Towards the Last Spike

Introductory Note
Pratt
  • I have been asked to occupy a half hour or so in reading a few selections from a poem called Towards the Last Spike which I have described as a verse panorama of the struggle to build the first Canadian transcontinental from the time of the proposed Terms of Union with British Columbia, 1870, to the hammering of the last spike in the Eagle Pass in 1885.

    I am fully aware that I can add nothing to the history of that undertaking. The historians and economists know much more about the construction than I do, and the geologists know much more about the Laurentian and mountain strata; so, in accordance with my own method, whenever I needed a supply of facts, I have gone to the historians and geologists and engineers and surveyors to get material which I wanted to work into a dramatic context. Five summers in the Rockies and on the coast, including six weeks climbing or clambering with the Alpine Club, supplied me with enough confidence to attempt the job, which, thank heaven, is now complete, for better or worse.

    The allotted half hour will allow me to read only a fifth of this book, so I shall try to fill in the gaps with brief explanations.

    The first part is a prologue contrasting conditions of life eighty years ago with [those of] the present, which I shall omit. This is followed by a section called "The Gathering," a description of the effect of oatmeal on the Scotch blood and spirit of enterprise. For this I consulted specialists, Scotchmen themselves, physiologists, and dieticians, took over their data and added a few comments of my own. It is true that there were a few Americans, mainly Dutch Americans, and Englishmen and Irishmen, but the vast proportion of key men who came out in the seventies and eighties to this land of opportunity were from the heather. So, I entitled this section "The Gathering" with the underlying caption taken from Dr Sam Johnson and Sir Walter Scott.

    This is followed by three pages of a nightmare experienced by Sir John A. Macdonald as he revolves around the Terms of Union with British Columbia who is represented by a beautiful lady courted by a sailor, California, a gentleman who has spent a good deal of his life on the sea, but who also owns huge stretches of land to the south, and when he visits the British Columbia ports he is redolent of orange blossoms from his orchards. So it becomes a rivalry between this sailor lover and Sir John. The lady, conscious of this rivalry, can afford to keep them guessing, to secure terms more favourable to herself. Sir John has to make his marriage proposal by proxy and this long-distance courtship is a handicap for him but an advantage for the sailor, because he happens to be there. However, the proposal is made and the lady suggests the terms -- begin the road in two years, end in ten. The terms are submitted to Parliament the next year, 1871, and are ratified.

    Then comes the Pacific Scandal. Sir John answers the attack with an historic defence of five hours. The Honourable Edward Blake rises to make a still longer address indicting the government on grounds of corruption. The government is defeated in a new election which places Mackenzie in power for a term of four years.

    During the Mackenzie administration there wasn't much progress in construction, first, because there was a general feeling that the road ought to wait upon the settlements which would naturally be slow in growing, and second, because Mackenzie, known as amphibious Mackenzie, favoured the watercourses, and the linking up with the American railroads towards the west. His government is defeated in 1878. Macdonald comes back overwhelmingly and proceeds with the Canadian road. George Stephen, later Lord Mount Stephen, invites Van Horne from Illinois to become general manager of the line. Van Horne arrives in Winnipeg December 31, 1881, when it is forty below, and at midnight, after scraping the frost from the window with his jack-knife, gives vent to a soliloquy upon his three projected tasks -- (1) the road across the prairies, (2) the terrible Laurentian stretch north of Lake Superior, about the oldest and hardest rock in the world, and (3) the western mountains -- all to be completed within five years. I shall omit the first and most of the third.

    The north shore was second only to the mountains in difficulty and some of the engineers swore that it was even worse. I wanted a symbol to represent its age, its bulk, and its toughness. I knew that its pre-Cambrian formation had been laid down millions of years before life began on this planet. So I had to do a bit of personification. I wanted a very old form, something reptilian, so I made the Laurentian range a hybrid monster, a lizard held within the folds of the pre-Cambrian Shield. I pictured this lizard as too old for life, too old for death, but possessing passive power to resist the invasion of man. I have used the feminine pronoun she throughout, instead of it, with the recognized licence that a captain takes when referring to his ship. Incidentally, a friend of mine recently took a rough trip to Labrador and on the bridge in the midst of a heavy roll he asked the captain -- "Why does one always refer to a ship as a she?" and the captain roared back -- "Well, did you ever try to steer one?" That story was passed on by my friend to my wife who passed it on to me, and when she read the account of the lizard, she exclaimed -- "Why feminine throughout?" That got us right into the mystery of pronouns. We can speak of a country as a motherland or a fatherland; all right as a noun, but when the pronoun is used to refer to the fatherland, it would sound ridiculous to say he in the same sentence. I remember a time when as a boy I saw the battleship Blake steam into the harbour of St. John's, Newfoundland, and I recall the mayor's speech to the captain in which he extolled the ship and her immense size. His remark was "The Blake is a huge fellow, isn't she?" Had the mayor used the masculine, we might have expected the admiral himself to appear in person. So we talk about sister provinces, not brother provinces or states. It is a form of feminine propriety which we accept but do not explain. But this was not the end of our dialogue. "I notice," my wife said, "that the main qualities of your lizard are extreme age, stubbornness, a dislike of movement or activity, a suspicion of men, and a desire to be left alone. It is her nature to be very drowsy, but she is not altogether insensible to dynamite. When she is roused, she can exhibit the power and violence of an earthquake."

