125 years on, the Last Spike is commemorated and re-enacted at Craigellachie

By David F. Rooney

CRAIGELLACHIE — In a major ceremony witnessed by hundreds of guests and marked by the donation of almost $2 million in grants and legacies, the Canadian Pacific Railway and Parks Canada jointly marked the 125th anniversary of the driving of the Last Spike at Craigellachie on Sunday.

“The work has indeed been done — well done in every day,” said Fred Green, the CPR’s CEO as he quoted the railway’s hard-driving visionary Cornelius Van Horne.

Green told a 400-strong crowd of invited guests, spectators and journalists that the vision and determination that CPR founders Van Horne and Donald Smith employed to make the national dream a reality back in 1885 still exists within the company.

With thousands of employees, the CPR continues to ensure that the Canada it helped forge remains a vibrant and technologically advanced country.

And to mark the occasion he announced several major grants: $50,000 to a special legacy program in Revelstoke; $100,000 to two native scholarship programs at Trinity College and the University of Saskatchewan; $100,000 to the Military Families Fund, which assists the families of Canada’s serving soldiers (this marks, he said, a renewal of the CPR’s historic ties with the Edmonton-based Lord Strathcona’s Horse Regiment; $500,000 to UBC to digitize the remarkable collection of images and documents related to the experience of Chinese labourers collected by Dr. Wallace and Madeline Chung (you can discover more about their collection here and here); $1 million to the Van Horne Institute at the University of Calgary and; $30,000 for digital devices at Revelstoke’s new schools.

Green’s remarks — and the effort put into the celebration of 125 years of accomplishment by the company and Parks Canada — were appreciated by the crowd and by invited guests.

Ku’kpik (Chief) Wayne Christian of the Shuswap Nation was deeply gratified by the invitation extended to him and Adams Lake Band Chief Nelson Leon. 125 years ago not a single native was at the original driving of the Last Spike.

“Canada followed our pathways across the country to this place,” he said, describing the ways explorers used the rivers to cross the continent, before publicly blessing the undertaking at Craigellachie.

But his people still need help today redressing the careless disregard shown in the past. Back in the 1960s, he said, a CPR project to build sidings at Sicamous resulted in the destruction of a native burial ground. To this day many families do not know what happened to the remains of their parents and grandparents. He implored the crowd for any information that might help native families find the remains that were dug up back then. (Anyone who might know what happened to the remains removed from that burial ground can contact him by e-mail at kukpi_christian@splatzin.ca)

For Ned Harris, Sunday’s event brought to mind the determination of people with vision.

“The men who built this railroad were tough men, men with vision who overcame unimaginable difficulties and obstacles,” he said as he showed me a stickpin containing a fragment of the original Last Spike that was given to his great-grandfather George Harris, then a director of the CPR, back in 1885.

George Harris was a Boston financier who raised much of the American money that kept the CPR afloat financially. Ned Harris inherited not only his ancestor’s stickpin but a love of railroads. The American-born retired US Army officer and civil engineer is now a manager on the light rail construction project in Sacramento, Calif.

For Scott Pardoe of Calgary and his brother Duncan the event was a chance to relive family history.

Their great-great-grandfather Dr. Neville Lindsay was a physician with the CPR in 1885. The two boys wore vintage hats and carried a portrait of their forebear to the event with the rest of their family.

“This is history,” Scott said. “This doesn’t happen all the time.”

David Johnson, president of the Revelstoke Heritage Railway Society, the commemoration was also an opportunity to connect Revelstokians with the past by invited them to participate in the Last Spike Special Legacy Project. The society, which owns and operates the Railway Museum, has acquired a Victorian-style trunk and is inviting people to place within it objects they think are emblematic of the Last Spike and railroading.

The objects can be anything as long as they are related in some way to the Last Spike, he said.

The museum will accept these objects until December 15. The trunk will be treated as a time capsule and won’t be opened for another 25 years — 2035.

The federal government, too, used the event to announce, through MP Dean Del Mastro of Peterboroough Parliamentary Secretary to the MInister of Canadian Heritage, that November 7 will henceforth be known as National Railway Day.

But for all the announcements on Sunday one of the true highlights has to have been the rendition of Gordon Lightfoot’s Railway Trilogy by Sue Leach’s Arrow Heights Elementary Grade 4/5 class.

The kids performed with spirit and their enthusiastic young voices were a reminder that, despite the formality and ceremony, this was in many ways a community event at heart.

