Canadas national history museum has acquired the silver last spike that symbolizes the 1885 completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and the uniting of the country from sea to sea. This historic artifact was donated to the Canadian Museum of Civilization
by heirs of William Van Horne, the legendary railway executive who led the construction project. The donation was unveiled at the Canadian Pacific Railway Pavilion in Calgary.
The ceremonial spike was carried west in 1885 by the Governor General, Lord Lansdowne. He was supposed to hammer it into the track during the now-famous last spike ceremony at Craigellachie, British Columbia. Unfortunately, Lord Lansdowne, with the spike in his possession, was unable to make it to the ceremony. He later had the spike mounted on a stone base and sent as a gift to Van Horne. Held privately by the family for the past 125 years, the last spike is on display at the Museum of Civilization.
The completion of Canadas first transcontinental railway is one of the most significant and famous events in our countrys history, said Mark ONeill, President and CEO of theCanadian Museum of Civilization Corporation. The ceremonial last spike is an extraordinary artifact that will help us tell this story to future generations. We are very grateful for this generous donation.
Sir William Van Horne was passionate about Canada and proud of his contribution to its development, said Sally Hannon, a member of the donor family. I believe he would be delighted to know that this symbol of his greatest achievement will have a permanent home in Canadas national museum of human history.
The building of the CPR was integral to Canadas political and economic development. The promise of a rail link with central Canada helped entice British Columbia into Confederation. The railroad opened the Canadian Prairies to settlement and large-scale grain production, and gave rise to towns and cities across the West.
The donation includes an exchange of correspondence between Lord Lansdowne and William Van Horne, as well as over one hundred personal items which tell much about the man and his family, further enhancing this outstanding acquisition.