Excitement in the Air as
"Pilgrims" Gather for
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
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
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
"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
Next to them, I.B. Scott and R.S. Allison took up their positions on a new spike driving
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
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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