Vancouver Sun: Chinese hardship is found in half-competed railway tunnels

My friend Bill Chu is doing lots of work to build reconciliation and recognition of shared history between Chinese-Canadian and First Nations groups, as well as to recognize the importance of the BC pioneer history both groups have contributed to.

In a letter to me about the topic of Chinese-Canadian Heritage Week and the recent “150 Years in Golden Mountain” Awards Gala, Beill wrote to me stating “The measure of success of
any such major events is whether the participants treat it as entertainment or can
carry it to the next level (or whether they can even walk away seeing a next

He also reminded me that “However we need to steer away from relying on a
colonial interpretation of Chinese history and treating that as the real stuff
. “

His continued activism has resulted in two articles. 

Vancouver Sun: Half-completed tunnels tell of Chinese hardship, by Mary Frances Hill

Globe & Mail: Chinese-Canadian group wants gravesites preserved, by Jeremy Hainsworth

Half-completed tunnels tell of Chinese hardship

Unfinished railway projects raise awareness of Chinese Heritage Week

Mary Frances Hill,
Vancouver Sun

Published: Friday, August 15, 2008

– For many years, the elders of the Sto:lo Nation have whispered about
the ghosts that linger around the half-completed mountain railway
tunnels west of Hope.

The legend says unmarked graves nearby
contain the remains of Chinese men, Canadian Pacific Railway labourers
forced in the 1880s to enter the makeshift tunnels to light the
dynamite that would blast through the rock.

“When a tragic death
happens, the elders talk about the spirit staying behind,” said Sonny
McHalsie, cultural adviser at the Sto:lo Nation office. “They would say
the ghosts of Chinese workers were still there.”

Sonny McHalsie of Sto:lo Nation led railway tunnel tour.View Larger Image View Larger Image

Sonny McHalsie of Sto:lo Nation led railway tunnel tour.

Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun

and Chinese-Canadian activist Bill Chu led a tour of the half-completed
tunnels on Thursday, hoping to raise public awareness of Chinese
history during Chinese Heritage Week.

“It's incumbent on the
Chinese community to do something,” said Chu, an organizer with
Canadians for Reconciliation, a group devoted to fostering peaceful
relationships with B.C.'s first nations people.

Chu has been
organizing events and tours to help educate B.C.'s Chinese-Canadian
people about aboriginal people and their communities.

tunnels, half-completed but abandoned after too many workers were
killed during blasting, stand six km west of Hope, on the north side of
the Fraser River.

In the 1880s, when more than 10,000 Chinese
workers came to B.C. to build the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Chinese
were used for their work ethic, but were often perceived by Caucasian
labourers as less than worthy colleagues.

If the thousands of
Chinese labourers who died didn't perish in the tunnels, they fell
victim to malnutrition, scurvy, and from lack of access to medical
treatment when they were injured or sick, Chu said.

“We're not
talking about avoidable accidents,” he said. “We're talking about
discrimination, and the attitude that the Chinese were not human

Chinese CPR labourers were not only ill-prepared for
Fraser Valley winters, their wages were far below those of Caucasian
workers — a point that placed them in direct conflict with their
colleagues and exacerbated the discrimination against them.

month's salary of $25 would have to cover a Chinese worker's debt to
the steamboat company, clothes, a room rental, tools and fares.

was in that era that the racist phrase, a “Chinaman's chance” was
coined. It referred to the possibility that a Chinese member of a
railway crew blasting tunnels for the CPR line would come out of it

” 'A Chinaman's chance' was a derogatory phrase meaning 'no luck,' ” said Chu.

area surrounding the tunnels is a physical testament to the rugged
environment the Sto:lo Nation shared with the labourers, said McHalsie,
who has worked with researchers on local first nations history from the
University of B.C., Simon Fraser University, and the University of
California at Los Angeles.

Just last week, a UCLA researcher found an antique Chinese coin sitting on the edge of a Sto:lo subterranean dwelling.

No dig was needed: the piece was found in plain sight.

Much like first nations history, the history of Chinese labourers in B.C. must be re-appropriated and rewritten, Chu said.

See video about this story at

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