MP-0000.158.125 | Donald Smith, later Lord Strathcona, driving the last spike, C. P. R., Craigellachie, BC, 1885 (copied about 1928)

Photograph, glass lantern slide
Donald Smith, later Lord Strathcona, driving the last spike, C. P. R., Craigellachie, BC, 1885 (copied about 1928)
Alexander Ross
1885, 19th century
Silver salts and transparent ink on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
8 x 10 cm
Gift of Mr. Stanley G. Triggs
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  British Columbia (62) , ceremony (14) , CPR (7) , Craigellachie (1) , crowd (32) , driving the last spike (1) , figure (1849) , group (644) , history (162) , History (944) , Lord Strathcona (4) , male (1608) , Photograph (77678) , rail (53) , transportation (338)
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"The Last Spike. Thirty miles beyond Revelstoke, at Craigellachie, an obelisk alongside the track commemorates the completion of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was here on November 7th, 1885, that the rails from the East met the rails from the West, and the long-cherished vision of a Canadian trans-continental railway became a reality. In this photograph of that historic day, three builders of Canada are seen--Sir Donald Smith (later Lord Strathcona) who is driving a golden spike, Mr. (later Sir) Sandford Fleming who stands immediately behind him, and Mr. (later Sir) William Van Horne to the left. From Craigellachie, in an hour we reach Sicamous, where for a time we will rest."

Excerpt from "ACROSS CANADA BY C. P. R.", Section 5--The Canadian Rockies; booklet, McGill University Illustrated Lectures, 1928.

Keys to History

This hand-coloured version of perhaps the most famous photograph ever taken in Canada was shot by Alexander Ross, and was one of several taken on November 7, 1885 at Craigellachie, near Revelstoke, B.C. It shows Donald Smith (later created Lord Strathcona) driving the last spike on the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). Canada, a country less than twenty years old, was now tied by rail from sea to sea, largely through the efforts of Scottish entrepreneurs. The completion of the "national dream" on that day has at least three Scottish connections: Smith (1820-1914) was born in Scotland, as was Sandford Fleming, CPR director and former chief engineer of the CPR project for the government. He is the tall bearded man in the top hat standing behind Smith. Craigellachie was named for a place in Morayshire, Scotland, near where Smith grew up.

  • What

    The honour of driving the last spike was assigned to Donald Smith, the eldest of the four directors of the CPR present. His first blow did not land well and he bent the spike badly. It was quickly pulled out and replaced with another.

  • Where

    The photograph was taken at Craigellachie, near Revelstoke, B.C., where a cairn now marks the event.

  • When

    The last spike was driven on November 7, 1885, fourteen years after British Columbia demanded, as a condition for its entry into the Canadian Confederation, the commencement of a transcontinental railway within two years and its completion within ten years.

  • Who

    To the right side of the track, the man with hand on hip looking at the photographer is James Ross (another Scot). In 1882 he was appointed manager of construction for the mountain section of the Canadian Pacific Railway.