CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 6. . . .October 8, 2010
The Boy in the Picture: The Craigellachie Kid and the Driving of the Last Spike.
Toronto, ON: Natural Heritage Books/Dundurn, 2010.
143 pp., pbk., $19.99.
Mallandaine, Edward, 1867-1949-Juvenile literature.
Railroads-Canada-History-19th century-Juvenile literature.
Canadian Pacific Railway Company-History-19th century-Juvenile literature.
Canada-History-1867- -Juvenile literature.
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.
Review by Val Ken Lem.
Edward felt deflated. There was no time left to fight. He also felt ashamed. Ashamed because he'd told everyone, including his friends from school that he was going to help put down the North-West Rebellion. He didn't understand much about the causes of the Rebellion, or the injustices that the Metis and the Native people of the Prairies had been forced to endure. He had just wanted the excitement of the action, serving Queen and Country. It was a natural enough feeling for a young man just turned eighteen.
Ray Argyle, journalist, writer and corporate communications specialist, sensitively reconstructs the four months that Edward Mallandaine lived in the frontier of British Columbia in 1885, culminating with his front-row presence at the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway at Craigellachie where CPR director and important shareholder Donald A. Smith drove in the last spike on November 7, 1885.
As a young man of 17, Mallandaine set out from his comfortable home in Victoria to find adventure. His dream was to enlist in the militia that was engaged in suppressing the North-West Rebellion on the Canadian Prairies. He traveled by steamer from Victoria to New Westminster on the B.C. mainland, by river boat up the Fraser River towards Yale, by foot through a forest fire and by train and a smaller paddlewheel steamer to Eagle Landing (now Sicamous) where he quickly learned more about the rough frontier conditions where drunken men bedded in lice-infested hotel lofts and where the cost of food, lodging and transport was exorbitant. Being a sociable and eager young man, he found opportunities to travel with respectable companions, including an old school friend, and learned from them about the new world unfolding before him. At the town of Farwell (now Revelstoke) on the Columbia River, he joined two men carting supplies to the railway camps and helped them lead their pack animals through the Rogers Pass of the Selkirk Mountains to Beaver Bend where he was able to talk his way onto a railway boxcar for the ride to Golden B.C. en route to Calgary and ultimately to the site of the Rebellion. It was in Golden that Mallandaine learned that the Rebellion was over. He was too late.
Demonstrating the resourcefulness that would later lead him to a successful career with the railway and the co-founding of the settlement of Creston, B.C., Mallandaine returned to Farwell where he found employment carrying the Royal Mail by horse between Farwell and the western settlement of Eagle Landing. He had use of a horse but was not paid directly; rather he had to make money by privately contracting to deliver parcels and newspapers for local businesses. His adventures included a holdup by three ruffians whom he later discovered in a "Hostess House," reported their presence to the local police constable and later saved them from the gallows by asking the circuit judge to show leniency in sentencing. He met Governor General Lord Lansdowne when he visited Farwell, but he also came to appreciate the hardships and contributions of the 6.000 thousand Chinese labourers who had been imported as cheap workers by the railway contractor, Andrew Onderdonk, who relied upon these expendable workers who received half the salary of white workers and who were often given the most treacherous jobs blasting tunnels through the mountains.
As the railway neared completion, Mallandaine's services as mail carrier were no longer needed. He noted that railway camps were abandoned and that most of the Chinese labourers were heading for the coast or for the gold fields along the Fraser River. News of the forthc.oming ceremonial completion of the transnational railway inspired him to complete one final task before heading home – being present at the historic event. Not only did Mallandaine make it to Craigellachie aboard a flatcar, but he managed to work his way to the front where he confidently stood behind Donald A. Smith when the last spike was driven and the action captured in a photograph that millions of Canadian school children have seen in history books.
Argyle's account of this short but foundational period in a young man's life and a key moment Canadian history reads as a first rate adventure story that should appeal to young readers who appreciate learning about the past. Children in B.C., in particular, may be attracted to the tale because of its local history content. Argyle built this account from stories that he was told as a youngster by a then elderly Mallandaine, together with archival fonds from Edward Mallandaine held in the in the British Columbia Archives and Library and Archives Canada, along with published historic accounts of the period. He includes details about the socio-economic conditions and attitudes of the time in Victoria and on the frontier, and he scoured local archives for appropriate photographs to accompany the text. He makes use of sidebars to provide more detailed historical accounts of many of the personalities named, including Matthew Begbie, the "Hanging Judge," Albert Rogers who discovered the Rogers Pass, Arthur Farwell, and Andrew Onderdonk. A map of the CPR main line in British Columbia in 1885 and a CPR main line profile showing stations in B.C. and Alberta, graphed with their elevations, are welcome additions to the book. The bibliography, already alluded to, is quite extensive for a work geared to this level and includes five websites worth exploring. The index is brief but of potential value with entries predominantly for names of people and places but including entries for Chinese labourers and several sub-entries under the entry for Edward Mallandaine.
The timeline is a bit hazy and might have been addressed with a chronology. A couple of typographical errors were overlooked, and there is some inconsistency in accounts of the amount of time that it would take to travel across the country using the new railway and in the position of Donald A. Smith who is erroneously reported on one occasion as being the president of the CPR. Nevertheless, The Boy in the Picture is a worthwhile addition to school and public libraries across the country.
Val Ken Lem is the Collections Evaluation and Donations Librarian and subject liaison for History, English and Caribbean Studies at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.
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