OTD: Last spike completes transcontinental railway

On today’s date in 1913, the last spike was driven to complete the National Transcontinental Railway (NTR).

Not to be confused with its parent company the Grand Trunk Railway, which was incorporated more than half a century earlier in 1852, the GTPR was incorporated in 1903 “as part of a plan put forth by the Grand Trunk Railway in response to proposals for a second transcontinental line following a route much to the north of the Canadian Pacific,” wrote Omer Lavallee and Raymond Corley in their August 1982 article, “The Grand Trunk Railway: A Look at the Principal Components,” published in the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society’s journal, the R&LHS Bulletin (now known as Railroad History).

This leg of the NTR ran from Prince Rupert, B.C., to Moncton, N.B., via Winnipeg, Sioux Lookout, Kapuskasing, Cochrane and Québec city. This final stage of the project began in 1903 and only the $40-million Québec Bridge – the largest cantilever span in the world – remained unfinished.

Canada then had three transcontinental railways, including the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR); the Canadian Northern Railway from British Columbia to Nova Scotia; and the NTR/GTPR system.

In 1938, the newly formed Department of Transport reported the cost of construction exceeded the original estimates. Because the GTPR company was in financial difficulties, it was unable to implement the lease agreement.

The major cost overruns of the NTR/GTPR led to the downfall of Wilfrid Laurier’s federal Liberal party in 1911, when Conservative leader Robert Borden became prime minister.

The federal Conservative Party released a booklet, The Crime of the Transcontinental, in 1911 to highlight former prime minister Wilfrid Laurier’s perceived ‘looting’ of the country’s coffers.

booklet published that year by the federal Conservative Party opposed what it deemed a generous handout given by Laurier for the NTR’s construction.

“We find that the Transcontinental Railway Commission, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and those having charge of the construction of the Railway, did not consider it desirable or necessary to practice or encourage economy in the construction of this road,” according to a report of the commission that investigated the NTR’s construction and was quoted in the Conservative Party booklet. “We find that, without including the money which was unnecessarily expended in building the railway east of the St. Lawrence River forty million dollars at least was needlessly expended in the building of this road.”

The Borden government then amalgamated the lines into the Canadian Government Railways, which along with the bankrupt Canadian Northern Railway merged into the Canadian National Railway in December 1918.


In 1981, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a silver dollar to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the federal government’s plan to build the CPR, one of Canada’s three transcontinental railway systems along with the NTR/GTPR and the Canadian Northern Railway.

The proof silver dollar weighed 23.3 grams with a diameter of 36.07 millimetres and a mintage of 353,742 pieces.

A Brilliant Uncirculated version was also issued with a mintage of 148,647 pieces.

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