Read The Last Spike: The Great Railway, 1881-1885 by Pierre Berton Online


In the four years between 1881 and 1885, Canada was forged into one nation by the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Last Spike reconstructs the incredible story of how some 2,000 miles of steel crossed the continent in just five years — exactly half the time stipulated in the contract. Pierre Berton recreates the adventures that were part of this vast undertakiIn the four years between 1881 and 1885, Canada was forged into one nation by the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Last Spike reconstructs the incredible story of how some 2,000 miles of steel crossed the continent in just five years — exactly half the time stipulated in the contract. Pierre Berton recreates the adventures that were part of this vast undertaking: the railway on the brink of bankruptcy, with one hour between it and ruin; the extraordinary land boom of Winnipeg in 1881–1882; and the epic tale of how William Van Horne rushed 3,000 soldiers over a half-finished railway to quell the Riel Rebellion.Dominating the whole saga are the men who made it all possible — a host of astonishing characters: Van Horne, the powerhouse behind the vision of a transcontinental railroad; Rogers, the eccentric surveyor; Onderdonk, the cool New Yorker; Stephen, the most emotional of businessmen; Father Lacombe, the black-robed voyageur; Sam Steele, of the North West Mounted Police; Gabriel Dumont, the Prince of the Prairies; more than 7,000 Chinese workers, toiling and dying in the canyons of the Fraser Valley; and many more — land sharks, construction geniuses, politicians, and entrepreneurs — all of whom played a role in the founding of the new Canada west of Ontario....

Title : The Last Spike: The Great Railway, 1881-1885
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780385658416
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 496 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Last Spike: The Great Railway, 1881-1885 Reviews

  • Szplug
    2019-03-24 11:01

    Pierre Berton was one of Canada's most popular historians, from the Donald Creighton school which opted for abandoning footnotes and references and dry overviews in favor of relating history like a good story—full of anecdote and big personalities—written more to appeal to fiction lovers than scholars. People have nitpicked about inaccuracies and liberties that Berton has taken with his subject matter over the years, but that overlooks his towering strength: the ability to make potentially dull episodes in our country's life seem alive and important and immensely readable.The story of the construction of the Canadian Pacific railway, linking the core populations of eastern Canada with the scattered colonies in British Columbia (principally along the Pacific Coast) is one of a virtually impossible, herculean, nigh-ruinously expensive task accomplished through sheer willpower: political, financial, physical and organizational. Without the railway Canada could not have come into existence as a country; as Berton points out, all the natural travel routes, via land and water, run north-south in North America. East-west the way is limited by towering, massive mountain ranges and impenetrable forest. By all rights, British Columbia should have joined with Alaska and Washington State to form the Pacific territories of the United States. That this wasn't the historical result is almost entirely due to the construction of the CP Railway.Berton paints wonderfully vivid portraits of the principal players in the conception and execution of the Great Task (the Dominion politicians, the executives and managers of Canadian Pacific, as well as construction engineers, surveyors and indomitable explorers—with my favorite being Sir Sandford Fleming, one of the bevy of slightly-mad Scots who hauled themselves and their Indian guides through the most appalling of obstacles in order to find the best routes for the railway to run along—and even priests who solaced the laborer's souls amongst the itinerant work-camps while endeavoring to save them from demon drink and unstable nitroglycerin) and makes clear the daunting obstacles overcome: endless swamps and forests; the hostile and torturous rock fortress of the Canadian Shield; the ocean of mountains—most over 7,000 feet—separating the Pacific from the central prairies. The vast quantities of capital required was more than a newborn country could hope to raise by itself, so financing had to be pried from dubious banker's fingers in the United States and far distant Europe. Land speculation made and broke fortunes with impunity and turned stranded municipalities into ghost towns; political scandals threatened to bring the whole undertaking to a crashing halt several times; yet, due to the tenacity of the amazing personalities involved, work was never stopped and, against all odds, the three thousand miles of track was completed without tearing the country apart.Berton's tale is told in two books: The National Dream followed by The Last Spike. The dual tomes tell of heroism of a far different sort from that of conquest, of empire, of great foreign policy—but one no less compelling in the hands of Berton, who relishes this national epic and its actors, and conveys his enthusiasm in spades. An insane, impossible scheme to build a country that, by all rights, should never have existed: from this madcap dream, from the visionary sleep of great men, the nation of Canada was fully formed.

  • Daren Doucet
    2019-03-02 07:15

    If any country in the world had leaders like this, they would have a truly great country!William Cornelius Van Horne, George Stephen, and Sir John A MacDonald strive to create a National Dream. Linking the Canadian landscape from coast to coast, by steel rails.Huge problems existed as with any monumental project,such as the nearly impregnable pass through the Rockies, and the Lake Superior route. With debt problems mounting, and many creditors knocking at their door, it appeared the railway could be doomed.Page 352 of the book tells about the strength of will of the railway barons. How many businessmen would risk that much, even in these times, to make sure their project and company succeeds and avoids catastrophic failure?The book tells of fortunes made, and fortunes lost, the painstaking man hours, and the grueling conditions that some went through to see the CPR a success. The steel rails opened up the west to a tremendous development, and unified this country in a very special way.

