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.)
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.
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).
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.
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
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).
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
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
- Two "The Last Spike was extracted and hammered to
- Three "The bent spike is now in the Glenbow-Alberta Institute
- 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
- 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
I think most historians would agree on these events, but following that, the whereabouts of this third Last Spike
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
- 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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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.
1 Donna McDonald 1996 "Lord Strathcona A Biography of Donald Alexander Smith" page
2 Donna McDonald 1996 "Lord Strathcona A Biography of Donald Alexander Smith" page