The legendary iron spike driven in ceremonial completion of Sir John A. Macdonald’s National Dream at Craigellachie, BC in 1885 is likely not the last “Last Spike.” Staff at a small museum on Vancouver Island believe the famous “Last Spike” completing Canada’s National Dream of a railway coast to coast, was actually driven into the railbed near Nanaimo by Sir John A. Macdonald himself.
According to Lori Trelor, curator of the Shawnigan Lake Museum on Vancouver Island, in 1886 a golden spike was pounded into the turf at Cliffside, Shawnigan Lake by Macdonald himself using a silver hammer. This marked literally the end of the line for the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway. “We believe this spike, driven by Macdonald himself, is the true Last Spike,” says Trelor. “The E & R Line has momentous historic value considering it was the only time Macdonald visited the island – or the west, indeed. His purpose was to drive in the last spike, fulfilling his promise of a rail line from sea to sea.”
Trelor’s museum and local, regional and national repositories have searched in vain to find the location of the spike and hammer used by Macdonald. “The most likely scenario is they were in Lady Agnes’s possession when she returned to England,” she says. “It is very unlikely they left anything of value at Cliffside here on the Island because it is such a remote spot along the line. There was not even a proper stop there on the line until the 1920s.”
Trelor says she does not know what happened to the estate of Lady Macdonald. Titled Baroness Macdonald of Earnscliffe after her husband’s death, she died in Eastbourne, England in 1920 and was buried there in Ocklynge Cemetery.
And what about the stories behind the other “last spikes?”
A silver one sits in The Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa/Gatineau. But that little artifact never got out of Ontario: it was to have been carried to the Craigellachie site by Canada’s governor general, but bad weather made the trip impossible, so the sterling silver spike and the governor general remained in Ottawa. Instead, Scottish-born fur trader and rail baron Donald Smith stood in and used a simple iron spike.
According to a June 2012 Globe and Mail story, Smith blew his first strike at the spike. He pocketed it, later having it cut into strips and made into diamond-studded jewelry for his cronies’ wives. Smith pounded the next one into the rail but picked it up to foil souvenir hunters, then gave it to CP Rail president Edward Beatty from whose desk it ended up being stolen. The spike’s ultimate fate remains unrecorded, but historian Pierre Burton claimed it is in private hands in a safe deposit box in a Winnipeg bank.
Questions still remain.
HAVIN' A PARTY – MACDONALD CELEBRATES AFTER DRIVING THE REAL LAST SPIKE
According to the Shawnigan Museum, near where the Last Spike was driven by Macdonald himself in 1886, “the inaugural train left Esquimalt with Robert Dunsmuir, Sir John A. MacDonald, their wives and other dignitaries. At Cliffside, Macdonald used a silver hammer and pounded in a gold spike. A cairn was built at the site to commemorate the event. It was the only time Macdonald ever visited British Columbia.
Shawnigan Lake Museum: http://www.shawniganlakemuseum.com/
The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/legendary-railway-spike-thought-lost-to-history-until-now/article4365698/