyor. He became a successful land developer and was co-founder of the town of Creston, B.C. He passed away in 1949 at the age of 82, forever remembered as the boy in the picture of the Last Spike.

Sometime before or after the driving of the Last Spike a station was constructed at Craigellachie. It is shown in a photograph apparently taken in the early 1900s displaying two unidentified women standing on the station's wooden platform dressed in clothing of the period. A standard wooden enclosed water tower is barely visible behind the two ladies. The photo comes from the archive of the Revelstoke Railway Museum and is credited to Jack Leslie.

 Internal link   Other Last Spikes

In 1883, the British Columbia Government appealed to Robert Dunsmuir to build a railway between Esquimalt and Nanaimo which was eventually acquired by the Canadian Pacific Railway. In return, Dunsmuir received a substantial amount of money and a land grant that amounted to twenty percent of the land on Vancouver Island. The project took three and a half years to complete. Seventy two miles of track, which was laid starting from both ends, met at milepost 25 in Cliffside, near Shawnigan Lake. In 1886, an inaugural train left Esquimalt with Robert Dunsmuir, Sir John A. MacDonald, their wives, and other dignitaries. At Cliffside, Sir John ceremoniously placed the Last Spike on 13 Aug 1886. He used a silver hammer to pound on a gold spike. A cairn was built at the site to commemorate the event. In 1986, the 100th anniversary of the E&N was celebrated with the addition of a second plaque. The original cairn and two plaques can be seen after a short hike north to the right-of-way from Cliffside Road.

In addition to the E&N cairn another rock cairn was dedicated at Noslo, Ontario, in 1935.

In the summer of 1884, there were 15,000 men and 4,000 horses working on the North Shore of Lake Superior. They consumed twelve tons of food per day and four tons of tobacco each month. Not a single shovel, locomotive crane, or power drill was used on the job, which is unfathomable because of the rugged terrain of the North Shore. Three particular miles of track around Jack Fish Bay cost $1,200,000. Twelve million dollars was spent on dynamite to build the line. Over one million dollars alone was spent from Heron Bay to Port Arthur (now named Thunder Bay).

 Image The last spike on the North Shore section, between Montreal and Winnipeg, was driven at Noslo, just west of Jack Fish, Ontario, on 16 May 1885. Colonel Oswald, of the Montreal Light Infantry, hammered home the last spike. Oswald was on a troop train that was travelling home from the Riel Rebellion in Saskatchewan. A major factor in the completion of the Lake Superior Section of the railway was due to the necessity of getting militia forces from the east to the Northwest Rebellion, as quickly as possible.

Fifty years later, on 16 May 1935, a few of the original workers and veterans of the CPR, re-enacted the driving of the last spike at Noslo. A monument was built on the spot to commemorate that historic occasion.

Beside the E&N and Noslo cairns another rock cairn was unveiled at Port Moody, British Columbia, on 1 Oct 1938 to commemorate the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Port Moody being the original terminus in 1885. Van Horne changed the terminus to Vancouver's Burrard Inlet later as it offered better prospects for the railway and ocean-going ships. This commemoration ceremony photo shows H.S. Cunningham the Mayor of Port Moody, John Murray, Judge F.W. Howay, A. Wells Gray, and G.A. Baillie in attendance.

In 1981, the 100th anniversary of the company's incorporation on 16 Feb 1881, another "last spike" ceremony was re-enacted at Jack Fish, Ontario, 15 miles east of Schreiber, Ontario, to mark the completion of the CPR line between Montreal and Winnipeg.

 Internal link   100th Anniversary of the Last Spike

In 1985 CPR held a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the driving of the Last Spike. This time the spike was driven by Donald Smith's great grandson, the present Lord Strathcona. The event was covered in their 4 Dec 1985 employee news letter, CP Rail News. Another article in that same edition was named Vintage Equipment at Ceremony and written by Dave Jones of Canadian Pacific.

Omer Lavallee, CPR's first Corporate Historian, wrote an article in March of 1987 giving additional information about brooches manufactured from the next to Last Spike (the one Donald Smith bent).

 Internal link   125th Anniversary of the Last Spike

With the arrival of the 125th anniversary of the driving of the Last Spike several unconfirmed stories about the Last Spike began showing up in the media.

