A Historical Railway System, Last Steam Engine Leaving Nanaimo
On September 27, 1883 the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) Railway was incorporated by Victoria coal tycoon Robert Dunsmuir. The initial purpose of the railway was to support Vancouver Island’s coal and lumber industry as well as the Royal Navy Base at Esquimalt Harbour.
Built one track at a time, the initial rail bed was 115 kilometres, reaching from Esquimalt to Nanaimo. After years of backbreaking labour, the railway was complete. On August 13, 1886, Chief Engineer Joseph Hunter handed Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, a gold spike and silver hammer. As crowds cheered on, the Prime Minister nailed in the last railroad spike at Cliffside near Shawnigan Lake. This was a significant moment in British Columbian history. It represented a fulfilled promise. The Government of Canada had honoured its commitment and promise to the province of British Columbia, guaranteeing a Trans Continental Railway System which included a rail system for the Colony of Vancouver Island. (From the collection of the Nanaimo Museum)