The Boy in the Picture
The Boy in the Picture: The Craigellachie Kid and the Driving of the Last Spike
By Ray Argyle
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THE BOY IN THE PICTURE CHYRONICLES THE ADVENTURES OF YOUNG EDWARD MALLANDAINE WHO FOUND HIMSELF AT THE CENTRE OF HISTORY BY BEING IN THE FAMOUS PHOTO OF THE DRIVING OF THE LAST SPIKE OF THE CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY AT CRAIGELLACHIE, B.C., ON NOV. 7, 1885.
Thunder in the Pass
It was barely dawn when Edward awoke to the first light of day. He looked around and realized the kind of place he had fallen into: the Royal Hotel was nothing more than a room for men to sleep off their drunkenness. Bodies were sprawled across the cots and on the floor. On the cot next to him, Edward saw a huge Black man lying with his mouth wide open. He rose quietly, picked up his satchel and blanket, and tiptoed between the rows of beds. He had to get away from this room of evil-looking men, and the smell of stale tobacco and whisky.
Edward’s first thought was to head down to the dock and take the steamer back to Van Horne. He was tempted to give up on his big idea of joining the militia. At that moment, he wanted nothing more than to be at home. But the dock was bare; the Peerless had sailed during the night.
Edward was miserable. His first night at Eagle Landing had sickened him: he wasn’t accustomed to this kind of rough life. Then he started to itch and remembered someone on the boat saying that everyone in Eagle Landing was lousy. He didn’t know exactly what that meant, or what to do about it. But he thought the water might help.
Since it was a warm July morning, Edward decided to go for a swim. He took off his clothes behind a tree and waded into the lake. The water felt wonderful! When he got out and dressed, he washed his blanket, hoping to remove any trace of whatever might have gotten on it during the night. He was feeling better, so he decided to walk back to the main part of town to try to find some breakfast.
People were beginning to move about the rutted street that ran half a mile along the lakeshore. As he walked along, Edward noticed something strange: there seemed to be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of playing cards scattered in the dirt along the side of the raod. He bent down and gathered a handful of them. He picked up an ace of clubs, a king of hearts, and a jack of diamonds. He wondered why all these cards, which seemed to be perfectly good other than being a bit weather-beaten, had been thrown out.
Edward saw a small frame building that had a sign hanging in front of it that said Eats — Chinese and Canadian. He went in. A Chinese man was standing over a stove cooking for the three customers who were already there. Edward took a seat at the counter and asked for breakfast. The cook gave him a slice of salt pork, a chunk of bread, and tea in a tin mug. The whole meal cost a dollar. At this rate, Edward thought, my money won’t last very long.
After breakfast, Edward explored the side alleys that ran off the main street. It was clear to him that Eagle Landing was one of those places that spring up like a mushroom, and sometimes die in just a few days, like the gold mining towns he’d heard about. He thought everyone must be eager to make money at the expense of the workers, selling them whisky, getting them to gamble, and over-charging for everything. He wondered how long the town would last after the railway was finished and there was no call for the lake steamers to stop there.
Eagle Landing seemed to be made up of one makeshift wooden building after another. There were some general stores, a post office, and a stable that ran a stage coach service the eighty kilometres over the Monashee Mountains to Farwell. A few men were loitering around the J. Fred Hume and Company dry goods store. Edward decided to ask about the cards lying in the street. He got a quick explanation.
“That’s how we keep the gamblers honest,” a man with a great bushy beard told him. “A fresh deck of cards for every round of poker. Only use it once. Then throw it out the window. We don’t want anybody stacking the deck.”
At the stable, Edward inquired about the cost of a ticket to Farwell.
“It’ll cost you twenty-five dollars, that’s if there’s a seat open on the next stage,” the man in the office told him.
Edward was shocked. “That’s too much for me, I’ll have to walk it.” But he didn’t like the idea of striking out by himself on a lonely road through the wilderness. He’d been told there were mountain lions and bears in these parts. He decided to walk around some more while he contemplated his prospects.