Such as the following:

  • One  "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";
     
  • Two  "The Last Spike was extracted and hammered to bits";

  • Three  "The bent spike is now in the Glenbow-Alberta Institute in Calgary";

  • Four  "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";

  • Five  "The commemorative iron spike was one of the 300 presented to white VIPs and CPR dignitaries who attended the historic ceremony at Craigellachie on 7 Nov 1885".

When researching the story of the driving of Canadian Pacific's Last Spike the most common descriptions of the event generally state there were several "Last Spikes". The first being a silver spike which was to be driven by the Governor General Lord Lansdowne. He and that spike never made it to Craigellachie so on 7 Nov 1885 Donald Smith, the most senior employee of the company present, drove an ordinary iron spike into a tie braced by Major Rogers. But in doing so he bent the spike. The spike was discarded and replaced with another iron spike which Donald Smith then drove home.

I think most historians would agree on these events, but following that, the whereabouts of this third Last Spike become cloudy.

In his 1971 book "The Last Spike The Great Railway 1881-1885" Pierre Berton states on page 422 and 423:

Quote  The "Last Spike" was removed, after the dignitaries departed, by Roadmaster Frank Brothers (who is seen in the immediate left foreground of the famous photograph, facing the camera). Brothers was afraid that souvenir hunters would tear up his track to secure the prize. (As it was, chunks of the tie were chopped away and the remaining piece of the sawn rail was split up by memorabilia seekers.)

Brothers later presented the spike to Edward Beatty, but it was stolen from Beatty's desk.

Editor's note:  Beatty was president from 1918-1942 then Chairman until his death in 1943.

What happened to the spike cannot be ascertained with any accuracy, but it may be the one in the hands of Mrs. W.H. Remnant of Yellowknife. According to Mrs. Remnant, Henry Cambie came into possession of the spike and gave it to W.J. Lynch, chief of the patent office in Ottawa, to keep for his son Arthur, who was serving with the British Army Medical Corp. When Arthur returned home, his father presented him with the spike which by this time had been worked into the shape of a carving knife with the handle silvered. His daughter Mamie, now Mrs. Remnant, inherited it.

The other spike, which Donald Smith bent and discarded and which he appropriated as a souvenir, was cut into thin strips which were mounted with diamonds and presented to the wives of some of the members of the party. Several ladies who did not receive the souvenirs were so "put out" that the diplomatic Smith had a second, larger spike cut up into similar souvenirs. These, however, were made larger so that the recipients of the original gifts would be able to tell the difference.

Lord Lansdowne's original unused silver spike was presented to Van Horne and, as far as is known, is still in the hands of the Van Horne family.  Un-quote

So at this point we now have four "Last Spikes":

  • One - The unused silver spike;
     
  • Two - The bent iron spike cut up for jewelry;
     
  • Three - The second iron spike actually driven into a tie;
     
  • Four - Another larger iron spike later cut up for jewelry.

In this news story there is a photo of a spike that has been cut up. In the photo it appears this spike is NOT bent so that would eliminate it as spike number 2, the one bent by Donald Smith, that was turned into broaches. So which spike is this? Could it possibly be number 4, the one Donald Smith (Lord Strathcona) used to satisfy those "put out" ladies? And where is number 3 then, the iron spike removed by Roadmaster Frank Brothers? Does it exist somewhere now as a carving knife?

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 Internal link   The Silver Last Spike

On 14 Jun 2012 the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec, acquired the silver Last Spike that symbolizes the 1885 completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the uniting of the country from sea to sea. This historic artifact was donated to the Canadian Museum of Civilization by the heirs of William Van Horne, the legendary railway executive who led the CPR construction project. The donation was unveiled today at the Canadian Pacific Railway Pavilion in Calgary.

This silver ceremonial spike was to be carried west in 1885 by the Governor General, Lord Lansdowne. He was supposed to hammer it into the track during the now-famous Last Spike ceremony at Craigellachie, British Columbia. Unfortunately, Lord Lansdowne, with the spike in his possession, was unable to make it to the ceremony. He later had the spike mounted on a stone base and sent as a gift to Van Horne.

Held privately by the family for the past 125 years, the Last Spike will be on display at the Museum of Civilization following its premiere in Calgary.

"The completion of Canada's first transcontinental railway is one of the most significant and famous events in our country's history," said Mark O'Neill, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation. "The ceremonial Last Spike is an extraordinary artifact that will help us tell this story to future generations. We are very grateful for this generous donation."

