Among the thousands of records in the Northern BC Archives at UNBC is an “undoubtedly rare” photograph that captures a significant moment in northern BC’s history.
On Monday, April 7, it will be exactly 100 years since the last spike was driven for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway near Fort Fraser, a community 137km west of Prince George. The Grand Trunk Pacific was a 4,800km rail system that connected Winnipeg to Prince Rupert. By 1923, it merged with other railways to become Canadian National.
“The arrival of the GTP signaled a crucial moment for the opening up and subsequent development of the northern interior. Not only did it provide a vital link to outside markets, it established a string of non-native settlements that, in many ways determined the future population profile for the region,” says UNBC History professor Jonathan Swainger. “Although the railway may not have fulfilled all the hopeful expectations of its champions, there is little doubt that it opened a new era of economic development and expansion that profoundly shaped northern British Columbia and its resource extractive identity until well after the Second World War.”
Ramona Rose, head of archives and special collections, shows off a rare photograph of the driving of the last spike. Download the high resolution image
The photograph is part of a collection of 600 images that was created by Parker Bonney, who worked for the Prince George Forestry Division starting in 1913. He was one of the first to survey the Nass River watershed and the headwaters of the Skeena, and served as the District Forester for Prince Rupert from 1926-1945. Later on in his life, he worked as a forestry engineer with Alcan and with Columbia Cellulose. Both Bonney Lake and Bonney Creek in northwestern BC are named in his honour due to his contributions to the Northern BC forest industry. Parker Bonney passed away in 1977. His collection in the Archives includes photographs taken by himself, as well as by Sam Brown and a few others.
“We acquired the Parker Bonney collection several years ago because it contains images of so many different parts of northern BC,” says Ramona Rose. “An appraisal of the collection determined that this particular shot of the driving of the last spike for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad was ‘undoubtedly rare’ and captured by ‘an accomplished amateur photographer,’ and we’re pleased to have images such as this in an archives dedicated to the preservation of northern BC’s history.”