The Last Spike was driven home by Donald A. Smith at 9:22 am on November 7th, 1885 in Craigellachie, British Columbia. It was a monumental event that connected the transcontinental railroad from Montreal, Quebec to Port Moody, British Columbia.
The famous photograph of the event shows an elderly white-bearded Smith, leaning over the track, poised to hammer the final spike. He is flanked by a barrage of interesting characters, including a small boy, a world renowned outfitter and the future president of the CPR.
The iconic photograph has produced many stories, but one of the most interesting centres on the spike itself.
Apparently, the spike that was imbedded on that cold day in November was a simple cut spike. It had no ornamentation and was in fact the third spike chosen for the job.
The first spike, a beautiful silver crampon, never made it to the ceremony. It had been given to Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, Canada’s 5th Governor General, for the event, but poor weather forced GG back to Ottawa.
The second spike was a common spike, chosen on site for the symbolic hammering. Unfortunately for this spike, Smith’s aim was a bit off and after a few blows the bent nail was removed.
The third and final spike was the stand-in, a common spike, like the millions of others produced for the Canadian railway. Because of its common origins, the actual whereabouts of the final spike is disputed. A handful of parties claim to be the owners of the last spike, but none can prove, with 100% accuracy, that it was the final nail hit by Donald A. Smith. So, the legend lives on.
The volunteers at the Roundhouse Community Centre are an excellent resource for Canadian rail history. Vancouver Bike Tours stops at the now renovated CPR Roundhouse for a quick look into Vancouver’s steel ties. This stop on our afternoon Creekside Tour is always a favourite for the history buffs.