"Sir William Van Horne was passionate about Canada and proud of his contribution to its development," said Sally Hannon, a member of the donor family. "I believe he would be delighted to know that this symbol of his greatest achievement will have a permanent home in Canada's national museum of human history."

The building of the CPR was integral to Canada's political and economic development. The promise of a rail link with central Canada helped entice British Columbia into Confederation. The railroad opened the Canadian Prairies to settlement and large-scale grain production, and gave rise to towns and cities across the West.

The donation includes an exchange of correspondence between Lord Lansdowne and William Van Horne, as well as over one hundred personal items which tell much about the man and his family, further enhancing this outstanding acquisition.

Backgrounder

The official ceremony marking the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway was held 7 Nov 1885 at Craigellachie, British Columbia, the meeting point of construction crews coming from east and west. In the famous photo of the event, company director Donald Alexander Smith, with white beard and top hat, is driving the Last Spike into place. But another person, and another spike, were supposed to be immortalized in the official photo. The original plan called for Canada's Governor General, Lord Lansdowne, to wield the maul. He had travelled west with a ceremonial silver spike made for the occasion, but had to return to Ottawa before the event took place, arriving home with the silver fastener. Smith was his replacement, and the iron spike he drove was indistinguishable from the countless others that had been pounded into place over the previous four years. In fact, Smith bent the first Last Spike with a poor swing of the maul. It was removed and he hammered a second into place. Smith retrieved the bent spike and later had pieces removed and fashioned into jewellery for the wives of CPR directors. The rest of the bent spike is now displayed at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa.

Editor's Note:  Possibly, but it doesn't appear bent in the photo. I suspect this is the spike used to make brooches for the "put out" ladies mentioned by Pierre Berton in his book.

The second Last Spike was removed to discourage souvenir hunters and reportedly given to the son of the patent office president. It is said to be still in that family's possession, reshaped into a carving knife. Lord Lansdowne had the ceremonial silver spike mounted on a stone base and sent as a gift to Sir William Van Horne. The silver Last Spike was privately held by Van Horne and his heirs for 125 years. The family donated the historic artifact to the Canadian Museum of Civilization, along with correspondence between Lord Lansdowne and Sir William Van Horne. The collection also includes more than one hundred personal items from Van Horne, including paintings, books, linens, furnishings, photographs, and dishes. Each of the Last Spikes has a unique story. But all symbolize the completion of Canada's first transcontinental railway and the building of a country from sea to sea.

Canadian Museum of Civilization - 14 Jun 2012.

 Internal link   The Carving Knife Last Spike

For more than 125 years, rumours have swirled about the whereabouts of the simple iron spike that Donald Smith (later Lord Strathcona) pounded into a railway tie at Craigellachie, British Columbia, on 7 Nov 1885, connecting the eastern and western portions of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

What happened to the spike after the photographer captured that late fall day in Eagle Pass and the locomotive whistle sounded, and the conductor shouted for the first time, "All aboard for the Pacific?" Does it still exist? And if so, where is it, and who owns it?

Those questions heated up again last week when a ceremonial sterling silver spike was presented to the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. That spike had been carried west by Lord Lansdowne, the Governor-General of Canada in 1885, but delays and bad weather persuaded him to return to Ottawa with the silver spike still in his pocket.

That's when Mr. Smith, the Scottish-born fur trader and railroad baron, was drafted as a replacement and given a simple iron spike as a substitute. His first blow was off and bent the spike, so it was removed and he pounded a second iron spike into the railway. Everybody agrees that it too was removed.

What happened to it afterwards is less certain. David Morrison, director of history at the Museum of Civilization, said he had never seen that spike or even a photograph of it. "No museum owns it," he said. "If it does exist, it is in private hands."

That comment prompted reader Brian Purdy, a former criminal lawyer and photographer, to contact the Globe and Mail to say he had met the owner of the Last Spike in the Yukon in the mid-1970s and had the photographs to prove it.

As it turns out, the Globe has learned, what is believed to be the legendary Last Spike resides in a safety deposit box in a Winnipeg bank. Fashioned into the handle of a carving knife and silver plated to enhance its ceremonial appearance, the spike has been in the family of Canadian patent officer W.J. Lynch for three generations.