    This lizard appears twice with an interval of three years, but I'll make the appearances continuous just here. The financial difficulties were as great as the engineering. So were the political storms, and history gives us the picture of the Honourable Edward Blake thundering in the House of Commons against the Terms of Union with British Columbia -- building a road over the sea of mountains: and Sir John answering him, and the lady of British Columbia threatening to secede because the ten years had passed before Van Horne arrived. Blake's thunder over the scandal unseated Macdonald, but his second attack failed because he sent the House to sleep with his endless rhetoric. He was fine in the first hour, say, from nine to ten in the evening, but when he continued till dawn on two nights in succession, one can hardly blame the audience for falling down between the benches with creeping paralysis. The only one who really got fun out of such rhetorical procedure was Sir John himself who watched Blake's own Liberal followers go into eloquent snores after the impact of the abstractions and statistics running into half a dozen decimals.

    The cost was enormous and appeals were constantly being made to Sir John for loans, and he didn't see how he could face the House with further demands. It was Stephen who had to present the case and though he was a great personal friend of Macdonald's, he felt that the prime minister was avoiding him. In 1885 the pressure became tremendous and Macdonald was facing a terrible dilemma. To refuse the appeal for more funds meant stopping the railroad construction, breaking the Terms of Union, and the failure of the whole project. To grant the appeal might also mean bankruptcy. He was caught in a whirlpool of conflicting interests. How was he to get out? He had to make a decision sometime, in spite of the fact that his nickname was Old Tomorrow -- temporizing and compromising. In the very centre was the Riel Rebellion of 1885 and the need for rapid construction along the north shore to get out to Winnipeg. I have tried to show that contrariety of interests and its effect on him.

    To hurry along, I shall pass to a crisis which created deep gloom among the directors, even in the mind of Van Horne, when they were waiting for a message from Stephen in London. When the signal Craigellachie -- Stand Firm -- came by cable announcing success, Van Horne and Angus were transported to hilarious joy in the boardroom. Van Horne makes just a passing reference to their schoolboy antics in flinging chairs around. I have elaborated this somewhat, and the reference in this passage to the Grand Trunk is put in because that railroad at the time was the rival to the Canadian Pacific Railway.

    The honour of driving the last spike at Craigellachie in the Eagle Pass was given to Donald Smith Strathcona: you may have seen the photograph. His first stroke was a fumble which bent the nail. That's historical -- the first time in his life, as far as one can gather, and probably the only time, this Scotchman ever fumbled.
    [Box 6, no. 49; On His Life and Poetry 145-149]

  • [. . .] Ellsworth [Flavelle] asked me if I would give an account of the recent poem Towards the Last Spike and read a few selections. But before doing that I should like to refer to a shorter poem called "No. 6000." Frank McDowell asked me to take a ride in the cab of the engine from Toronto to Montreal, and make whatever notes I liked during the journey. I must admit that I did it with some misgiving, for I had to sign papers disclaiming any financial liability on the part of the road should any accident happen to me on the run. I signed them and I was equipped with a waterproof coat, a sou'wester, and smoked glasses. I stood it for four hours and then decided it wasn't necessary to go so far as Montreal, so I got off at Brockville. By that time my eyes were so full of dust I couldn't see the throttle. Later, in composing the poem, I transferred the scene to a transcontinental trip across the prairies.

    Though that ride was made many years ago I found it fresh and helpful for the bigger task last year. I was very conscious of my limitations, so I had to get the help of all the experts to fill in the gaps in my technical knowledge. I might instance one case. The poem was published in a Dalhousie anthology for students and by some error the printer had inserted 6,000 tons as the load the engine pulled. Christopher Morley [. . .] was spending a weekend at my house and when he read the poem he remarked that he thought that no engine or team of engines could pull such a load on an up-grade, so in a republished volume the load was made 2,000 tons. I am not sure that it was the printer's mistake or mine own. I didn't want a reader who might be an engineer to laugh at the mistake, if it was really a mistake, so the conclusion in the revised edition read as follows: [??]

    Talking about content, I invoked the aid of scores of my scientific friends in dealing with the first transcontinental. I asked geologists what were the hardest rocks that could be cut. Professor Douglas of Dalhousie gave me some information, but he added the final comment -- "Ned, [there are no] fossils in the Laurentians. Those strata were laid down long before the ocean beds cast up their shells." Well, I happened to know that much. One of the engineers who took part in the building of the Connaught Tunnel years after said -- "When you are writing about rock don't forget that one of the toughest enemies the men had to face was mud."

