I like to visit historical sites. Ken probably likes it even more. We are the people who pull off the road to read those blue metal plaques found randomly by the wayside to mark historical events.
On our drive across the Rockies, we made sure not to miss two famous National Historic Sites. Craigellachie, site of the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 which linked the country and was critical to BC joining confederation. The other one was the site of the last patch. If you’re wondering what that is, so was I. It happens to be where the last bit of pavement was laid to link Canada from coast-to-coast by road in 1962.
Now you’d expect these two momentous events in our history to get equal billing. But they don’t.
The last patch was laid roughly at Rogers Pass, which is the highest point reached by the Trans-Canada Highway. A notable fact by itself. Nearing the location, the signage is clear and there’s a lane to let you pull out of traffic. The site includes a large monument commemorating the completion of the highway and the inauguration ceremony held here in 1962 attended by John Diefenbaker, then Prime Minister, and hundreds of guests.
There are panels explaining how Rogers Pass was initially discovered and used for the railway in the 1880s. Nearly a hundred years later, it was also selected for the highway.
There’s a monument to the workers who built the highway and there’s information about the critical avalanche control that keeps the road open all year. We probably spent close to an hour explore the site.
Now, to Craigellachie. First, it’s easy to miss. Only a small sign warns you that you’re getting close as the traffic speeds along the Trans-Canada Highway. Secondly, the turn-off is not particularly safe and parking is limited. Thirdly, there’s not much to see. It’s a small site with a large stone marker to commemorate, not the last spike itself hammered in on Nov 7, 1885, but the 100thanniversary of the last spike in 1985. Off to the side stands a large reproduction of the famous photograph of Donald Smith, director of the CPR, wielding a hammer with several dozen onlookers.
On the outside wall of the gift shop, built to resemble a train station, a few water-stained posters tell of the completion of the railway, compare the living conditions of the white men and the Chinese men who worked on the project, and display pictures of an event held there by Chinese-Canadians.
A rail car and a small stretch of rail, neither particularly old, complete the site. The whole place feels a bit forlorn and inconsequential.
It seems to me that the completion of the railway, key to the creation of our country, should have a much grander site, at least as grand as the last patch.