"It is my understanding that the one I have is the one that was successfully driven at Craigellachie," W.H. (Binx) Remnant, whose late wife, Marion, was Mr. Lynch's granddaughter, said in an interview. He's even had the spike examined by a metallurgical engineer who attested it was the right age and materials to have been used as a railway spike in the 1880s. "I'm fairly satisfied that it is the genuine article."

But is it? The late journalist and popular historian Pierre Berton certainly thought so. He included an account of its provenance, though not its exact whereabouts, in his 1971 book, "The Last Spike The Great Railway 1881-1885". "As far as I know, the one in Winnipeg is the real one," said historian Brian McKillop, author of "Pierre Berton:  A Biography". "Nothing else has surfaced," he said. "There is no other story, and Berton certainly didn't suggest anything to the contrary."

The Canadian Pacific Railway, which no longer has an official archivist on its payroll, said in an e-mail message that it couldn't corroborate the story of the carving-knife spike and declined an interview. That doesn't bother Dr. Morrison, of the Museum of Civilization. "There is a plausible line of provenance (about the Winnipeg spike)," he said. "It seems like a reasonable conclusion to make. You just can't be 100 percent sure and that is very often the case."

There are at least four last spikes embedded in the historical narrative of building the transcontinental railway. Besides the sterling silver spike, there is the iron spike that Mr. Smith bent with his first badly executed blow. Roadmaster Frank Brothers extracted that spike, which Mr. Smith later claimed as a souvenir. He had the bent spike cut into strips, which were mounted with diamonds and presented to the wives of some of the party assembled at Craigellachie. What remained of the bent spike is now on display at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa.

Editor's Note:  Possibly, but it doesn't appear bent in the photo. I suspect this is the spike used to make brooches for the "put out" ladies mentioned by Pierre Berton in his book.

Later, Mr. Smith had another spike, usually called the ordinary or fourth spike, modelled into jewellery for other wives wanting the hot fashion accessory, but he made the strips larger so that discerning eyes could differentiate the knock offs from the original brooches.

Mr. Smith's aim was truer the second time he raised his hammer at Craigellachie. Eager to thwart souvenir hunters, Mr. Brothers dug out the true last spike and later presented it to Edward Beatty, the first Canadian-born president of the CPR.

This is where the story gets twisty. The spike was subsequently stolen from Mr. Beatty's desk and somehow came into the possession of surveyor and engineer Henry Cambie, who in turn gave it to W.J. Lynch, chief of the patent office in Ottawa, as a present for his son Arthur, who was wild about trains and was serving with the British Army Medical Corps. He in turn bequeathed it to his daughter Marion (who was known as Mamie and later as Mame) Remnant. "She was the youngest of his six kids and showed the most interest in it," explained her daughter Margot Remnant.

Mr. Berton, a man with a nose for a good yarn, knew of the elder Ms. Remnant because he had been a student at the University of British Columbia at the same time as her husband's older brother Peter. So, when he was travelling across the country in the early 1970s to promote his railway books, he invited Mrs. Remnant to meet him in Edmonton. He even signed the title page of her copy of his book, "The Last Spike The Great Railway 1881-1885", "For Mamie Remnant, who has it." And so she did, until she died at age 63 in 1997.

Her widower, a retired businessman and former clerk of the Legislative Assembly of the Yukon, has been keeping it safe ever since in his safety deposit box. But now, approaching his 85th birthday, he's beginning to wonder what he should do with the "carving knife" spike. The father of three is not ready to make a final decision, but he's asking himself:  "In the long term... should it not be in a museum somewhere?"

Coincidentally, there is a public institution that would be delighted to have the spike, the Museum of Civilization, which only last week accepted the sterling silver spike from the descendants of William Van Horne. "We would be very happy to entertain an offer to acquire," Dr. Morrison told The Globe.

Sandra Martin - The Globe and Mail 22 Jun 2012.

