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Pierre Berton and the National Dream - Part 3 of 10

This is the third in a series of ten posts from an article prepared by Derek Boles, our TRHA historian on the occasion of the 35th Anniversary of the Groundbreaking TV "National Dream" Series - Russ Milland

By 1969, the National Dream story had become so vast with such a panoply of characters and interesting incidents, that Berton decided he would need two volumes to tell his story. He called the first book "The National Dream: The Great Railway, 1871-1881" an earlier title that he had originally discarded. The book emphasized the political machinations that were going on in Ottawa, including the Pacific Scandal; the harrowing adventures of those who surveyed the 3,000 miles of vast uninhabited wilderness; and the choice of a rail right of way through the Rockies, all leading up to the incorporation of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1881. The principal character around whom the drama revolves is John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister.

In this picture we find colonists on their way to settle the Canadian West. Click on the picture for a closer look!

The second volume was "The Last Spike: The Impossible Railway, 1881-1885." This book dealt with the actual building of the CPR, the near bankruptcy of the company, and its rescue at the last minute through the transport of thousands of troops over the unfinished railway. The narrative mostly revolves around William Cornelius Van Horne, the general manager of the CPR. The title of the second volume was a homage to E.J. Pratt's epic 1952 poem "Towards the Last Spike."

The book's title also acknowledged the fact that the photograph of the actual driving of the Last Spike in 1885 is probably the most famous 19th century image in Canadian history.

In the picture at left below, we find one of the most famous photographs in Canadian history of the actual event at Craigellachie, BC, on November 7, 1885. In the picture at the right, we see the the recreation of the driving of the Last Spike, filmed near Caledon, Ontario for the National Dream movie. Click on each picture for a closer look!


Berton uncovered interesting information about this photograph, which shows a young boy in the foreground directly behind Donald Smith as he's swinging the maul to drive in the spike. The ceremony was decidedly not a family affair and historians had been perplexed as to the identity of this boy. Berton was able to track down a Revelstoke newspaper article written in 1940 in which the then retired Colonel Edward Mallendaine recounted how he happened to be present at one of the most important events in our nation's history.

By Derek Boles, TRHA Historian

Click here to read Part 4.
Click here to return to Part 2.

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