    Then to supplement my reading I went to the historians, the financiers, and economists who spoke about the tremendous gladiatorial debates between Blake and Sir John A.; the struggles to raise money, the sacrificial efforts of men like George Stephen who pledged everything they possessed to the last penny when the threat of bankruptcy looked imminent; the calling of Van Horne and Shaughnessy and others too many to mention in the poem as I had to concentrate on the most dramatic points, and then especially the efforts of thousands of unknown labourers who immolated themselves in stone through the Laurentians and the mountains.

    I knew that I was an amateur on the technical side, so I had to get a point of view which might be called poetic while preserving as well as I could the factual accuracy. I had read up the story of the union with British Columbia, the threatened secessions, so I pictured British Columbia as a lady courted both by Sir John and California under the guise of a sailor lover. I pictured the Laurentian Shield as a lizard possessing power in her sluggishness and resistance to the pioneers with their shovels and pickaxes and blast[ing] powder. I went to a physical instructor and coach to get the exact terms applied in a tug-of-war as I wanted to picture Sir John having a nightmare in 1870 with the east and west pulling at opposite ends of the rope.

    Then I knew that though Englishmen and Dutch Americans like Van Horne and great Irishmen like Shaughnessy were tremendous in the part they played, yet the majority of the leaders were Scotchmen. Well, how was I to deal with them? I thought here was a chance to picture the effect of oatmeal on the Scotch blood, brawn, and brain. So I went to Dr Markowitz and said -- "Tell me as a physiologist and a nutrition expert -- What does oatmeal do when it plunges into the stomach of a Scotchman?" and he outlined the course of the grain and its effects. First it was a capital source of energy, and it was outstandingly economical. Hence I tried [illegible] this way.

    Then I went to another physiologist to find out the effect of alcohol upon the nervous system of a man who has reached the depths of melancholy and pessimism. How does it eliminate the pessimism? How does it put the rose colour on the spectacles? I am not naming that physiologist, but his diagnosis was confirmed by a number of experts whom I consulted. I asked a number of Scotchmen whose answers were given unequivocally and with a calm professional assurance.
    [Box 6, no. 49; On His Life and Poetry 149-153]

  • Thomas
    Editors
    Doubting Thomas. See John 20:25ff.
    dolomite
    Editors
    a native double carbonate of lime and magnesia, occurring crystalline, and in granular masses, white or coloured, called dolomite marble; a rock consisting essentially of this mineral
    fell of Grampian rams
    Editors
    hide of rams in the Grampians, Scottish mountains
    Bannockburn
    Editors
    In the battle of Bannockburn, Scotland, on 24 June 1314, the Scots under Robert Bruce defeated the English forces of Edward II.
    Culloden
    Editors
    On 16 April 1746, England's Duke of Cumberland defeated the Scots under Prince Charles Edward Stuart at Culloden, Scotland.
    the warnings of Lochiel
    Editors
    See 'Lochiel's Warning' by Thomas Campbell (1777-1844). The hero of the poem is Donald Cameron, 'the gentle Lochiel,' who, against his better judgment, supported Prince Charles Edward Stuart at Culloden.
    Fling
    Editors
    a Highland dance in which the arms and legs are moved with great vigour
    Scots wha hae
    Editors
    See the 1793 poem "Scots, Wha Hae" by Robert Burns. "Wallace" is Sir William Wallace, c. 1272-1305, Scottish warrior in wars against the English.
    Angus
    Editors
    Richard B. Angus (1836-1922), banker and financier. A former general manager of the Bank of Montreal, he helped to form the Canadian Pacific Railway syndicate in 1880 and remained a director until his death.

    Richard B. Angus

    Fleming
    Editors
    Sir Sandford Fleming (1827-1915), appointed chief engineer to the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1871

    Sir Sandford Fleming (1862)

    Sir Sandford Fleming (second from left) with Pacific Railway Survey work party (1871-1872)

    Hector (of the Kicking Horse)
    Editors
    Sir James Hector (1834-1907), geologist, discoverer, in 1857, of the Kicking Horse Pass

    James Hector

    Kicking Horse Pass

    Dawson
    Editors
    Simon James Dawson (1820-1902), road builder, commissioned in 1868 to build a corduroy road between Lake of the Woods and the Red River, which became known as the Dawson Route
    "Cromarty" Ross
    Editors
    James Ross (1843-1913), engineer born in Cromarty, Scotland. In 1883 he took charge of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway west of Winnipeg.
    Beatty
    Editors
    Henry Beatty (1834-1914), a Scot who in 1882 resigned as manager of the Northwest Transportation Company to take charge of a Great Lakes steamship line being organized by the Canadian Pacific Railway.
    Bruce
    Editors
    James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin (1811-1863), Governor-General of Canada from 1847 to 1854
    Allan
    Editors
    Sir Hugh Allan (1810-1882), financier who with the backing of American financiers founded the Canadian Pacific Railway Company in 1871, of which he was president from 1872 to 1873, when the Pacific Scandal broke in the House of Commons

    Sir Hugh Allan

    Galt
    Editors
    Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt (1817-1893), first minister of finance in the new Dominion, a man with strong interests in the Grand Trunk Railway
    Douglas
    Editors
    Sir James Douglas (1803-1877), the "Father of British Columbia," first governor of the province from 1858 to 1863
    Stephen
    Editors
    Sir George Stephen (1829-1921), president of the Canadian Pacific Railway 1881-1888. A Montreal businessman, president of the Bank of Montreal, he, along with Richard Angus and Donald Alexander Smith, formed the syndicate that organized the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1880.

