Valerie S.

Bridgewater, Nova Scotia

South Shore Regional School Board

Railroaded : How the Chinese Railway Workers in British Columbia were Treated from 1881-1885

My project is about the poor treatment the Chinese railway workers on the Canadian Pacific Railway received. They were discriminated and underpaid from 1881-1885 in British Columbia. They were not being recognized for their hard work until 2006, when there was an official apology on behalf of the federal government.

What was the most interesting thing you learned about your topic?

I was very surprised at how badly the Chinese railway workers were treated, from receiving between $1 and $1.25 per day to having the most dangerous jobs, such as handling the explosive nitroglycerin! As the old Chinese saying goes, a Chinese worker died for every mile of track laid. I also learned that April 28 is the annual Workers Day of Mourning, a fitting time to remember all of the Chinese workers who died building the CPR. A statue near the Rogers Centre is a memorial to those who lost their lives.

What important lessons have you learned that you want to share with other Canadians?

That Chinese railway workers were mistreated and should have been treated better. Without their sacrifice, the Canadian Pacific Railway could not have been built as economically and as quickly as it was. During this critical time in Canada's History, the United States was expanding and there was a real fear that they would take over parts of Western Canada.

How would you compare your life today to the lives of those studied in your project?

I think today’s lives are much easier because we have all this modern technology to do a lot of the big and dangerous jobs for us. Remote detonators take the place of humans. Large machines are faster and often safer because they can do what humans take a longer time to do. In Canada today, I am able to live without discrimination, but the Chinese Railway workers were not as lucky and faced prejudice daily. Back then, there was no welfare, unemployment insurance, or health care system to help the Chinese workers stay alive in the winter because they weren’t working and getting paid then. We have come a long way in the last 150 years.