Friday, January 9, 2009

The Last Spike

The Last Spike is well marked in Canadian history books. It was the final spike joining Canada from coast to coast at last by a "ribbon of steel". The Last Spike was driven in on November 7, 1885 by Sir Donald Smith at Craigellachie. Sir Donald was a former Hudson Bay Trader and a member of the original Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Syndicate. His cousin, Gearge Stephen was in fact, the President of the CPR from 1881 to 1888. The railway was completed later than had been promised by Prime Minister Sir John A Macdonald in 1971 when British Columbia joined Canada. On of the conditions of BC joining confederation was the promised railroad which Macdonald said would be completed within 10 years.

Despite the hardwork put in, mostly by unpaid Chinese workers, it took a 14 years to finish the railroad, the worst of which was carving out track in the Rocky Mountain region of British Columbia and Alberta. Explosives, including nitroglycerin were used and the project had high casualties among workers. It was a dark passage in Canadian histories that so many workers, most Chinese, were killed. The Chinese workers were poorly treated and paid only $1 per day. With this they had to pay for their food and accomodation. White workers were paid $1.50 - $2 per day and food and accomodation were provided. In addition white workers were given less dangerous jobs.

The CPR still operates today, although more as a freightline and not entirely on the original route which it was built.

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