On this day in 1886, Sir John and Lady Macdonald were crossing Canada on the new C.P.R. transcontinental. It was the first time the great architect of Canada had been west of Ontario!
Sir John and Lady Macdonald began their trip on July 11. It must have been an amazing experience for the Prime Minister, then seventy-one years old, to see the West for the first time. Although his son Hugh, by his first marriage, lived at Winnipeg, Sir John had never been out there. On the trip west, Sir John and his wife spent three days in Winnipeg with him.
They continued across the prairies and stopped at Regina for a week-end with Governor Dewdney. It was less than a year after the hanging of Riel in the Regina jail, an issue that was to plague Sir John for the rest of his career. When the train stopped at Gleichen, Alberta, the old Indian leader Crowfoot was introduced. He was wearing his oldest clothes, a sign of mourning for his nephew Poundmaker, who had died after being put in prison for his part in the Northwest Rebellion.
Sir John and Lady Macdonald really saw the Rockies! They rode on what was called the “buffer bar” or “cowcatcher” of the engine while they were going through Kicking Horse Pass. Vancouver had been burned to the ground only a few weeks before they arrived, so the Macdonalds went over to Victoria. Strangely enough, Sir John had been a member of Parliament for the capital of British Columbia, although he had never see it. He was given a seat there when he was defeated in his own constituency in Kingston in 1878.
This was Sir John’s first view of the Pacific! He and Lady Macdonald enjoyed two weeks rest at Driard House, and then the Prime Minister drove the last spike of the railway between Esquimalt and Nanaimo. The ceremony took place at Shawinigan lake.
Without being critical of Sir John, it might have been a good thing for Canada if he had gone west with Hugh in 1870, or even before the Northwest Rebellion in 1885. Circumstances made such a trip almost impossible before it actually took place.
To read more about the C.P.R., I suggest the Canadian Encyclopedia for an article and many links.