While Edward was mulling over the mess he’d found himself in he encountered a young man who looked a little older than himself, who was leading two horses. Edward decided to strike up a conversation.
“What are you doing with those horses?” Edward asked.
“They’re pack animals, can’t you see the stuff they’re carrying?” the stranger answered. He went on to explain that he used them when someone wanted stuff taken to the railway camps.
Edward introduced himself; the stranger said his name was Jim Gillett. He seemed friendly. Edward thought it would be good to travel with someone who knew the country, and explained his predicament.
“No point in your hanging around here,” Jim told Edward. “You can ride along on one of my horses if you want to go to Farwell. Get yourself some grub down at the general store and meet me in front of the stagecoach office in an hour.”
At the general store, Edward chose a pound of ham, a dozen potatoes, and a few ounces of coffee. Then he decided to add three eggs he’d seen sitting on the counter. The storekeeper charged him three dollars and twenty-five cents. Good thing I don’t have to pay for water, Edward thought, but kept it to himself.
By the time Edward met Jim, it was the hottest part of the day. It took Edward, who had never been on a horse, a couple of tries, but with help he was soon astride his new friend’s white mare. They had ridden only a little way before Jim suggested they have another look at the lake. Edward didn’t mind, but he found it almost as hard to get off the horse as to get on it! The horses grazed on grass while the two young men lay on their backs and talked about their hopes for the future.
“I’m gonna get me a farm,” Jim told Edward. “Then I won’t have to wander all through this God-forsaken country tryin’ to find a square meal.”
Edward said the idea of farming didn’t much interest him. He was still intent on joining the militia.
It was at this point that Jim produced a bobble of twine and two fish hooks, which he attached to the string, placing them about a foot apart. He waded into the lake, threw out the line as far as he could, and dragged it behind him. A half hour later, he had four nice trout. At five o’clock, they made a little fire and cooked the fish. Edward decided he’d save his eggs for the morning. It was too late to start out now, so they rolled out their blankets and made preparations to bed down for the night. Edward noticed that in all this time, they hadn’t seen a single person.
Early the next morning, the pair set out on the tote road built by George Wright, one of the first European men to traverse the Monashee Mountains. It wound its way out of Eagle Landing, zigging and zagging eastward. The tote road wasn’t much wider than a path, wandering through valleys and passes that kept them to the lowest part of the mountains. Contractors used it to haul supplies and equipment for the railway.
Edward enjoyed the glorious scenery, passing by lakes and streams amid the dense forests that lay below the towering mountains, which rose all around him.
It was hot again, and the bugs and mosquitoes made good meals of Edward, Jim, and the horses. By the end of the day, everyone was exhausted. Edward and Jim threw down their blankets under some trees and slept soundly — until they were awoken by the coyotes howling. Edward had never heard such sounds before.
By mid-morning the next day they reached the line of railway construction. The whole place was alive with activity. Gangs of Chinese workers were busy with picks and shovels preparing the roadbed for the steel rails, while the supervisors stood back at the edge of the forest, smoking and watching the work. Trees were being cut down, stumps were being blown out by explosives, and men were drilling into rock overhangs so they could be blasted out to make way for the rails.
That was when Edward heard the thunder. He looked into the clear blue sky and wondered where it was coming from. Jim explained that he was actually hearing the echo of nitro-glycerine blasts being set off in Eagle Pass. Thousands of tonnes of rock were being moved to make way for the railway.
Every now and then they came upon a camp made up of tents and log buildings. Twice, they got hand-outs from the camp cooks. This kept their bellies full without any need to tap into their own supplies. Later, they found themselves outside a crude log shack that stood by itself midway between two camps. A man was lounging on a wooden bench out front.
“You boys all want a drink?” The man was wearing dirty corduroy pants held up by tattered suspenders. Woollen underwear that must have once been white covered his stomach and chest. Edward assumed that he was inviting them to have a drink of water.
“Ain’t got no water here,” the man corrected him. “Just good whisky — made it myself.”
c Ray Argyle 2010