    George Stephen

    Craigellachie
    Pratt
    "Stand Fast, Craigellachie," the war-cry of the Clan Grant, named after a rock in the Spey Valley, and used as a cable message from Stephen in London to the Directors in Montreal.
    [Pratt's note to Towards the Last Spike]
    Smith
    Editors
    Sir Donald Alexander Smith, Lord Strathcona (1820-1914), commissioner of the Hudson's Bay Company 1870-1874. As independent MP for Selkirk, 1871-1888, he voted against Macdonald in the debate over the Pacific Scandal. As a member of the syndicate he gave crucial support to the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1880 and drove the last spike in 1885.

    Donald Smith

    Sir John A.
    Editors
    Sir John A. Macdonald (1815-1891), first Prime Minister of Canada

    Sir John A. Macdonald during first term as Prime Minister

    Sir John A. Macdonald (mid-1880s)

    bull's beef
    Editors
    bully beef, salt beef in barrels
    anchor-waist
    Editors
    Pratt's point seems to be that Macdonald himself was the anchor: i.e., the rope was around his waist in the tug of war. An allusion may be intended to waist-anchor, the anchor stored in the waist, or middle part of the upper deck of a ship, between the quarter-deck and the forecastle.
    Tupper
    Editors
    Sir Charles Tupper (1821-1915), premier of Nova Scotia 1864-1867, a Father of Confederation, MP 1867-1884. As Minister of Railways and Canals, 1879-1884, he introduced the bill that gave the Canadian Pacific Railway its charter in 1881.

    cartoon of Charles Tupper by Henri Julien

    Cartier
    Editors
    Sir George Etienne Cartier (1814-1873), Joint Premier of United Canada 1857-1862 and Father of Confederation, one of Macdonald's chief supporters in building the Canadian Pacific Railway

    George Etienne Cartier

    Hudson
    Editors
    Henry Hudson, English explorer (flourished 1607-11). He set out on an expedition in 1610 to search for the Northwest Passage. He died as a result of a mutiny of his crew.
    Davis
    Editors
    John Davis, explorer (1550?-1605); gave his name to Davis Strait and Davis Inlet in his unsuccessful search for the Northwest Passage
    Baffin
    Editors
    William Baffin (1584?-1622), explorer, gave his name to Baffin Island
    Frobisher
    Editors
    Sir Martin Frobisher (1535?-1594), English mariner, associated with Sir Francis Drake in the defeat of the Spanish Armada
    Franklin
    Editors
    Sir John Franklin, British naval officer and arctic explorer (1786-1847). Franklin died, along with all his crew, on an expedition to discover the Northwest Passage. For many year Pratt planned to write a poem on the Franklin expedition.
    Ross
    Editors
    Alexander Ross (1783-1856), fur trader, author; celebrated the way of life of the Red River Settlement
    Parry
    Editors
    Sir William Edward Parry (1790-1855), rear-admiral, arctic explorer; played an important role in the exploration of the Arctic and the eventual discovery of the Northwest Passage and the North Pole
    Kellett, McClure, McClintock, of The Search
    Editors
    Sir Henry Kellett (1806-1875), Sir Robert John Le Mesurier McClure (1807-1873), and Sir Francis Leopold McClintock (1819-1907), were all arctic explorers who participated in various unsuccessful missions to rescue
    Sir John Franklin and his crew (1846-1850).
    Dead March
    Editors
    from Handel's sacred oratorio Saul, c. 1739. See 2 Samuel 1:17ff
    strychnine
    Editors
    commonly used as a rat poison; a powerful stimulant in small doses
    Capella
    Editors
    (L. for "little she-goat") a bright, yellow giant star in the constellation Auriga, one of the three brightest stars in the northern hemisphere. For this and for the constellations mentioned in the poem, see the chart below.

    chart of the spring skies in the Northern Hemisphere

    Perseus
    Editors
    northern constellation lying east of Cassiopeia and north of Taurus
    Cassiopeia
    Editors
    a prominent northern constellation located opposite Ursa Major, consisting of five bright stars
    Aries
    Editors
    (L.) "ram," one of the constellations of the Zodiac
    Cygnus
    Editors
    (L.) "swan," a northern constellation
    Selkirk
    Editors
    Lord Selkirk's Red River Colony, known also as the Selkirk Settlement, was settled by Scottish immigrants in 1812.
    Port Moody
    Editors
    a city in British Columbia, at the head of Burrard Inlet

