Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Railway and Chinese Immigration - STUDY THIS FOR THE EXAM!!!

Canadian Railroad Trilogy, ©1967 by Gordon Lightfoot  

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real 
But time has no beginnings and the history has no bounds
As to this verdant country they came from all around
They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall
Built the mines, mills and the factories for the good of us all
And when the young man's fancy was turnin' to the spring
The railroad men grew restless for to hear the hammers ring
Their minds were overflowing with the visions of their day
And many a fortune lost and won and many a debt to pay
For they looked in the future and what did they see
They saw an iron road running from the sea to the sea
Bringing the goods to a young growing land
All up from the seaports and into their hands
Look away said they across this mighty land
From the eastern shore to the western strand
Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open her heart let the life blood flow
Gotta get on our way 'cause we're moving too slow
Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
We're gonna lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open her heart let the life blood flow
Gotta get on our way 'cause we're moving too slow
Get on our way 'cause we're moving too slow
Behind the blue Rockies the sun is declining
The stars they come stealing at the close of the day
Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping
Beyond the dark ocean in a place far away 
We are the navvies who work upon the railway
Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun
Living on stew and drinking bad whiskey
Bending our backs til the long days are done
We are the navvies who work upon the railway
Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun
Laying down track and building the bridges
Bending our old backs til the railroad is done 
So over the mountains and over the plains
Into the muskeg and into the rain
Up the St. Lawrence all the way to Gaspe
Swinging our hammers and drawing our pay
Layin' 'em in and tying them down
Away to the bunkhouse and into the town
A dollar a day and a place for my head
A drink to the living, a toast to the dead
Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up her soil
With our teardrops and our toil 
For there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
And many are the dead men too silent to be real

Bridge over Mountain Creek, British Columbia, 1880s
The Railway to British Columbia

  • John A. Macdonald had promised British Columbians that he would extend the trans-continental railway to BC however he had no idea how much it would cost.
  • The BC interior had not been well explored or mapped so no one knew the best place to put the railway track.
  • By the early 1870s there were only two major population centres that were large enough to connect with a railway: lower VI and New Westminster.
  • In order to buy time to get financing to build the railway, the federal government sent out surveyors.
  • There was considerable political pressure from Vancouver Island and from New Westminster to follow differing routes.
  • Alexander Mackenzie, now prime minister, did not want to build the railway at all.
  • At one point, there were as many as 21 routes being considered.
  • Eventually the CPR crossed the Rockies at Kicking Horse Pass, travelled through Kamloops, Boston Bar, Yale, and to New Westminster.
  • Andrew Onderdonk, a New York engineer, was given the contract to build the portion of the railway from Port Moody to Eagle Pass, near Revelstoke, British Columbia.
  • The land in this area was mountainous, making the work difficult and dangerous.
  • The most dangerous part of the cross-Canada railway was the section in British Columbia. Mountains had to be crossed and wooden trestle bridges had to be built to span great rivers.
  • Stoney Creek Bridge, at 325 feet, was the highest single-span bridge on the Canadian Pacific Railway line. Originally made of timber in 1893, it was replaced by a steel structure in 1894.
  • "The Mountain Creek trestle looked so fragile that one engineer refused to drive his engine over it. Van Horne said that he would drive the engine across himself. The engineer said, 'If you ain't afraid of getting killed Mr. Van Horne, with all your money, I ain't afraid either.' Van Horne replied, 'We'll have a double funeral -- at my expense of course.' The engine passed safely over the bridge."
    Flashback Canada, by J. Bradley Cruxton. Don Mills, Ont.: Oxford University Press, ©2000, p. 161
 The Chinese in British Columbia
Newspaper article, "No Chinese Wanted Here," from the Whitehorse Star, June 28, 1902
Caricature, "The Heathen Chinee in British Columbia" from the Canadian Illustrated News, April 26, 1879
  • The first Chinese immigrants to North America went to California for the gold rush in the 1850s.
  • A few years later, thousands came to BC for the Cariboo gold rush.
  • Chinese immigrants all over North America faced prejudice and discrimination because of their different dress, language, culture, religion, and race.
  • The Chinese took over mine claims that had been abandoned and worked them.  
  • By 1883 they made up 75% of gold miners and were instrumental in building the frontier economy.
  • They opened stores and restaurants in mining towns and started vegetable farms in and near the interior and coastal cities.
  • Once the construction of the railway began, Chinese immigrants came to work as "navvies".
  • Because the work was dangerous, the railway had a difficult time finding enough workers.
  • Between 1881 and 1884, as many as 17 000 Chinese men came to B.C. to work as labourers on the Canadian Pacific Railway.
  • The Chinese workers worked for $1.00 a day, and from this $1.00 the workers had to still pay for their food and their camping and cooking gear.
  • White workers did not have to pay for these things even though they were paid more money ($1.50-$2.50 per day).
  • As well as being paid less, Chinese workers were given the most back-breaking and dangerous work to do - cleared and graded the railway's roadbed, blasted tunnels through the rock.
  • There were accidents, fires and disasters. Landslides and dynamite blasts killed many.
  • There was no proper medical care and many Chinese workers depended on herbal cures to help them.
  • The Chinese railway workers lived in camps, sleeping in tents or boxcars. 
  • They mainly ate a diet of rice and dried salmon, washed down with tea.
  • With their low salaries they could not afford fresh fruit and vegetables, so many of the men suffered from scurvy (a painful disease caused by a diet without vitamin C). 
  • The camps were crowded, diet and living conditions were poor, in the winter it was very cold and the open fires were the only way of keeping warm. 
  • This caused a great deal of illnesses other than scurvy: colds, bronchitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, etc.
  • When they moved camp, the Chinese workers would take down their tents, pack their belongings and move everything to the next camp, often hiking over 40 kilometres.
  • Once the railway was finished, these men were left with no work and not enough money to return to China.
  • Some opened restaurants, laundries, or cafes, others got jobs working on ranches or as cooks.
  • No matter where they ended up, they faced discrimination.
  • Many towns did not want Chinese workers to settle there.

