MP-0000.25.971 | Donald Smith, later Lord Strathcona, driving the last spike, C.P.R., Craigellachie, BC, 1885, copied about 1910

 
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Photograph, glass lantern slide
Donald Smith, later Lord Strathcona, driving the last spike, C.P.R., Craigellachie, BC, 1885, copied about 1910
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
MP-0000.25.971
© McCord Museum
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Keywords:  History (944) , Photograph (77678)
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Keys to History

On the morning of November 7, 1885, the Honourable Donald Smith, of Canadian Pacific Railway, drove the last spike on the track of the country's first transcontinental railway line.

This simple ceremony took place in Craigellachie, British Columbia. Several CP dignitaries had just arrived in official railway carriages. They were surrounded by track gangs who, at dawn, had laid the rails to complete the last mile of track. Once the symbolic spike had been driven, CPR manager William Van Horne pronounced these words: "All I can say is that the work has been well done in every way."

After the customary congratulations, the dignitaries continued on to Port Moody, BC, the westernmost point on the line. A huge construction project had come to an end: for almost five years, it had mobilized thousands, including railway engineers, surveyors and work gangs.

  • What

    Out of superstition, Van Horne asked for a regular iron spike for the ceremony, rather than the customary gold or silver spike.

  • Where

    At the time, laying a mile (2.5 km) of track through the Rockies could cost up to half a million dollars.

  • When

    On June 28, 1886, the first passenger train left Montreal on the new Canadian Pacific track, arriving in Port Moody, BC, on Sunday, July 4.

  • Who

    Donald Smith, William Van Horne, Thomas Shaughnessy and George Stephen, in the photograph, were among the financiers who staked a good part of their personal fortunes or their reputations on the railway venture.