Canadian Pacific Railway Set-off Siding
Volume 15 Number 16
Dec. 4, 1985
Excitement in the Air as
"Pilgrims" Gather for
Craigellachie Ceremony
By Stephen Morris
Like his great grandfather before him:  Lord Strathcona re-enacts his forbear's actions of 100 years ago by driving the last spike, this time marking the end of the railway's first century. Unlike his predecessor, this spike was not bent.

Craigellachie - For many it was a pilgrimage. Some had travelled across the country, others from as far away as Europe, to witness the 100th anniversary celebrations marking the Driving of the Last Spike a century ago.

On a cold, overcast autumn morning, much the same type of day as it was then, about 1,000 people stood on a snowy hillside watching the historic ceremony.

For many, the day had begun early. John Corby, curator of industrial technology, National Museum of Science and Technology, and his staff had been up since 03:00, firing up steam locomotive 1201. The engine had been brought from Ottawa to make the 32-kilometre run from Revelstoke to Craigellachie with 200 guests and dignitaries.

Railway crews were at the station early. There was no doubt that train orders issued that day would be collector's items.

Excitement was in the air and had been building up since early morning towards the magic moment of 09:22, the moment Donald A. Smith drove the last spike which completed the CPR's transcontinental line.

On Time

John Kelsall, vice-president, operation and maintenance, who served as master of ceremonies on this special occasion, used a 100-year-old pocket watch as the official timepiece.

As the train pulled out of the Revelstoke Station at precisely 07:15, grandfathers and grandmothers, parents and children looked on and waved to the special train.

Onboard, officials and reporters stared in amazement as lines of cars raced along the nearby highway in pursuit of the train.

Meanwhile, at Craigellachie, cars and busses had started arriving. Each person hoping to get a glimpse of the activities from the best vantage point. "We've all seen the Last Spike photograph, but now to be out here actually seeing history in the making is a feeling you can't describe", said Laura Armitage, office clerk, special projects. Laura had brought four Revelstoke school children to see the event.


The train arrived at 08:30, and people began taking their places as the clock ticked toward that moment in history.

The event was well attended by media this time, unlike the original ceremony 100-years-ago when none were present.

From the hillside a radio reporter had set up a remote feed to Toronto, which broadcast the ceremony live across Canada.

"I've never seen anything like it", said Ray Wilson, president, Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce. "You could feel the excitement in the air, people waiting for the spike to be driven".

The official party was introduced by Mr. Kelsall, and it read like a Canadian Who's Who.

Present were:  Jim Bromley, senior regional vice-president Pacific Region; R.S. Allison, president; I.B. Scott, chairman and chief executive officer; Lord and Lady Shaughnessy; Lord and Lady Strathcona; the Honorable Garde Gardom, minister of intergovernmental affairs for British Columbia government house leader and member of the legislature for Vancouver-Point Grey; Stan Graham, member of parliament for Kootenay East; Clifford Michael, member of the B.C. legislature for Shuswap-Revelstoke; and the Honorable Judge Rene Marin, chairman of Canada Post from Ottawa.

Unveiling:  Centennial plaques are unveiled on the cairn marking the spot where the last spike was driven 100-years-ago. From left are:  Lord Shaughnessy; R.S. Allison, president; Lord Strathcona and I.B. Scott, chairman. The introductory speeches began with Mr. Allison reflecting on how the workers might have felt on that historic day.

"I don't know what they talked about that day but I'm sure each one had to pinch himself more than once before he could believe they'd finally done it", he said. "I don't see how anyone can stand on this spot without marvelling at the magnitude of the job they undertook".

As Mr. Allison finished, Mr. Kelsall announced to the crowd that in a few moments it would be 09:22 Pacific Daylight Time.

He then called on the great grandson of Donald A. Smith, the present-day Lord Strathcona, to take up his position to drive another Last Spike. To assist him was the grandson of Thomas Shaughnessy, who had been assistant general manager of the CPR 100-years-ago, and president of the railway from 1899 to 1918.

Next to them, I.B. Scott and R.S. Allison took up their positions on a new spike driving machine.

The crowd waited. An eerie silence fell over the entire area while people waited for Mr. Kelsall to announce the moment.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it is now exactly 09:22 a.m.", he said.

At that moment a clang was heard as steel maul met steel spike. Then a loud cheer rose from the crowd. The Last Spike of the first century had been driven.

Now it was time for the first spike of the second century to be driven. Would the spike be bent on the first blow as it had 100 years before?

The spike was put. Again the crowd was silent. Mr. Allison pressed a black button and the spike entered the tie smoothly as another loud cheer went up.

In the background, steam engine 1201 sounded a whistle signal advising a second section of a train was coming from behind. Echoing down the pass, a diesel locomotive horn signalled the correct response.

The symbolic meaning to railroaders was clear. The steam engine had signalled that the second section, meaning the second century in the life of CP Rail, was approaching.

Some felt Van Horne was probably looking down over Craigellachie that day. He no doubt would have nodded and said:  "All I can say is that the work has been well done in ever way".

This CP Rail News article is copyright 1985 by the Canadian Pacific Railway and is reprinted here with their permission. All photographs, logos, and trademarks are the property of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company.

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