D'Arcy Island
Taken from Island View Beach

Chinese Lepers on D'Arcy Island

  • D'Arcy Island is a small island to the southeast of James Island and Sidney Spit.
  • Today it is an uninhabited island little more than a kilometre in width.
  • It is also a provincial marine park, visited by the occasional kayaker or marine camper.
  • Campers who stay on D'Arcy Island are often unaware they tread on unmarked graves.. 
  • From 1891 to 1924, D'Arcy Island was western Canada's only leper colony. 
  • Spring of 1891, the City of Victoria discovered five Chinese men afflicted with leprosy living in a shack behind the Kwong Wo & Co. store on Fisgard Street. 
  • Victoria city council quietly applied to the provincial government for the acquisition of D'Arcy Island "for sanitary purposes." trying to hide the outbreak of leprosy.
  • The Daily Colonist reported on this saying "More repulsive looking human beings would be hard to imagine. Each was a total physical wreck, and their features were so distorted, disfigured and swollen as to be almost out of human semblance". 
  • The five men were terrified about being isolated from family and friends.
  • One of the men, Ng Chung, attempted to slit his throat with a large carving knife. 
  • On the island workers had built a one-storey dwelling it was divided into six individual rooms with sparse furnishings and linen. 
  • Fishing gear, gardening tools, and seeds were supplied.
  • A supply ship was to deliver food, clothing, coffins and occasionally opium to the island every three months, along with a visiting doctor.
  • Unfortunately, when weather was bad, the ship would miss its run and the inmates on the island would have to wait another three months for their supplies.
  • The men grew vegetables and raised ducks, geese and pigs in spite of their crippling disease.
  • Later when isolated cases of leprosy were found in Vancouver or in the interior, the patients were placed on D'Arcy Island.
  • One man, a Chinese miner from Kamloops, was reportedly boxed up in a crate and shipped from Vancouver - having already lost his toes, the man was referred to as "a shocking sight."
  • The federal government made no attempt to improve the lot of the lepers on D'Arcy Island even though the lepers in New Brunswick (Tracadia) were well cared for by the Religious Hospitallers of Saint Joseph of Montreal.
  • April 1896, Dr. Smith wrote to Ottawa recommending that the patients at D'Arcy be transferred to the leper hospital at Tracadie where they would receive much better medical care at a substantially lower cost, but his suggestion was ignored. 
  • A Vancouver Province article suggested transferring the men to William Head Quarantine Station near Victoria, where they would feel more comfortable and less isolated from friends and family. 
  • Reports by medical officers described conditions on the island as deplorable, yet nothing was done.
  • A missionary woman named Mrs. Hansel offered to reside on the island and care for the lepers in the summer of 1894 was rejected by the attorney general's office in a letter stating, "the devoted services which Mrs. Hansel is prepared to render might be applied to a cause still more in the interests and for the benefit of mankind... they [the lepers] have been well attended and it would seem that the misery of their lot can hardly be alleviated by placing a guardian among them."
 Chandler, Ann (2001, October 01). Exile Island: the fear of leprosy was once so dreaded that its victims were cast out into separate colonies sustained.... Beaver, (5), 37, Retrieved from

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