  • Ian Green
    2019-03-08 09:48

    Pierre Burton is simply the best Canadian historical writer. Reads like a fiction, extremely well researched.

  • Michel Bonin
    2019-03-13 10:07

    Wow,This book (and The National Dream) were ones that I have been kicking myself to read for a long time. I credit the the TV series I saw when I was a kid, and my dad having read this also when I was young made me want to read them.Overall its a very good set of books, plenty of tidbits of information to be found in here. Details such as how surveys were done, political intrigue, construction challenges, all of it is in here. I ended up recognizing plenty of historical figures due to street and building names. I felt I had a front row seat into the birth of Canada and how much work the PM had to put in to make it whole.My only critic sometimes he gets long winded in the human interest stories which are not really my thing. But I would definitely recommend this one to anyone who wishes to learn about that time period.

  • Holly
    2019-03-13 09:57

    This is "it's not you it's me" situation. The book was written to Berton's normal standards, however I was expecting more of the nuts and bolts of physically building the road - more construction talk, more engineering talk, more talk about the men who lived and died building it. There was a little more politics and a LOT more finance than I was expecting. Spoiler alert: the last spike is hammered in years before the spiral tunnels of Yoho are drilled - and that was one of the things I was really excited in reading about.

  • Steve Tripp
    2019-02-28 02:48

    I didn't like The Last Spike as much as The National Dream but it's still a captivating and interesting book. As a Canadian it further drives home just how significant the Canadian Pacific Railway was in cementing us a unified and geographically diverse young nation. The stories about how cities like Winnipeg, Regina and (one of my hometowns), Revelstoke were settled were fascinating. Learning about the lives of all the men who visioned and financed the undertaking are equally engaging. Seriously, what a great legacy Pierre Berton has left behind for all generations. Viva Canada!

  • Glenn Schmelzle
    2019-03-03 08:12

    I wish every high school in Canada could get this into the History curriculum.

  • CJ Pentland
    2019-03-16 06:13

    Berton always paints the fine line between novel and history text book, and he again pulls it off here. I found some of the chapters on the financing a little dense, but overall he has a brilliant ability to craft a historical narrative and describe one-of-a-kind individuals.

  • Ralph Cann
    2019-03-20 09:11

    I'd highly recommend this book.It deals with a critical juncture in the history of Canada. Be prepared for some dry and tedious parts but there are also ample fascinating sections. Great character descriptions (eg Van Horne. What an exceptional person!) The plight of some of the workers is highlighted. In particular the Chinese. Lives were expendable. Fortunes were won and lost over land speculation. Louis Riel is painted in a somewhat different and less complimentary light that I expected and he played an indirect but critical role in the story of the railroad's construction. The feat of building this railway was fraught wth huge challenges politically, and financially. Not to mention the daunting task of construction over vast and difficult terrain. Glad I read this book and consider it a great contribution to my understanding of Canadian history.

  • Ty Keith
    2019-03-03 08:04

    I found this to be a very accessible history considering that as a native of the southern United States I am not part of the book's target audience. My limited exposure to Canadian history did not hinder my enjoyment of the material. The inclusion of a characters list and a time-line certainly helped to move me along in my reading of the book, but most of all the solid writing was the book's greatest asset.

  • Dennis Osborne
    2019-03-04 03:03

    I first read this book 25 yrs ago and it remains a fascinating read. This book needs to be read in conjunction with the National Dream and concerns the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. This book is more on the building of the railway, whereas the National Dream is more focused on the politics- both excellent reads

  • Sean MacUisdin
    2019-03-13 05:53

    A bit of a slow start, but it rolled along quite well. The only disappointment was the lack of detail in the every day life of railway construction. There was some, with a chapter for the Chinese and one for the surveyors, but more time was spent on the political and economic aspects of it. Still, quite enjoyable.

  • Larry
    2019-02-26 06:12

    Captivating and well-written book. This provides a full description of the building of the CPR railroad and in doing so provides a picture of Canada in the late 19th century, including Sir John A. Macdonald, the Northwest real estate boom, and the Riel Rebellion.

  • Jen
    2019-03-11 08:48

    Awesome. Like my dad says "the way he writes is like having a conversation." I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but now Berton is high on my radar in this genre. I think all Canadians should know this history because it really seems like a big part of how we became united as a country.

  • Doug
    2019-03-03 02:48

    the continuation of the building of Canada's railroad ans a major part of Canada's history

  • Bryan
    2019-03-25 02:47

    Read this a long time ago, back when I wrote an essay on this topic in grade 8.

  • Abid
    2019-03-05 09:55

    A fine book about our country's unique history in the 1880's, written by one of the hotest ladies men I know of...(seriously, his dong was longer than the CPR line!)

  • Debbie
    2019-03-11 10:11

    Another rivetting book by Pierre Berton on the building of the great Canadian railroad. Loved it.

  • Jbondandrews
    2019-03-20 04:01

    I think that this was a very good follow up to the National Dream. Pierre Berton wrote quite a good two volume work about the building of the transcontinental railway.