    Port Moody

    the massacre at Seven Oaks
    Editors
    near Winnipeg, 19 June 1816, in which the Métis killed Robert Semple, the governor of the Red River Colony, and twenty of his men
    Pemmican War
    Editors
    the conflict between the Northwest Company and the Red River settlers. Pemmican was dried meat, together with melted fat and dried fruits, pounded into a paste and made into cakes.
    from sea to sea
    Editors
    See Zachariah 9:l0.
    Tamales, Cazadero, Mendecino
    Editors
    (usual spelling "Mendocino") California towns
    Santa Rosa, Santa Monica
    Editors
    California towns
    Rio de nuestra señora de buena guia
    Pratt
    "River of Our Lady of Safe Conduct."
    [Pratt's note to Towards the Last Spike]??
    San Diego
    Editors
    short for San Diego de Alcala, a Spanish saint after whom San Diego, California is named
    Disraeli
    Editors
    Sir John A. Macdonald resembled Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield (1804-1881), prime minister of England in 1868 and 1874-1880.
    Moberly
    Editors
    Walter Moberly (1832-1915), engineer, who in 1853 sought a route through British Columbia for a transcontinental railway and in 1865 discovered Eagle Pass. In 1870 he took charge of mountain surveys for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

    Walter Moberly

    Huntingdon
    Editors
    Lucius Huntingdon (1827-86), Canadian Liberal MP

    Lucius Seth Huntingdon

    Blake
    Editors
    Edward Blake (1833-1912) was premier of Ontario 1871-1872. He became federal Liberal party leader in 1880, being succeeded by Laurier in 1887.

    Edward Blake

    Knights of Malta
    Editors
    originally known as Knights Hospitallers; organized in the eleventh century to aid Christian pilgrims in Palestine
    damning correspondence
    Editors
    the correspondence between Sir Hugh Allan of Montreal and George W. McMullen of Chicago. McMullen and his Chicago group wanted a large part of the Canadian Pacific Railway to be in the United States and controlled by Northern Pacific. Sir Hugh wanted to run the line and profit from it.
    That Montreal-Chicago understanding
    Editors
    In 1871 Sir Hugh Allan signed an agreement with the Chicago group that the line would run from below Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, through the United States and thence up to Winnipeg.
    Mackenzie
    Editors
    Alexander Mackenzie (1822-1892), Liberal prime minister, 1873-1878

    Alexander Mackenzie

    The years were rendering up / Their fat
    Editors
    a reference to the seven fat years followed by seven lean years which Joseph prophesied in Genesis 41.
    loaves and fishes
    Editors
    See Luke 9.
    Where are the multitudes that thirst and hunger?
    Editors
    See Luke 9:12ff.
    Emerson
    Editors
    in southern Manitoba, just above the border with the United States
    the Pass had its ambiguous meaning
    Editors
    double pun on the pass through Rockies and the "pass" of legislation through the House
    coureur-de-bois
    Editors
    literally, "wood runner," an unlicensed fur trader and explorer during the French regime in Canada
    the title of their wings
    Editors
    In 1865 Walter Moberly saw eagles flying through a pass in the Gold Range of the Rockies, and named it Eagle Pass.

    wagon road through Eagle Pass

    Onderdonk
    Editors
    Andrew Onderdonk (1848-1905), engineer and contractor who received from the Canadian government in 1879 the contract to build the railway through the Thompson and Fraser canyons. His headquarters for the project was in Yale, British Columbia.

    Andrew Onderdonk

    Yale, B.C.

    Onderdonk Residence and office in Yale, B.C.

    Fraser Canyon

    Chatham
    Editors
    William Pitt, first Earl of Chatham (1708-1778)
    Burke
    Editors
    Edmund Burke (1729-1797), leader of the Whig party in England in the eighteenth century, an opponent of William Pitt and his Tory government's policy on the American colonies
    tessellated
    Editors
    arranged in a mosaic or chequered pattern
    Fundy Tide
    Editors
    the Bay of Fundy, an Atlantic inlet between New Brunswick and Maine on the west and Nova Scotia on the east. In its upper reaches the tides rise as much as 70 feet from low water to high.
    Pope
    Editors
    John Henry Pope (1819-89), Macdonald's minister of agriculture
    McIntyre
    Editors
    Duncan McIntyre (1834-94), a native of Scotland who came to Canada in 1849. A financier and railway builder, owner of the Canada Central line, he was one of the signatories to the preliminary agreement of 14September 1880, for construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
    go to London to interest capital

    cartoon: "Startling Affair in London"

    when a king ... His Royal Charter
    Editors
    charter granted to the Hudson's Bay Company on 2 May 1670. The "king" was Charles II.
    The fleur-de-lis went to the half-mast, the Jack / To the mast-head
    Editors
    the Seven Years' War, as a result of which France (fleur-de-lis) lost Canada to the British ([Union Jack)
    Nor'-Westers at the Hudson's throat
    Editors
    members of the North West Company, established by Montreal traders who in 1776 pooled resources to reduce competition among themselves and to resist inland advances of the Hudson's Bay Company.
    Moses, Marco Polo, Paracelsus
    Editors
    Moses caused water to flow from a rock in Horeb, by striking it [Exodus 17:6] ("To smite the rock and bring forth living water"); Marco Polo (c. 1254-1324) wrote accounts of his travels in China ("fabulize a continent"); Phillipus Aureolus Paracelsus (1493?-1541) was a Swiss physician and alchemist ("transmute ... to gold")
    rat-skins
    Editors
    muskrat pelts
    Tadoussac
    Editors
    in Quebec, near the St. Lawrence
    Anticosti
    Editors
    Quebec island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence
    Rigolet
    Editors
    one of the main settlements in Labrador
    Kitson
    Editors
    Norman Wilfred Kittson (1814-1888), a fur-trader who developed the line of Red River steamers in the 1860s and later became an associate of James Hill in railway building

