Craigellachie, which loosely translates to “hill of rock”, is a small National Historic Site located on Highway 1, west of the city of Revelstoke, B.C. The site is important as it was here that the “last spike” for a Canadian transcontinental railway was driven in on November 7, 1885. With this historic event, the Canadian Pacific Railway joined the province of British Columbia with the rail-line running from the province of Ontario. The railway took four years to build, and at a length of 4700 km, it was the longest railway to be constructed at that time.
So now for some history…the railway played a key role in ensuring that Canada was a country that spanned from east to west. Completing the railroad was a key condition for British Columbia (formerly known as the Union of British Columbia) in joining Confederation fourteen years earlier in 1871. Prior to this transcontinental rail-line being finished, railways in Canada were found only in the central and eastern areas of the country.
Building the railway was not without difficulties and controversy. The route chosen provided challenges with hard rock to blast and level, as well as mountain passes to overcome. Also, much of the land across the prairies was settled by the First Nations and Metis, and the construction of the railroad meant a loss of much of their traditional territory.
Once it was completed, the railway provided a way for settlers to head to the prairies. They bought land to farm and created an increase in agricultural sales. More branches of the railway were built and today there are more than 49,000 km (30,000 miles) of track in Canada. Most of the trains in Canada now carry freight including fuel, coal, minerals, and agriculture.
The Canadian railroad and it’s history have been immortalized in both song and book. Gordon Lightfoot, a Canadian singer-songwriter wrote “The Canadian Railroad Trilogy” in 1967 to mark Canada’s centennial year. Pierre Berton, a famous Canadian author, wrote “The National Dream” in 1970 using diaries, letters, public documents and newspapers, to tell the story of how the railway was built.
If you are near the town of Banff, in the Canadian Rockies, take the time to find Morant’s Curve, a scenic spot to wait and photograph trains. Nicholas Morant was a photographer who was hired by the Canadian Pacific Railway during the mid-1900’s to take pictures of the scenery in Western Canada. His photographs were used to help promote tourism and encourage people to travel by the CP Railway’s transcontinental train called The Canadian. This was one of his favourite places to photograph the trains.
Craigellachie has a gift shop, which is open depending on the season. You will also find picnic tables and a rest area, as well as a fun photo-op where you can help drive in that “last spike”. It is definitely worth a quick stop if you find yourself driving along that section of Highway 1.