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Marking the last spike

The clank-clank-clank of railway toil can still be heard echoing 100 years down the tracks of time.

The clank-clank-clank of railway toil can still be heard echoing 100 years down the tracks of time.

The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was being beaten into place, iron inch by iron inch, until the hammers fell forever silent on April 7, 1914 replaced by the rumble of locomotives, cargo cars, passenger liners and dreams only now coming to fruition.

"The arrival of the GTP signaled a crucial moment for the opening up and subsequent development of the northern interior," said UNBC history professor Jonathan Swainger. " Not only did it provide a vital link to outside markets, it established a string of nonnative settlements that, in many ways determined the future population profile for the region. Although the railway may not have fulfilled all the hopeful expectations of its champions, there is little doubt that it opened a new era of economic development and expansion that profoundly shaped northern British Columbia and its resource extractive identity until well after the Second World War."

The GTP rail link to the Port of Prince Rupert was an economic complex envisioned most dearly by industrial mogul Charles Melville Hays. He was president of the GTP and well connected to the steamship industry as well. He was a celebrated western figure in Japan, already laying the foundations of the Pacific Rim trade activity we see today. Hays's predictions for the Port of Prince Rupert, the transportation connections to it, and Asian markets were 10 decades in coming, but are coming now to the points he calculated.

He died prematurely, one of the victims of the Titanic sinking, before these business plans could be realized.

Someone who didn't miss the GTP Last Spike ceremonies was expert surveyor and amateur photographer Parker Bonney. He died in 1977 and his collection of 600 photographs ended up in the UNBC archives where, it was discovered, he had a shot from that fateful day at Fort Fraser when Canada completed its second transcontinental railroad.

"We acquired the Parker Bonney collection several years ago because it contains images of so many different parts of northern B.C.," said UNBC's head archivist Ramona Rose. "An appraisal of the collection determined that this particular shot of the driving of the last spike for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad was 'undoubtedly rare' and captured by 'an accomplished amateur photographer,' and we're pleased to have images such as this in an archives dedicated to the preservation of northern BC's history."

For more information on the centennial of the GTP, visit the Prince George Railway and Forestry Museum, which will open a special exhibition on April 23 commemorating the anniversary. Other elements of this 100-year benchmark will take place throughout the museum's 2014 calendar, especially June 27 to July 1 when Canada Day events will dovetail into the historic occasion, including concerts, lectures and more.

- For more on the 100th anniversary of the last spike of the Grand Trunk Railroad, see Monday's Citizen.

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