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The Last Spike: The Great Railway, 1881-1885 Paperback – Aug 14 2001

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The Last Spike: The Great Railway, 1881-1885 + The National Dream: The Great Railway, 1871-1881 + Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, 1896-1899
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Canada; 1 edition (Aug. 14 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385658419
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385658416
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 3.2 x 22.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 540 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #16,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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The Last Spike, winner of a Governor General's award for non-fiction, is the second of Pierre Berton's lively two-volume history of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Sequel to The National Dream, which was on best-seller lists for 80 weeks, The Last Spike finishes the story of how a fledgling nation pushed over 3,000 kilometres of steel across the continent in record time. Berton, author of 47 books and Canada's best-known historian, brings the tale to vivid life with comical anecdotes and sparkling characters. The massive railway was started only after a bitter and drawn-out national debate full of scandal, corruption, and backroom warfare. The wrangling wrecked the health of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, who broke down with bowel cramps and could not be present when the Governor General finally approved the railway bill for which Macdonald had worked so hard.

Berton excels at recreating the hardscrabble, sometimes brutal realities of the 19th-century frontier and the bizarre, determined, and unscrupulous personalities behind "the Syndicate," the tycoons who masterminded the colossal project. Among them was W. C. Van Horne, the CPR's general manager, a ruthless, cold-eyed marathon poker enthusiast who constantly sucked on Havana cigars. Few Canadians were unaffected by the project. The railway became the spine of life west of Winnipeg for the next century and gave the CPR something close to absolute control over scores of communities. Some 800 villages, towns, and cities sprung up along the right of way, including Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, and Brandon. Construction also brought a flood of settlers, entrepreneurs, and speculators who displaced the First Nations peoples. Winnipeg, with a population of 16,000, had no fewer than 3,000 real estate dealers. "No other company, with the single exception of the Hudson's Bay, has had such an influence on the destinies of the nation," Berton writes in this deft and entertaining narrative. --Alex Roslin


"No novel could surpass The Last Spike for plot; no western for wildness... This is a great book."
Vancouver Sun

"Lively, human and utterly absorbing."
The Financial Post

Inside This Book

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First Sentence
The bitterest and longest parliamentary wrangle in the history of the young Canadian nation ended on February 15, 1881, when the contract to build the Canadian Pacific Railway finally received royal assent. Read the first page
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By G. McNabb on Feb. 28 2011
Format: Paperback
This and its companion, The National Dream are must reads for adult Canadians. Beautifully and lovingly written. No one but Pierre Berton could have told these stories.
If you are an adult Canadian, you should read this slice of our history.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Brent Wiley on July 13 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you are from western Canada and only have time to read just one of Pierre Berton's outstanding contributions to Canadian history, this book is for you. It is the best history book that I've read, from ANY country's past!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This Railway was of great importance in connecting the Pacific Ocean to Ontario and Eastern Canada.
Great Book! - Floyd Gunter.
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Format: Kindle Edition
An interesting side note ... much of the research done for this book was done by Norm Kelly, the Toronto Alderman who replaced Rob Ford in Toronto as the 'acting' mayor after Ford was stripped of much of his power. Mr. Kelly was given the option of either a cheque for his efforts researching the book or a portion of the royalties. Unfortunately for Kelly, he took the cheque.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
The Line that Joined a Nation Jan. 8 2005
By J. Davis - Published on
Format: Paperback
"The Last Spike" chronicles the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), 1881-1885, then the world's longest railway, extending a young Canada westward and consolidating its territories.

Originally published in 1971 by the prolific Canadian historian, the late Pierre Berton, this is a well-researched account of a project now generally overlooked outside Canada. Amply endowed with facts, the book is nonetheless a fluent and gripping read, far removed from the dry and dusty history one might expect of such a topic. Laced with dramatic tension, it details the massive undertaking and paints memorable portraits of the principal characters involved, such as Prime Minister John A. MacDonald, financiers Donald A. Smith and George Stephen, and the inimitable William Cornelius Van Horne, an American-turned-Canadian, general manager of the enterprise.

The author explains the political, economic, and nationalist reasons for building the CPR. The engineering challenges were colossal, the logistics mind-boggling. Harnessing the energies of a domestic, indigenous and multinational workforce the rails advanced -- sometimes fitfully, at other times with impressive, regimented speed. As the track moved west, new towns flourished and the vast prairie -- the grain heartland of modern Canada -- was opened up. The line brought prosperity and tourism to the once-mysterious fastness of the west and made present-day Vancouver possible.

At 1,800 miles long (excluding the eastern network laid down earlier), the line was completed in half the time imposed by the government contract -- including the formidable 500-mile stretch through the Rockies and the Selkirks. Most of the time the venture was on the brink of failure, due to competition and the nervous response of foreign investors to slur campaigns in America and Britain. The necessary capital appeared just in time, thanks largely to the Canadian government's need to quell rebellion in the northwest -- one of the book's highlights and illustrative of the role played by luck in history.

The hardcover edition contains a few maps, but more would have helped. The bibliography is extensive, the index adequate. If you are interested in railways, Canada's history, or have an affinity for large-scale works, this book will reward you.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The Last Spike: I could not put this book down Aug. 9 2013
By Mel Rivers - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Last Spike: I could not put this book down once I started. The Last Spike has a thrilling plot about a wilderness adventure, but unlike a novel, this is all true and historically accurate. Here, as usual, Pierre Berton's meticulous research is evident: He includes a most impressive annotated Bibliography of his primary and secondary sources. Berton tells the amazing story of the building of the railroad across Canada against invincible odds and the remarkable real life characters who made it all possible. I find anything written by Berton to be a great read.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
great read well written re saga of CPR!! June 28 2009
By Kenneth F. Mitchell - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Vast details of the tribulations of developing the CP railway. Interesting reveals re politics and finances, but weak on actual construction through very difficult terrain!! Having riden VIA from Vancouver to Toronto a few years ago I found the few details re terrain very interesting (even if the route was via the old CN!! Fraser River section was done very well as was the Shield area, but would have like more details re the BC section construction.
Railroad Building Oct. 30 2012
By Stephen G McCarthy - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My great grandfather contracted to build two small sections of the Canadian Pacific Railroad on the north shore of Lake Superior in the early 1880s. I am collecting information on the CP and his role in building it. This is a fact-filled book about the construction of the railroad, including a number of anecdotes and "color stories" that bring the era to life. Not a popular account, but a great source of information for someone with interest in the project.
No one does Canadian history like Berton Dec 11 2012
By Jim - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I could read Berton all the time. I enjoy how detailed his writing can be. If you read this book and Peter C. Newman's Company of Adventurers you will be able to answer any trivia question on Canadian history.