Government vault yields ‘lost’ last railway spike
Memento given to Harper as gift in 2006
The case of the lost Last Spike has been solved.
In 2006, a group of Chinese Canadians presented Stephen Harper with an iron spike to coincide with the federal government’s apology for the head tax.
With the 10th anniversary approaching, the same group that had lobbied for the apology asked to borrow the glass-encased item — an enduring symbol of the work of Chinese labourers who helped complete the Canadian Pacific Railway — for a commemorative event.
But there was a problem: no one in Ottawa could seem to find it.
On Tuesday, the National Post tracked the symbolic object to a House of Commons curatorial vault.
“I’m very, very happy to hear that. I’m very relieved,” said Avvy Go, director of the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, which played a role in the redress campaign.
“If we decide to go ahead with the commemoration at least we’ll have the spike there. It’s an important piece of history.”
The memento, believed to be one of 300 ceremonial spikes that were handed out to dignitaries at the completion of the CPR in 1885 in British Columbia, was given to the redress campaign in 2003 from noted Canadian author Pierre Berton.
In June 2006, the campaign organized a crosscountry train ride, dubbed the Redress Express, to bring payers of the Chinese head tax and their families to Ottawa to hear Harper’s apology and to present the spike to him.
The head tax was intro- duced in 1885 and applied to all Chinese immigrants entering Canada. It lasted until 1923 when the government imposed the Chinese Exclusion Act, effectively stopping all Chinese immigration to Canada. It was repealed in 1947.
Go said she started the search for the six-inch spike in January.
First, she tried reaching out to the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But staff told her they didn’t have it and suggested former prime minister Harper might have taken it with him.
Harper’s current staffers told Go they would need to track down his former staff. In the meantime, they suggested she try Library and Archives Canada.
Go said she was a little surprised at the response. “It doesn’t make sense for me to do the runaround. We gave it to you as a gift. The gift is in Ottawa. Why am I running around looking?” she said.
The Toronto Star published a story on the weekend describing the “missing” spike as a “Parliament Hill whodunit.”
In reality, the spike was never missing.
After making a call to Heritage Canada, the National Post was redirected to Heather Bradley, director of communications for the Speaker of the House.
Bradley said she confirmed with Johanna Mizgala, the House of Commons curator, that the object was safely tucked away in a warehouse vault in nearby Gatineau, Que. It had been transferred from the Prime Minister’s Office to House of Commons curatorial services in February 2012.
“If the group wants to have it for their event they simply need to touch base with the curator,” Bradley said in an email.