Commemorate Chinese Railroad Workers for Their Contribution in Our Nation-building
Fig. About 17 thousand Chinese workers worked on CPR. 600 to 4 thousand of them died.
On June 22, 2006, the Federal Government made an official apology to the Chinese Canadian Community, for the use of a head tax, the purpose being the exclusion of Chinese immigrants from Canada. This apology is an event worth remembering because it upholds, I believe, the very principles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as the Head Tax was used to expel Chinese workers, who had made a great contribution to the history of our nation by helping to construct Canada’s first national railroad. A historical event like this and its significance to both the principles of The Charter Of Rights and the historical contribution of Chinese Railway Workers to the Canadian Nation, I believe, should be recognized by making June 22th Chinese Railroad Workers’ Day.
On July 1, 1867, the Dominion of Canada formed with four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. This new Dominion was not a cohesive nation but a bundle of isolated villages. To achieve a transcontinental nation, a railroad was needed. The Canadian Pacific Railroad would stitch together the vast territories and Western colonies into a Canadian Confederation. In 1871, the first western area to join the Confederation was the Province of British Columbia, with the condition that a railroad would connect them to Eastern Canada in 10 years.
Ten years passed and the railroad was still not completed as the railroad could not go through the Rocky Mountains. The Canadian Pacific Railway was so difficult to build, that Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie regarded it as an “act of insane recklessness”. Consequently, in 1882, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald argued in Parliament, that without Chinese railway workers the Canadian Pacific Railway was impossible to build. “It is a question of alternatives: either you must have this labour or you cannot have the railway. “ As a result, political unification and the Industrial Revolution in Canada would not have been achieved and the industrial and business growth in Canada would have been impossible without The Canadian Pacific Railroad and the contribution of Chinese workers in getting the railroad through the Rocky Mountains.
Canadians do know how important the CPR is to the nationhood of modern Canada and the role played by Chinese railroad workers in the building of the CPR; however, railroad museums in Canada do not reflect, make reference or display any trace of the Chinese railroad workers immense contribution to Canadian nationalism or culture in the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. We Canadians value human life, especially those who laid down their lives for their nation. Under every mile of railroad lie the remains of one Chinese Railroad Workers who built the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Canadian Pacific Railway, at Craigellachie, 7 November 1885. Let us commemorate and honour these workers’ lives, and their contribution to Canada on November 7.