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The Canada Pacific Railway

Chinese Workers

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Chinese Workers

Although Chinese played a key role in building the western stretch of the railway, they earned between $1 and $2.50 per day. Unlike their fellow white railroad workers, the Chinese had to pay for their own food, clothing, transportation to the job site, mail, and medical care, leaving barely enough money to send home.

Chinese workers were delegated the most dangerous construction jobs, such as working with explosives. Not only did families of those killed workers not receive any compensation, they were not even notified of the deaths. Sadly, many of these Chinese men spent their remaining years in lonely and poor conditions because those who did survive working on the CPR often did not have enough money to return to their families in China.

The Chinese railway workers lived in poor conditions, often in camps, sleeping in tents or boxcars. Often doing their own cooking over open outdoor fires, these Chinese men primarily ate a diet of rice, dried salmon and tea. Because most could not afford fresh fruit and vegetables, many of the men suffered from scurvy, an agonizing disease caused by a diet lacking in vitamin C. Because there was no proper medical care, many Chinese workers depended on herbal cures to help them.

Due to these poor living conditions, many Chinese workers became ill. In the frosty winters of British Columbia, open fires were the only way of keeping warm. Whenever the workers put down more tracks, the camps had to be moved further down the line. When it was time to move camp, the Chinese workers would take down their tents, pack their belongings and move everything to the next camp, often walking over 40 kilometres.

During the gold rush and after, the Chinese quickly filled other gaps in this new frontier society. They started laundries, restaurants, and vegetable farms to serve the populations of the gold rush. They built roads, drove horse teams through the dangerous canyons, and strung the telegraph wires that connected interior towns to the coast. Later, they worked in newly established fish canneries along the British Columbia coast. On Vancouver Island, the Chinese worked as coal miners.


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