Railway Construction


In 1879, Noah Shakespeare, President of the Workingmen's Protection Association (later known as the Anti-Chinese Association) organized a petition to the Federal Government, requesting that “Mongolian labour” should not be used on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in B.C. Andrew Onderdonk got the contracts to build the line and would need at least 10,000 workers. In 1880, the White population of B.C. was estimated at about 35,000, and most of them were engaged in gold mining, coal mining, fish canning or commerce. It was estimated that no more than 400 White men were available for employment on the railway. Hence, in May 1882 Prime Minister John A. Macdonald told the people in B.C. that “If you wish to have the railway finished within any reasonable time, there must be no such step against Chinese labour. At present, it is simply a question of alternative – either you must have this labour or you cannot have the railway.”  Although many White Canadians deeply resented the Chinese labourers, failure to complete the railway was unthinkable. As a result, they had to choose the lesser of the two “evils,” and tolerate the employment of the Chinese. By the end of 1882, of the 9,000 railway workers, 6,500 were Chinese. Hundreds of Chinese railway workers died due to accidents, winter cold, illness and malnutrition.