Chinese railroad workers remembered

Updated: 2015-04-02 06:17

By HATTY LIU in Vancouver(China Daily Canada)

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Chinese railroad workers remembered

Sang Yichuan (left), president of the Chinese Stamp and Numerology Society of Canada, and Wu Xiaru (right), secretary of the Ing Suey Sun Tong Association of Vancouver, display the last spikes of the Canadian Pacific Railroad at a press conference on March 27 in Richmond. HATTY LIU / FOR CHINA DAILY

Vancouver will mark Asian Heritage Month this May with an exhibition on early Chinese immigrants’ role in Canadian history, focusing on the sacrifices of Chinese labourers who built the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

The exhibition’s organizers, the Chinese Stamp and Numerology Society of Canada, held a press conference on March 27 in Richmond, BC, to announce the exhibition dates and display significant artifacts.

More than 200 historical photographs and objects will be displayed at the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum in Vancouver’s Chinatown from May 2 to May 31.

The exhibition coincides with the 130th anniversary of the CPR’s completion in 1885, as well as the designation of 2015-2016 as the Year of People-to-People and Cultural Exchange between China and Canada by the two countries.

Sang Yichuan, the exhibition’s main organizer, said at the press event that “there is too much overlooked history of the Chinese in Canada” that he hopes the community can discover together through the exhibition.

As many as 17,000 Chinese labourers were employed between 1880 and 1885 to build the western section of the CPR. It is said that at least “four Chinese workers died for every mile of track laid,” and the railroad could not have been completed without them.

The exhibition includes the workers’ photographs, landing papers, and labour contracts, as well as documents and ink stamps belonging to later immigrants and Chinese benevolent associations in Canada.

Another significant display item, the last spikes of the CPR, was unveiled at the press event by Wu Xiaru of the Ing Suey Sun Tong Association in Vancouver.

The items are on loan to the exhibition from the Ing Suey Sun Tong Association and local early generation Chinese immigrant families.

Organizers also described the exhibition as part of an ongoing reconciliation process between the Canadian government and the Chinese-Canadian community for past discrimination.

In 1980, a parliamentary motion was passed to recognize “the contribution made to the Canadian mosaic and culture by people of Chinese background.”

Two years later, a bronze plaque installed in Yale, BC, marked Canada’s first official recognition of the Chinese railway workers.

The Canadian parliament issued a full apology in 2006 for the head tax and Chinese Exclusion Act that barred Chinese immigration to Canada from the end of railroad construction until 1947. This was followed by an apology from the government of BC in 2014.

“[The exhibition] will be an opportunity to commemorate not only what the Chinese community contributed to Canada, but the Canadian government’s recent support for the Chinese community to tell its history,” Sang told China Daily.

Local community leaders hope that the exhibition will contribute to the enrichment of Chinese-Canadian history knowledge for both the Chinese Canadians and mainstream Canadian society.

“It is important to remember that the Chinese community in Canada put down historical roots [not just] in China, but on both sides of the Pacific,” Richard Lee, member of the legislative assembly of BC, said at the press event.