|Lord Strathcona (Donald A. Smith) (2003)
Donald A. Smith is forever immortalized in what Canadian Historian Pierre Berton referred to a “The Great Canadian Photograph” in his 1971 historical documentary The Last Spike. For it was Smith on that cool November morning in 1885 at Craigellachie, British Columbia, who had the honour of handling the spike maul and driving the ceremonial last spike in the Canadian Pacific Railway, linking the young nation with steel rails.
Donald A. Smith was a former Hudson’s Bay Company trader who saw tremendous value in a national railway in the development of the Dominion of Canada. His experience with the Hudson’s Bay Company on the east coast of Labrador had convinced him that the nation’s future prosperity would be tied to settling central Canada and the Prairies. Of Scottish origin, Smith was a cousin of George Stephen, President of the CPR from 1881 to 1888. He, together with Stephen and James J. Hill, was part of the original CPR Syndicate and their experience with the Saint Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railway had shown him how vitally important railways were in opening the American west. He became a major CPR shareholder and a Director of the company after 1883.
Smith was elected Chancellor of McGill University in Montreal in 1889. He was knighted in 1886 in honour of his executive role in the development of the CPR, and accordingly was created Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal. A unit of mounted rifles — Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) — which were created by him for service during the Boer War still survives in Edmonton. He died in London in 1914 at ninety-four.