Hon. Donald A. Smith driving the last spike to complete the Canadian Pacific Railway, 1885. Photo: Alexander Ross, Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, C-003693.
The vision of a railroad connecting eastern and western Canada was a dream of many people. Donald Smith decided to act upon this idea. He was involved in the railway in many capacities, including helping to finance the project.
Born in 1820, Donald Smith and became a financier and politician before moving to Canada from Scotland. He joined the Hudson’s Bay Company and became land commissioner in 1874. He also worked for years on the coast of Labrador and due to his good investments people began to trust their savings with him. He became involved with politics when Sir John MacDonald asked him to negotiate with Louis Riel during The Red River Rebellion. He was elected to parliament in 1871 and then as a director of the influential Bank of Montreal.
Smith had been interested in promoting railways that would link Manitoba to the rest of the country. Along with James Hill and George Stephen, he was involved in gaining control of the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. He and his cousin, George Stephen, were given the job of building the Canadian Pacific Railroad. When the CPR hit financial trouble, Donald helped rescue it by investing his own fortunes into the railway. He also helped influence the government and private investors to contribute financial support to continue the building of the railway. When the railway was completed on November 5, 1885, Smith was given the honour of driving in the Last Spike.
Following the CPR, Smith was involved with both the Canadian Pacific and the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway (Great Northern.) He was on the board of directors on the St. Paul prior to 1883 and re-joined in 1889. He served as vice-president and director of that line until 1895. As a tribute to Donald Smith, a mountain along the CPR route was named after him. Mount Sir Donald is located at Rogers Pass. He later became Lord Strathcona due to his involvement in the railroad construction. Sir Donald Alexander Smith died in London, England on January 21, 1914 at the age of 93 years.