 Internal link   Conclusions Drawn

At this point, in 2012, we seem to have three "Last Spikes" and two pretenders:

  • One - The "Ceremonial" silver Last Spike which never got even close to Craigellachie and now lies in the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec;
     
  • Two - The first plain iron Last Spike bent by Donald Smith at Craigellachie was subsequently made into jewelry;
     
  • Three - The second plain iron Last Spike driven home by Donald Smith at Craigellachie and subsequently made into a carving knife now rests in a safety deposit box in Winnipeg;
     
  • Four - The pretender, a third plain iron spike made into a second batch of jewelry which MAY now be at the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa;
     
  • Five - Another pretender, the spike donated by Pierre Berton to the Chinese Committee seeking redress which was last seen in the Prime Minister's office;

Here's the way I see the story:  The first iron spike driven by Donald Smith (Lord Strathcona) was struck with a glancing blow which bent it. In a scramble for souvenirs Van Horne's secretary picked up the discarded bent spike but Smith asked him for it. Smith later had a portion of the spike made into broaches encrusted with diamonds which he then presented to the wives of some of the members of the party. Several ladies who did not receive the souvenirs were so put out that the diplomatic Smith had another, larger iron spike, cut up into similar souvenirs. These, however, were made larger so that the recipients of the original gifts would be able to tell the difference. The second iron spike driven by Smith, the unbent one, was retrieved by Roadmaster Frank Brothers following the ceremony. Brothers was afraid souvenir hunters would tear up his track to obtain the prize. (Frank Brothers may be seen in the famous Last Spike photograph at the top of this page.) It was this second iron spike that was presented to Edward Beatty and subsequently stolen from his desk. At some point it was fashioned into a knife and silver plated. It now resides in W.H. (Binx) Remnant's safety deposit box at Winnipeg.

A chopped up iron spike was given to Canada by Donald Smith's great grandson during a 100th anniversary ceremony at Craigellachie in 1985. The question now arises, which iron spike did Donald Smith's great grandson present in 1985? The remains of the original bent spike or that other iron spike used to fashion the larger jewelry pieces to appease the put out ladies? Which of these two resides in the Ottawa Science and Technology Museum? In a photo it appears to be unbent and of a larger than normal size.

So... which iron spike is the TRUE Last Spike? To qualify I believe it has to be a spike that was present at Craigellachie for the ceremony. The silver "Last Spike" doesn't qualify in my view, it wasn't even there. Furthermore the true Last Spike must be one that was actually driven by Donald Smith. So, that leaves two possibilities. The one he bent or the last one he drove home. To me, the spike he drove home into the tie would qualify as the true "Last Spike" driven at that historic 09:22 moment in Craigellachie. But where is that second unbent plain iron spike today? Is it now the silver plated carving knife in the hands of Mr. W.H. (Binx) Remnant? If science can positively link that carving knife back to Craigellachie then I believe we will have found the TRUE historic "Last Spike".

But wait... there's still more... a photo taken at the 125th anniversary Last Spike celebration in 2010 shows three silver-coloured spikes being driven into a short section of track. Where are those now? How many souvenir Last Spikes were given to attending dignitaries in 2010? It seems the Last Spike story will never end.

 Internal link   And Still More Information

This news article appeared in the Times Colonist.

Victoria Appraiser Helps Nail Down History
of Canadian Railway's Silver Icon

An untold story of the Canadian Pacific Railway's Last Spike has been uncovered, thanks to two B.C. historical experts and a tiny error, handwritten 126 years ago.

The solid silver railway spike, likely fashioned by a Montreal silversmith according to its stamped hallmarks, was donated last month to the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.

But it was two accompanying handwritten letters, one written by 1880s-era governor general Lord Lansdowne, and the other penned by hard-driving CPR executive and later company president William Van Horne, that offered the real clues to the history of this Canadian icon.

Victoria artifact appraiser Bjarne Tokerud and Vancouver colleague Steve Lunsford, hired to examine the silver spike for value and authenticity, ended up relying on the two letters for the truth about the Last Spike.

"The two letters are really significant because they really establish the history of the Last Spike," Tokerud said in an interview. "That's what really sealed the deal."

One letter, from Lansdowne to Van Horne, apologizes for not making it to the 7 Nov 1885, ceremony at Craigellachie in eastern B.C. As a token, he presents Van Horne with the silver railway spike as a souvenir, by then mounted on a granite pedestal.

"You must endeavour and bring yourself to believe that having set my heart on driving in the Last Spike, I brought it with me," Lansdowne wrote in the letter dated 1 Apr 1886.

The second handwritten letter, from Van Horne to Lansdowne, at first confused the two appraisers.

Why would he have kept an outgoing letter? The real, original letter would be filed away with Lansdowne's own papers.

And why would Van Horne handwrite a draft on letterhead stationery?

But then the two appraisers realized Van Horne's letter to Lansdowne had an error in it. And the two appraisers had one of those research insights they describe as an "ah-ha, lightbulb" moment.