    Norman Wilfred Kittson

    Kennedy
    Editors
    Sir John Kennedy (1838-1921), chief engineer of the Great Western railway system, president of the Great Northern railway 1893-1907, member of the board of the Canadian Pacific Railway 1880-1883
    Jim Hill
    Editors
    James Jerome Hill (1838-1916), railway builder

    Jim Hill

    William Cornelius Van Horne
    Editors
    Van Horne (1843-1915), was appointed general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1882, was vice-president in 1884, president 1888-1899, and chairman 1890-1910.

    William Cornelius Van Horne

    Agassiz
    Editors
    Louis Agassiz (180773), Swiss-American zoologist and geologist, noted for his work on fossils and glaciation
    Crinoids
    Editors
    Crinoid means "lily-shaped" and is a term applied to fossils resembling sea-urchins. On 10 September 1950, Pratt wrote to his daughter Claire from Vancouver, where he was doing research in preparation for Towards the Last Spike:
    I shall now draw a crinoid:

    sketch of a crinoid

    This might at first glance look like a frightened duck with a piglet's tail, but nothing could be further from the truth. Symbolically it is a fish and one must use the imagination for the abstract to find its significance. I know some art galleries where this would be hung up as a triumph.

    Zuyder Zee
    Editors
    (alternate spelling "Zuider Zee") Dutch for "southern Sea," a former shallow inlet of the North Sea now split in two by a dam
    flying buttresses
    Editors
    an architectural term referring to masonry built against a wall to strengthen it, in this case an arch. Seen in churches from the mid-twelfth century, they became exposed and highly decorated and with other arhitectual elements are associated with Gothic architecture.
    new Amsterdam
    Editors
    a Dutch settlement at the mouth of the Hudson River and on the southern end of Manhattan island; captured by the British and renamed New York
    Selkirks
    Editors
    The Selkirk Mountains are ranges in southeastern British Columbia between the Columbia River on the West and the valley of Kootenay Lake.

    the Selkirks

    Perry
    Editors
    Albert Perry, a mountaineer who assisted Walter Moberly and was credited by him with discovering in 1866 the pass later explored by and named after Major Rogers
    Rogers
    Editors
    Major A.B. Rogers (1829-89), explorer of Rogers Pass in 1881

    Major A. B. Rogers

    Rogers Pass

    aneroid
    Editors
    aneroid barometer, an instrument that measures atmospheric pressure
    Gold Range
    Editors
    a range in the Monashee Mountains, British Columbia. Eagle Pass provided a corridor through the Gold Range.
    Coastal Mountains
    Editors
    The Coast Mountains Range extends for about 1,600 kilometres from the mountains of Alaska near the Yukon border to the Cascade Range near the Fraser River.
    watercourses
    Editors
    Van Horne wished to build a complete land route following the shoreline of lakes. Public opinion was for a combination of rail and ship crossing. See
    Introductory Note
    Yellowhead
    Editors
    The Yellowhead Pass crosses the continental divide between Alberta and British Columbia, 25 kilometres west of Jasper. It was originally proposed by Sandford Fleming as the route for the Canadian Pacific Railway, but was rejected.
    Oak Lake
    Editors
    Manitoba town west of Brandon
    Calgary

    Calgary (1883-1884)

    sleepers
    Editors
    pieces of timber or other material used to form a support (usually transverse) for the rails of a tramway or railway
    Shaughnessy
    Editors
    Thomas George, first Baron Shaughnessy (1853-1923), president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, 1899-1918. Having joined the company as a purchasing agent in 1882, he was credited with maintaining the flow of supplies during the construction period.

    Thomas Shaughnessy

    fish-plates
    Editors
    A fish-plate is a steel plate joining two railway rails. It is secured to the sides of each rail to connect them end to end.
    substance of things unseen
    Editors
    "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" [Hebrews 11:1].
    carboniferous
    Editors
    producing coal; also the period in the Palaeozoic ara when large amounts of coal were created
    molochs
    Editors
    Australian thorn-lizards
    like ants

