VIEW-2117 | Chinese work gang on the C.P.R., Glacier Park, BC, 1889

Chinese work gang on the C.P.R., Glacier Park, BC, 1889
William McFarlane Notman
1889, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Photograph (77678) , rail (370) , Transportation (2517)
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Keys to History

Faced with a shortage of labour to build CPR's transcontinental line, management recruited workers in China, especially the province of Canton.

Between 1881 and 1884, approximately 10,000 Chinese men arrived in Canada. Their goal was to save up enough money to be able to go home and buy their financial independence. Yet, as the 1891 census indicates, some 5,000 Chinese labourers were unable to return home when their contracts expired.

Conditions for railway construction workers were harsh. In all weather, Chinese work gang members and those of other nationalities had to lay track across very rugged or swampy terrain. Many had to dynamite huge rocks with nitroglycerine, a highly unstable and dangerous chemical. Entire gangs lost their lives.

Nevertheless, the workers managed to finish laying the track in under five years.

  • What

    The Chinese workers were organized into gangs of 30; each gang also had a cook, a cook's helper and a third man, in charge of payroll.

  • Where

    The Chinese labourers were known for setting up camp quickly at a new site, ready to go to work the next morning.

  • When

    Starting in November, railway construction work had to be halted because of the intense cold.

  • Who

    Although other railwaymen received between $1.50 and $1.75 a day in wages, the Chinese were paid only $1.