Van Horne, writing to Lansdowne, the governor general, addressed him throughout as "Your Excellency", except in one case where he left out the word "Excellency." It was then inserted using a little hand drawn triangular peak.

This, the two appraisers now believe, was the intended letter, that is, until the mistake was discovered. It was most likely written again and sent off. Van Horne held on to the one with the error, along with the one from Lansdowne himself.

"I find it impossible to explain my gratification and delight at receipt of the silver spike you have been so kind as to send me," wrote Van Horne in the 3 Apr 1886, letter. "I shall prize it most highly."

Lunsford said it's important to understand the social etiquette of the 19th century when it came to written correspondence.

To receive a gift and a handwritten letter from someone as august as Lord Lansdowne was a huge honour. Answering it required a handwritten personal expression of thanks.

"Van Horne would have done it by hand to indicate his respect, and he would have wanted it to be perfect, because that's also a sign of respect," said Lunsford. "And it was an error in form and protocol, and you just didn't do that.

"And you don't send the governor general a marked up thing:  Oh, I couldn't be bothered to do it over again."

The story of the (silver) Last Spike is largely unknown to Canadians outside the descendants of Van Horne, who donated it to the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Even the late Canadian author and historian Pierre Berton, in his book "The Last Spike", published in 1971, mentioned the existence of a silver railway spike only in passing. Berton gave no indication that it had been preserved.

Tokerud and Lunsford say the story starts with Lansdowne travelling to the Last Spike ceremony on the CPR in 1885, carrying the silver spike in his pocket.

When he reached the end of the line, not yet joined to the one extending from the West Coast, he simply rode a horse over, then travelled by train to Port Moody, the western terminus of the CPR. Having made it to tidewater, Lansdowne intended to travel back on the CPR.

But since it was late fall, a snowfall blocked the train from carrying him back through the Rocky Mountains to Craigellachie for the Last Spike ceremony.

So Lansdowne made his way back to Ottawa, probably on American railway lines.

In Craigellachie, meanwhile, Donald Smith, the oldest of the CPR directors, hammered in an iron spike. On his first attempt, the spike was bent. The second one was hammered into the hole and retrieved (it is now at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa) and the final spike was driven home, probably by a railway worker.

Lunsford, who is familiar with other last spike ceremonies in the western U.S., said in many cases, the last spike would be tapped in, then taken out.

Other last spikes, including a famous gold last spike from California, were souvenirs fashioned afterward.

Calling any of them "the Last Spike," in fact, is a bit of a paradox, because any real last spike would be in the rail line.

But this silver one, fashioned in Montreal and carried by the governor general to B.C., then taken back, mounted on a pedestal of Quebec granite, and presented to Van Horne, qualifies for the title.

The silver Last Spike was intended to be driven home and retrieved afterward, but it never made it to the ceremony. Instead, the CPR completion ceremony was improvised, the historians contend.

"This Last Spike was just never driven because it never made it there," said Lunsford.

David Morrison, director of archeology and history at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, said other "Last Spikes" made of iron exist.

Recently, a newspaper story identified an individual who claims to have the spike bent by Smith in his first hammering attempt.

The Canada Science and Technology Museum has the spike said to be the second one driven in and retrieved by Smith. Part of that spike was said to be shaved off and made into jewelry for Smith's wife.

Morrison said he likes the silver one better.

"It's complete, it's symbolic, and it's iconic," he said. "We are very happy to have the silver one".

"It went to Van Horne, who was the guy who built the bloody railway in the first place, and it has a nice story, of travelling out west and then coming back."

Richard Watts - Times Colonist 3 Jul 2012.

 Internal link   Footnotes

1 Donna McDonald 1996 "Lord Strathcona A Biography of Donald Alexander Smith" page 325.

2 Donna McDonald 1996 "Lord Strathcona A Biography of Donald Alexander Smith" page 326

Additional information about James Ross may be found at:
www.ross-ter.com/JamesLRoss.html.

