Epsom Last Spike
The most famous “last spike” in British Columbia is the one which signaled completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885, but there were two others pounded in the province. In June 1914 the Grand Trunk Railway completed its expansion to the west coast, with the last spike placed near Fort Fraser, and on January 23 1915 its rival, the Canadian Northern Pacific, hammered home its last spike between Spences Bridge and Ashcroft. A “Stop of Interest” plaque off Highway One near the site commemorates the event, and the railroad. (The iconic green “Stop of Interest” plaques which can be seen all over the province were started in 1958, to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of British Columbia, and are a familiar sight on B.C.’s highways. There are now more than 130 around the province, with the most recent batch of a dozen added to mark the province’s 150th anniversary in 2008.)
The Canadian Northern Pacific was an extension of the Canadian Northern line, run by businessmen and railway entrepreneurs Donald Mann and William Mackenzie. They wanted to expand their existing rail lines—mostly in the Prairies—to compete with the lucrative Canadian Pacific line, which meant moving east into Ontario and west to British Columbia. Unfortunately, Charles Hays of the Grand Trunk Railway had the same idea at much the same time, and the two companies found themselves in unofficial competition to be first through the Rockies to the Pacific coast: the Grand Trunk to Prince Rupert and the Canadian Northern Pacific to Vancouver.
The difficulty of building rail lines through the Rockies and the Interior, plus high labour and material costs due to World War One, meant that by the time the last spike was pounded home, the Canadian Northern Pacific was heavily in debt. In 1918, unable to pay the interest on its loans, it was taken over by the Canadian government and incorporated into its national railway system, which became Canadian National. The same fate befell the Grand Trunk Railway in 1920.
The CN line passes below the last spike plaque, following the west side of the Thompson River and cutting through Epsom Provincial Park. The 102 hectare park was created in 1997, and is one of the few places in the area giving public access to the Thompson. The road down to the park—the bottom third of which is only accessible by 4-wheel-drive vehicles—passes through sage and grassland benches which give way to cottonwood, willow, and underbrush closer to the river. There is also poison ivy on the far side of the CN tracks, so remember the warning “Leaves of three, let it be.” A shallow channel on the far side of the tracks separates the bank from a low sandbar, which during the spring runoff is covered by the Thompson. During the summer months river rafters can be spotted heading down the river towards Lytton.
Both the park and the viewpoint by the “Last Spike” plaque offer a stunning view north along the Thompson River, as well an opportunity to examine the silt cliffs, hoodoos, and terraces characteristic of this stretch of the Thompson. These were formed after the ice age, when deep beds of silt were deposited on the bottom of temporary lakes. When the ice dams which had formed the lakes melted, the water cut channels through the silt, leaving the geographic formations which we see today. Just to the south of Epsom, on the opposite side of the river, is the pumping station at Spatsum which supplies water to the Highland Valley copper mine.
|Detailed access information:
Nearest Community: Ashcroft, B.C., Spences Bridge, B.C.
Accuracy: 2 metres
The Canadian Northern Pacific Last Spike stop of interest plaque is located in a pull-off on the Trans-Canada Highway approximately 15km south of Ashcroft/19.5km north of Spences Bridge.
Access to Epsom Park is via an unmarked access road just to the south of the Last Spike plaque; use caution when entering and exiting. Please note that the road is only passable in its lower section by 4 wheel-drive vehicles, and that the road stops short of the railway tracks; access to the other side of the tracks is by foot only. Beware of posion ivy.
Parking Advice: Park at large pullout by plaque and hike down, or park on 4x4 access trail on the flat field before steep downhill descent.