    rock cut near Winston's in Canadian Shield

    Magellan
    Editors
    Ferdinand Magellan (c. 1480-1521), Portuguese navigator commander of the first expedition to circumnavigate the globe (although he died en route)
    hieroglyphs
    Editors
    pictures or symbols representing a work, syllable, or sound; used in Egyptian and other writing
    North-West Passage
    Editors
    water route through the Arctic and along the coast of Alaska between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. It was a dream of early explorers to find a short water route to the Orient unimpeded by the North and South American continents.
    chain
    Editors
    a measuring line, used in land-surveying, formed of one hundred iron rods called "links" jointed together by eyes at their ends
    transit
    Editors
    transit-compass, an instrument, resembling a theodolite, used in surveying for the measurement of horizontal angles
    Stay on the shore ... climb the rigging
    Editors
    See the last four lines of the ballad "The Wreck of the Julie Plante," by W. H. Drummond.
    Paul Bunyan
    Editors
    legendary American lumberjack, the hero of many "tall tales"
    stegosaurs
    Editors
    large herbivorous dinosaurs with rows of upright bony plates on their backs
    ponderosa pine
    Editors
    a large conifer, Pinus ponderosa or western yellow pine, native to western North America
    Lyell larches
    Editors
    also known as Lyall's or subalpine larch; a small timberline tree that is found between Montana and British Columbia; used for telephone poles, mine timbers and railway ties.
    Balkan boundary
    Editors
    The Balkan Peninsula includes Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, part of Turkey, most of the former Yugoslavia, and S. E. Rumania. As a crossroads for European and Asian civilizations, it has been politically volatile as states sought to extend their boundaries.
    Douglases
    Editors
    Douglas firs
    Hell's Gate
    Editors
    a rocky gorge of the Fraser River Canyon south of Boston Bar

    Hell's Gate Canyon

    Black Canyon
    Editors
    ??
    Skuzzy
    Editors
    steamboat which served on the Fraser between Lytton and Boston Bar; named after a stream draining into the Fraser

    Skuzzy

    capstan
    Editors
    a piece of mechanism, working on the principle of the wheel and axle, on a vertical axis, the power being applied by movable bars or levers inserted in horizontal sockets made round the top, and pushed by men walking round, whereby the apparatus is made to revolve and wind up a cable round its cylinder or barrel; it is used especially on board ship for weighing the anchor, also for hoisting heavy sails, etc.
    hawsers
    Editors
    large, stout ropes or thin steel cables, used for mooring or towing ships
    Chinese
    Editors
    Onderdonk recruited thousands of labourers from China to work on the railway.

    anti-Chinese cartoon

    Chinese camp

    gaskets
    Editors
    small ropes or plaited cords, which secure a furled sail to the yard, being wrapped several times round both
    royal yards
    Pratt
    In all large square-rigged ships there are several lengths to the mast; lower, top, top-gallant, and sometimes the royal, the last ordinarily being the highest and in one piece with the top-gallant. The sails take their names from the masts or yards to which they are set.
    [Verses of the Sea 88]
    coolie
    Editors
    unskilled native labourer, in this case the Chinese labourers. See note to
    Chinese.
    a loan of twenty-two-and-a-half million

    cartoon: "Open Your Mouth and Shut Your Eyes"

    diabase
    Editors
    dark igneous rock
    athwart
    Editors
    of motion, across; from one side of a place to the other [Dictionary of Newfoundland English]
    muskeg
    Pratt
    Webster says muskeg is "a sphagnum bog, especially with tussocks." Patton of the Winnipeg Tribune writes "It's an Algonquin (Cree word) and apparently the tussocks are important as a warning to keep well back, as the tussocks may present a fairly uniform grassy surface around the edge, so that it is hard to tell where the meadow ends and the (concealed) lake begins. Some of these tussocky muskegs look as if they had been methodically pockmarked by moose hooves.
    [Pratt Papers, 6-44-117]
    Cotton grass
    Editors
    cotton shrub, a shrub of the genus Gossypium
    sphagnum moss
    Editors
    a genus of mosses growing in boggy or swampy places; bog-moss, peat-moss
    bladder-wort
    Editors
    type of water plant with small bags, filled with air, on its roots and stems
    Sweet-gale
    Editors
    bog myrtle, Myrica Gale
    sundew
    Editors
    any plant of the genus Drosera, which comprises small herbs growing in bogs, with leaves covered with glandular hairs secreting viscid drops which glitter in the sun like dew
    pitcher plants
    Editors
    plants which have the leaves, or some of them, modified into the form of a pitcher, often containing a liquid secretion by means of which insects are captured and assimilated by the plant
    leather-leaf
    Editors
    a low evergreen shrub with leathery leaves
    The Lady's face was flushed
    Editors
    Contemporary political cartoons identified the province of British Columbia as a reluctant lady pursued by eager suitors, both American and Canadian.

    cartoon: "British Columbia in a Pet"

    cartoon: "Anti-Secesh"

    brachiapods
    Editors
    (L. 'arm-footed') usual spelling 'brachiopods'; two-shelled water creatures, so-called because each has two spirally coiled arms around its mouth. On 10 September 1950, Pratt wrote to his daughter Claire from Vancouver, where he was doing research in preparation for Towards the Last Spike:
    The brachiopod is a clam or close to it -- a real bivalve with hairs on its legs so fine that when it is seen in the mountains only the magnifying glass can reveal them. Outside to the eye (if a person could have lived in those times to see it) it would be just an ordinary clam like this:

    sketch of a brachiopod

    See the horizontal lines making it a bivalve but inside it would be like this:

    sketch of the inside of a brachiopod

    The humps indicate the gelatinous movement of the clam in search of sea-weed. The tails, I have shown only five for space considerations though the hairs are numerous really. The beak X is not a beak but only intended to be such -- a bit of marine symbolism known only to sailors who have the gift of second sight or possibly third sight which may be credited to me at midnight.