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This is an earlier obelisk and wooden sign marking the location of the Last Spike at Craigellachie, British Columbia - Date unknown Anonymous Photographer.
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This is the stone cairn marking the Last Spike location that lies on the north side of the CPR mainline at Craigellachie, British Columbia. It replaced a simple obelisk standing on the spot in 1927. An enlarged stone base surrounds the 1927 stone cairn with bronze plaques mounted in concrete atop the stones. This new base was added in 1985 and includes a stone from each of Canada's ten provinces - 4 May 2006 William C. Slim.
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(Left to right center group) W.C. Van Horne, Sandford Fleming, Donald Smith with spike maul, J.H. McTavish, J.M. Egan, James Ross. Man with beard, right of Smith, is Henry J. Cambie, chef on Van Horne's railway car. Another identification claims that Van Horne's chef is John G. Pearson, standing to the right of Ross. Boy in front is Edward Mallandaine - 7 Nov 1885 Alexander J. Ross - National Library and Archives of Canada na-218-2.
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(Left to right center group) W.C. Van Horne, Sandford Fleming, Donald Smith with spike maul, J.H. McTavish, J.M. Egan, James Ross. Man with beard, right of Smith, is Henry J. Cambie, chef on Van Horne's railway car. Another identification claims that Van Horne's chef is John G. Pearson, standing to the right of Ross. Boy in front is Edward Mallandaine - 7 Nov 1885 Alexander J. Ross - National Library and Archives of Canada na-1494-5.
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(Left to right center group) W.C. Van Horne, Sandford Fleming, Donald Smith with spike maul, J.H. McTavish, J.M. Egan, James Ross. Man with beard, right of Smith, is Henry J. Cambie, chef on Van Horne's railway car. Another identification claims that Van Horne's chef is John G. Pearson, standing to the right of Ross. Boy in front is Edward Mallandaine - 7 Nov 1885 Alexander J. Ross - National Library and Archives of Canada na-1494-6.
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A number of employees near Donald, B.C., 107.5 miles east of Eagle Pass, were waiting for a train to take them east on the day that the Last Spike was driven. To commemorate the event, they staged their own "last spike" ceremony for a photographer, whose camera recorded two North West Mounted Police officers among the spectators. These pictures illustrate the character of completed mainline track, with ties laid square on the right, but ragged on the left because of unequal tie lengths. Tie plates were not used, and ballast peaked at track center, above the ties. This track had been in place just about a year when the photograph was taken - 1974 Omer Lavallee "Van Horne's Road" Railfare Enterprises Limited Box 1434 Station B Montreal Quebec H3B 3L2.
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Workers pose in an unofficial ceremonial driving of the Last Spike near Donald, British Columbia. Charles A. Stoess is on the right behind the workman holding a railway tie in position - Date unknown Alexander J. Ross Glenbow Museum 1969-100.
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Craigellachie station - Circa 1900 Jack Leslie - Revelstoke Railway Museum.
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E&N cairn - 13 Aug 1996 William Slim.
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A photo of the Noslo cairn - 2004 Chris Wilson.
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Port Moody cairn - Date unknown Anonymous photographer.
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Steam locomotive CP 1201 at Craigellachie - Date unknown Anonymous photographer.
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CP 1201 at Craigellachie - Date unknown Anonymous photographer.
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CP 1201 at Craigellachie - Date unknown Anonymous photographer.
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Built in 1882 by Harlan & Hollingsworth of Wilmington, Delaware, USA, this car began its career as a private car for CPR railway contractors Langdon Shepard & Company under the modest designation of Contractor's Car. This location appears to be the wye at Taft - 1985 Peter Abel.
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CP 1201, 4-6-2 Pacific class G5a, sports a commemorative plaque on the front of its smokebox as it is about to switch the Contractor's Car, possibly at Taft, onto the rear after the re-enacted Last Spike ceremony - 1985 Peter Abel.
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CP 1201 backs the Langdon Shepard & Company Contractor's Car - 1985 Peter Abel.
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CP 1201 heads the Last Spike Special back to Revelstoke across the Columbia River bridge after the ceremony - 1985 Peter Abel.
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The Silver Last Spike - Date unknown Anonymous photographer.
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The Silver Last Spike - Date unknown Anonymous photographer.
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W.H. (Binx) Remnant photographed in his Winnipeg home with the third Last Spike from 7 Nov 1885 in Craigellachie - 20 Jun 2012 John Woods.
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Additional labeled photo from the internet - 7 Nov 1885 Alexander J. Ross - National Library and Archives of Canada na-1494-5.
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Additional labeled photo from the internet - 7 Nov 1885 Alexander J. Ross - National Library and Archives of Canada na-218-2.