A few years ago, I wrote a piece for Trivago about my road trip in British Columbia on the route known as the Kootenay Circuit. It started in Kelowna—a destination on sale from Toronto through Swoop like this one for $182.79 return base fare right now for June departures—and wound through the mountains to towns like Revelstoke, Nakusp, New Denver, Nelson, Castlegar, Osoyoos and Penticton. Here are the first few paragraphs. Read the full piece all about the top things to do and the best places to stay in the British Columbia interior by following the link to Trivago Magazine at the bottom…
It’s with a mix of patriotic pride and shame that I raise the ten-pound maul high in the air and bring it down precisely onto a single spike in a short set of railway tracks.
I’m feeling conflicted because of the historical magnitude of this very location – Craigellachie, British Columbia on a narrow slip of ground a few kilometres west of Revelstoke between the Trans-Canada Highway and the country’s transcontinental railway. With this spike maul, I’m consciously posing like Donald Smith, the white-bearded director of the Canadian Pacific Railway, who is hunched, driving the famous “last spike” into the railway. The whole scene is depicted in a life-size painting a few steps away.
I’m at the beginning of what’s called the Kootenay Rockies Circle tour. When I landed at Kelowna airport this morning to begin the tour, I was only vaguely aware of the extent to which the story of Canada’s creation myth – the completion of the railway that spanned the country – is fraught with contradiction, racism and deception. What I don’t know at the beginning of this week-long circuit is just how often this sense of conflict about Canada’s history will be repeated.
Around this tiny historical site, there’s a small gift shop with interpretive information, several picnic tables, an old caboose, a cartoonish cut out of Donald Smith with a hole where his face should be, Canadian and provincial flags and a rough cairn made of stones from every Canadian province. Set into the cairn is a plaque that reads, “Here was driven the last spike completing Canadian Pacific Railway from Ocean to Ocean November 7, 1885.”
Nearby, a sign fills out the story rather poetically. “A nebulous dream was a reality; an iron ribbon crossed Canada from sea to sea. Often following the footsteps of early explorers, nearly 3,000 miles of steel rail pushed across vast prairies, cleft lofty mountain passes, twisted through canyons and bridged a thousand streams. Here on November 7, 1885, a plain iron spike welded East to West.”
Railways don’t build themselves. Back in the van, heading toward Revelstoke, I Google Donald Smith and discover that the famous image of him pounding that iron spike with the maul hides the full story of the nebulous dream. Perhaps because Smith didn’t work with his hands, his blow with the maul glanced off the spike, bending it so badly, it had to be replaced. This small truth is like a window upon the larger truths not told at Craigellachie, perhaps the most iconic location in a very large country, some say the very spot the nation of Canada was born. Canada encouraged workers to emigrate from China to work on the railway. The CPR company worked them so hard in dangerous conditions, an estimated 600 died. So poorly were they paid, most could not cover the debts they incurred to cross the Pacific. Shortly after the driving of the last spike, Canada imposed a head tax on Chinese migrants, easily dissuading others from making the journey.
Continue reading at Trivago Magazine…