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The Last Spike: Sir John A Macdonald Visits Shawnigan Lake

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

BC threatened to secede from Canada unless a railway was built on Vancouver Island. In 1883, the British Columbia Government appealed to Robert Dunsmuir to build a railway between Esquimalt and Nanaimo. In return, Dunsmuir received $750,000. and a land grant that amounted to 20% of the land on Vancouver Island.

This was in spite of the fact that there were thousands of First Nations already living on much of the land. They were not given consideration or compensation for the land that was granted to Dunsmuir. The project took 3½ years. The 72 miles of track, which was laid starting from both ends, met at Mile 25 (Cliffside, Shawnigan Lake). In 1886, the inaugural train left Esquimalt with Robert Dunsmuir, Sir John A. MacDonald, their wives and other dignitaries. At Cliffside, Sir John ceremoniously placed the last spike. He used a silver hammer and pounded a gold spike. A cairn was built, in 1958, at the site to commemorate the event. In 1986, the 100th anniversary of the E & N was celebrated with a second plaque. The original cairn and two plaques can be seen after a short hike north along the rails from Cliffside Road.

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