Canadian Museum of Civilization acquires historic “last spike”

June 15, 2012


For immediate release

Gatineau, Quebec, June 14, 2012—Canada’s 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 today at the Canadian Pacific Railway Pavilion inCalgary.

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” will be on display at the Museum of Civilization following its première in Calgary.

“The completion ofCanada’s first transcontinental railway is one of the most significant and famous events in our country’s history,” said Mark O’Neill, President and CEO of theCanadianMuseumof 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 Canada’s national museum of human history.”  

The building of the CPR was integral toCanada’s political and economic development. The promise of a rail link with centralCanadahelped enticeBritish Columbiainto 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.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization is the centre for research and public information on the social and human history of the country. Located on the shores of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec, the Museum is Canada’s largest and most popular cultural institution, attracting over 1.2 million visitors each year. The Museum of Civilization’s principal role is to preserve and promote the heritage of Canada for present and future generations, thereby contributing to the promotion and enhancement of Canadian identity.

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