The Construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad

During the nineteenth century, China experienced a lot of political and social upheaval. Attracted by the gold rush, many Chinese immigrated to the east coast of the United States. Rejected by the Americans, some of them would still continue prospecting for gold along the Fraser River in Western Canada.

At that time Canada badly needed a transportation system that would link up the east and west coast and strengthen national unity. Much of British Columbia’s terrain is mountainous, making railway construction both difficult and dangerous. There was also a shortage of workers at the time; consequently, Canada called upon the Chinese to fill in the gap.

Between 1881 and 1884, around 17,000 Chinese relocated to British Columbia to work on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Most of these immigrants were from the peasant class. They were single men, many of whom had left their families behind. Their primary goal in Canada was to make a fortune and return to China. But the hiring of Chinese immigrants would eventually antagonize a portion of the racist British Columbia population.

Blatant discrimination

Chinese workers earned $1.75 to $2.00 per day, while the minimum wage for other workers stood at $3.50. This salary had to cover the cost of food (at the Canadian Pacific general store) and setting up camps with makeshift equipment.

In contrast, white workers were provided with lodgements in addition to being better paid (by $1.50 to $2.50 per day). Malnourished, poorly accommodated in temporary overcrowded camps with little protection against the harsh winters, they lived and worked in miserable conditions. They performed dangerous tasks, which in combination with poor living conditions, added to the risk of illness and death among them.