John Woods (left) takes a picture of his wife, Marcia, posing with two of the troopers of the Lord Strathcona's Horse Regiment in dress uniform at the entrance to the Railway Museum Sunday morning. The Woods were among the guests invited to ride a CP Rail passenger train to the special ceremony to commemorate the 125th Anniversary of the Last Spike at Craigellachie. David F. Rooney photo
These are some of the artworks produced by students in Sue Leach's Grade 4/5 class at Arrow Heights Elementary School. These railway-themed drawings were produced for an art class on perspective drawing. This class also was invited to sing Gordon Lightfoot's iconic song, The Railway Trilogy, at the ceremony. You can see photos of their performance below. A video of their performance will be posted on The Current by Monday afternoon. David F. Rooney photo
Singer Sharon Shook takes a photo of the special train laid on by the CPR to take invited guests to Craigellanchie. David F. Rooney photo
Guests boarding the train. Lord Strathcona's Horse Regiment has had an historical tie to the CPR as Lord Strathcona was born Donald Smith, one of the men whose vision and drive helped create the complete the Canadian Pacific Railway. David F. Rooney photo
This is the view inside one of the railway cars that carried guests to the ceremony. David F. Rooney photo
Ned Harris tells Kurt Pont about the rare stick pin held by Revelstoke Museum Curator Cathy English. Harris' great grandfather was a director of the CPR during its construction and was present at the driving of the Last Spike. The stick pin Cathy is holding enshrines a precious shard of the original Last Spike. The CPR's directors had fragments cut from the original Last Spike and had them turned into personal jewellery for themselves and their wives. You can see a clearer image of the pin below. David F. Rooney photo
Red-coated Mounties stand at parade rest by the Last Spike monument while a military photographer talks to AHE teacher Sue Leach. This was the scene guests saw in front of the Last Spike monument after they disembarked from the train at Craigellachie. David F. Rooney photo
Journalists, photographers and camera crews wait for the beginning of Sunday's ceremony. News media from the CBC, CTV, BBC Scotland and newspapers large and small were present for the ceremony. David F. Rooney photo
People await the ceremony's start. David F. Rooney photo
According to Parks Canada spokeswoman Jacolyn Daniluck about 400 people, most of them from Revelstoke and other towns in the region, attended the day's event. David F. Rooney photo
Music was provided by Cats and the Fiddle from Salmon Arm. David F. Rooney photo
Cameramen await the arrival of the official party, which included MP Dean Del Mastro, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, CPR CEO Fred Green, Shuswap Nation Chief Wayne Christian, Parks Canada Superintendent Karen Tierney and Revelstoke Railway Heritage Society President David Johnson. David F. Rooney photo
What looked like a dismal and rainy day proved to be a pleasant one by the time the ceremony was about to begin. David F. Rooney photo
Bagpiper Archie McConnachie led the official party to their seats by the monument. That's Parliamentary Secretary Dean Del Mastro behind the red-coated soldiers of the Lord Strathcona's Horse. The rest of the official party about 10 feet behind him. David F. Rooney photo
Mounties salute as Sharon Shook sings O Canada in English, and French, at the start of the ceremony. David F. Rooney photo
Shuswap Chief Wayne Christian speaks to the crowd at the event. Christian was gratified to be invited to the ceremony, something he noted that did not happen at the original driving of the Last Spike. K'ukpi Christian (the term means 'chief' in the Shuswap language) remarked on the positive progress in relations between natives and non-natives in recent years but asked, too, for help in locating the remains from a native burial site that was dug up in Sicamous in the 1960s by the CPR to make way for railway sidings. Anyone who thinks they may know what happened to the remains should contact him by e-mail at kukpi_christian@splatzin.ca. David F. Rooney photo
Not all of the spectators at the ceremony were adults. This young boy in the replica RCMP Stetson is Porter Johnson of Mara Lake. David F. Rooney photo
CPR CEO Fred Green announced almost $2 million in donations to scholarships and legacies at the ceremony. He also presented Parks Superintendent Karen Tierney with with original historical telegraph messages related to the opening of the CPR Hotel at Field. David F. Rooney photo
Fred Green presents Chief Wayne Christian and Adams Lake Band Chief Nelson Leon with a traditional gift — Hudson's Bay blankets. David F. Rooney photo
Fred Green shakes hands with Lieut.-Col. Trevor Cadieux of the Lord Strathcona's Horse after announcing a $100,000 donation to the Military Families Fund, which assists the families of Canada's soldiers. The gift represented a renewal of the CPR's ties with the regiment, Green said. David F. Rooney photo
Revelstoke Railway Heritage Society President David Johnson speaks about the genesis of the Revelstoke Railway Museum and the Last Spike Special Legacy Project. Anyone can, until December 15, donate an object they believe expresses the importance of the Last Spike. The objects will be placed inside a Victorian-style trunk and will not be opened until the 150th anniversary of the Last Spike. David F. Rooney photo
One of the highlights of the ceremony was the spirited performance of Gordon Lightfoot's Railway Trilogy by Sue Leach's Grade 4/5 class from AHE. David F. Rooney photo
The children's performance was also a symphony of colour as they were flaked by red-coated soldiers and backed by flags. David F. Rooney photo
This is another view of the young performers who were accompanied on guitar b y Jannica Hoskins. David F. Rooney photo
The crowd really appreciated the children's performance. So did the CPR. The company gave Leach and every member of her class an IPod Nano. David F. Rooney photo
Fred Green drives a spike into a tie during a special re-enactment of the original 1885 ceremony. With him is Parliamentary Secretary Del Mastro and Don Lindsay, CEO of Tek, a major client of the railway and great-grandson of one of Dr. Neville Lindsay who was a CPR physician at the time of the original Last Spike. David F. Rooney photo
A member of the official party congratulates Sue Leach and her students on their performance. David F. Rooney photo
Young Scott (left) and Duncan Pardoe of Calgary wore vintage hats and carried a portrait of their great-great grandfather, Dr. Neville Lindsay, a pioneer physician in Calgary. David F. Rooney photo
Ned Harris of Sacramento, Calif., talks to reporters about his great-grandfather George Harris and his precious stick pin containing a sliver of the original Last Spike. George Harris was a Boston financier who helped keep the CPR financially viable. He was also a CPR director and was present at the original 1885 ceremony. David F. Rooney photo
Here's one of the people who helped ensure that the ceremony went smoothly — Grant Leiterman. David F. Rooney photo
Canadian soliders pose for a photo with Parliamentary Secretary Del Mastro. David F. Rooney photo
Fred Green, Dean Del Mastro and Don Lindsay re-enact their earlier re-enactment of the driving of the Last Spike for photographers hungry for a slightly different photo. David F. Rooney photo
Ned Harris holds his stick pin in front of the case holding the original Last Spike for BBC Scotland camera crew. David F. Rooney photo
And here's a semi-closeup of the pin and the original Last Spike from whence its fragment came. David F. Rooney photo