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1886::Canada's True Last Spike

Updated: Aug 2, 2022

The driving of the true last spike of Canada's coast to coast railway link.

1886::Canada's True Last Spike on Vancouver Island

"Canada's True 'Last Spike' Event" Photo: City of Victoria Archives (M09853)

On July 20, 1871, British Columbia joined the Canadian Confederation as Canada's sixth province on the agreement that within ten years, the Canadian Government would build a transcontinental railway linking the Pacific Province to the eastern provinces. This link agreement was to include a rail bridge to Vancouver Island from the mainland, and a rail line down the length of the island with its western terminus in Victoria. Vancouver Island was now part of British Columbia, after all (since 1866), and was now also to be part of Canada.

1886::The Last Spike of Vancouver Island's E&N Rail Line

"The Last Spike is Driven"

Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1886) Victoria, British Columbia

It didn't take long for the Canadian Government to realize that they had signed a contract that was near impossible to fulfill. Soon, allegations of political scandal surrounding the building of the railway caused the resignation of Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald, who had been knighted at the birth of the country on July 1, 1867. But no matter. Once the dust settled in 1878, Macdonald returned as Prime Minister once again.

Delays in the construction of the railway led to a settlement agreement in 1883 which, after much political pressure, put plans for a connecting rail link back on Vancouver Island. Canada's coast-to-coast rail line was complete in 1885 when the last spike was driven at Craigellachie, BC, but the Vancouver Island rail bridge and line was yet to be built. The full agreement was not yet met. With limited options, Canada entered into a contract with Vancouver Island's coal magnate Robert Dunsmuir, who took their money and agreed to construct the Vancouver Island railway line in good faith. In 1886, Dunsmuir's Esquimalt & Nanaimo (E&N) Vancouver Island rail line was considered complete with the driving of the last spike near Shawnigan Lake, BC, and thus the terms of the settlement contract with Canada had been met... or so they thought. In the early 1900s, shortly before the First World War, it was argued that the terms of the agreement were never met as the connecting mainland-to-island rail bridge was still missing. The argument went nowhere.

Canada's true 'last spike' was driven by Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald on August 13, 1886 at Cliffside near Shawnigan Lake, BC. Immediately after The Last Spike event, MacDonald's spike was removed from the rail and handed to him as a gift. Government officials climbed aboard and the train continued up the line to arrive in Nanaimo as the first E&N passenger train to roll into the city. It was later said that MacDonald chipped away pieces of the spike to give away as gifts.

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