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The Last Spike: The Great Railway, 1881-1885

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  508 ratings  ·  30 reviews
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 undertaki ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published August 14th 2001 by Anchor Canada (first published 1971)
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Average rating 4.12  · 
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 ·  508 ratings  ·  30 reviews


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Mikey B.
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canada, history
Pierre Berton has made Canadian history resonate. This is an exhilarating read of the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway across the entire country. It made Canada the way it is today.

Page 328 (my book)

Eighteen eighty-five was perhaps the most significant year of the first Canadian century. After that year nothing would be the same again, because for the first time Canadians would be able to travel the length of their nation without setting foot in a foreign land [United States]…Names like
...more
Szplug
Nov 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: canada-eh
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 ...more
Daren Doucet
Jun 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 coul
...more
Ian Green
Jun 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Pierre Burton is simply the best Canadian historical writer. Reads like a fiction, extremely well researched.
Gail Amendt
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
As a child, my family visited the historic site at Craigellachie, B.C., where the last spike in the Canadian Pacific Railway was pounded in 1885. At the time, I wondered what it was all about. I think my dad had just finished this book and wanted to visit the site he had read about. I now understand the significance, and wish I could travel back in time to that day with my dad. I remember as we drove through the mountains, he told us stories about Major Rogers looking for the pass, and about how ...more
Michel Bonin
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Holly
Nov 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: canada
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 reall
...more
Steve Tripp
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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. Seriousl ...more
Joanna
Apr 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very good read. I enjoyed this book much more than the first part “the national dream”. The CPR was a massive undertaking and it is amazing what they accomplished in so short a time. A must read for anyone interested in the history of Canada.
StompnTom
Feb 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is fantastic telling of how the railway was built and formed Canada.
Towns and cities exits today based on decisions and greed of many. This book reads more like a novel than a historical book. This really should be a must read for any Canadian.

I need to re-read The National Dream
Doris Raines
Feb 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
GREAT BOOK.
Glenn Schmelzle
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I wish every high school in Canada could get this into the History curriculum.
Andrew
Mar 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
Berton makes Canadian history interesting. The one part that I found a touch long was the that about real estate sharks, but I guess that part in parcel of building a railway.
MJH
Oct 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This should be mandatory reading and open for discussion in secondary schools.
CJ
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cancon
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
Feb 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Ty Keith
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Dennis Osborne
Feb 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, fiction
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. ...more
Brent
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Who knew the story of a railroad—a goddamned Canadian railroad, at that—would be such an intriguing tale? But, my fine friends, it is exactly that. And now featuring 100% more gin-swilling prime ministers(!!)
Doug
Aug 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
the continuation of the building of Canada's railroad ans a major part of Canada's history ...more
Bryan
Mar 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Read this a long time ago, back when I wrote an essay on this topic in grade 8.
Abid
Mar 22, 2010 rated it liked it
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!) ...more
Debbie
Aug 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Another rivetting book by Pierre Berton on the building of the great Canadian railroad. Loved it.
Jbondandrews
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Anthony
rated it it was amazing
Dec 18, 2014
Ian
rated it it was amazing
Jan 21, 2020
Robert French
rated it really liked it
Nov 04, 2013
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From narrative histories and popular culture, to picture and coffee table books to anthologies, to stories for children to readable, historical works for youth, many of his books are now Canadian classics.

Born in 1920 and raised in the Yukon, Pierre Berton worked in Klondike mining camps during his university years. He spent four years in the army, rising from private to captain/instructor at the
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