    trilobite
    Editors
    extinct group of marine arthropods of the Paleozoic era. Their closest modern relative is the horseshoe crab. On 10 September 1950, Pratt wrote to his daughter Claire from Vancouver, where he was doing research in preparation for Towards the Last Spike:
    You might be interested to know what a trilobite looks like. It lived about a billion years ago in the sea when the Rocky Mountains were under the sea. The Rockies by the way are not volcanic as was once supposed, but rather great plains under the water which were thrown up in tremendous folds thousands of feet high. On the top of them and in the middle of them where the tunnels are bored there are millions of low forms of sea life which have died and left their impressions in the petrified mud. Every time a pick-axe goes to work on mountain or canyon, numerous crustaceans and softer fish are unearthed. The trilobite is like a crab. I shall give evidence of my draughtsmanship by drawing one from a verbal description given me by Mr Dalmage:

    sketch of a trilobite

    Almost human isn't it? I have known people whose faces resembled that. I could mention a few but my artistic modesty forbids elaborating on the resemblance for if you knew whom I had in mind you would say that I was seeking a compliment on my achievement. Suffice it to say that I have looked like that occasionally when a poem went bad or when I was turning over in bed vainly trying to get to sleep on the C.P.R. Those vertical lines represent plunges from a horizontal position when the train rounded a sharp curve in the Kicking Horse canyon. The eyes indicate vacancy and the mouth impatience for the morning and breakfast.

    quartzite
    Editors
    an extremely compact, granular rock, consisting essentially of quartz
    mesozoic
    Editors
    of the geological era belonging to the age of reptiles
    A shot fifteen years after it was fired
    Editors
    the Red River Rebellion in 1870. See note to
    Riel.
    Riel
    Editors
    Louis Riel (1844-1885), Métis leader of the Red River Rebellion in 1870 and of the Riel Rebellion in 1885. Riel was hanged in 1885.
    Scott
    Editors
    Thomas Scott (c.1842-70), protestant Irish immigrant executed on Riel's orders during the Riel Rebellion
    that young, tall, bilingual advocate
    Editors
    Sir Wilfrid Laurier (1841-1919), later Prime Minister of Canada (1896-1911)
    blackrobe
    Editors
    North-American Indian term for missionary priests
    buffalo wallows
    Pratt
    ploughed up by horns for water not deep
    [Pratt Papers, 6-44-117
    under double-reef
    Editors
    to sail under double reef is to reduce the spread of a sail by taking in two reefs
    Revelstoke ... Baring
    Editors
    Lord Revelstoke, British peer, after whom Revelstoke, British Columbia was named to honour him for the role of his banking house, Baring's, in financing the Canadian Pacific Railway
    Athanasian
    Editors
    of Athanasius (c. 296-373), who championed the authorized Christian faith against all other interpretations, thus earning the proverb Athanasius contra mundum ("Athanasius against the world")
    shad-flies
    Editors
    flies, especially mayflies, that appear when the fish, shad, common on the Atlantic coast, are running
    sparables
    Editors
    A "sparable" (also "sparble") is "a short nail or cleat, used to stud heel and sole of a boot to prevent slipping on the ice; hobnail" [Dictionary of Newfoundland English].
    hydrophobic slaver
    Editors
    Hydrophobia (Greek for "fear of water") is rabies.
    camera-wise
    Editors
    the following lines describe a famous photograph

    the Last Spike

    square-rig
    Editors
    having the yards and sails placed across the masts in contrast to fore and aft; used figuratively to mean well dressed
    brig
    Editors
    a vessel with two masts square-rigged like a ship's fore- and main-masts, but carrying also on her main-mast a lower fore-and-aft sail with a gaff and boom
    puncheon
    Editors
    the largest of the wooden casks used as containers in the fisheries; a molasses cask with a capacity of 44-140 gallons (166.5-530 litres) [Dictionary of Newfoundland English]
    Flodden
    Editors
    In the battle of Flodden in Northumberland, 9 September 1513, English soldiers defeated the forces of James IV of Scotland.
    Egan
    Editors
    John M. Egan (1811-57), General Superintendent of the Canadian Pacific Railway's western division in 1885
    Cambie
    Editors
    Henry I. Cambie, a government engineer engaged in building the Canadian Pacific Railway

    Henry Cambie

    Marcus Smith
    Editors
    (1815-1905), engineer-in-chief of the Canadian Pacific Railway during the absence of Sandford Fleming, 1876-1878
    Harris of Boston
    Editors
    George R. Harris, a director of the Canadian Pacific Railway
    Dug McKenzie
    Editors
    Dugald McKenzie, locomotive engineer
    John H. McTavish
    Editors
    land commissioner, among those present at the ceremony on 26 September 1885