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Dukesang Wong and Lin 1890s.jpeg

About the author, Dukesang Wong

Born in China in 1846, Dukesang Wong saw his magistrate father poisoned, and his family honour destroyed, in 1867, the year his diary begins.

He travelled to North America in 1880, after several years of trying to scrape together a living in war-torn China, landing in Portland before making his way north to work in British Columbia on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

His diary is the only first person narrative that has been discovered from that period of Canadian history.


Dukesang Wong eventually settled in New Westminster, working as a tailor, and was able to bring his bride to Canada from China. Together they had eight children. Dukesang Wong died in 1931.


Selections from his diaries were translated in the mid-1960s by his granddaughter, Wanda Joy Hoe, as part of a university undergraduate paper.

Chinese railroad workers building the cPR

My soul cries out. I wish I would never have experienced such bad days as those in which we now live. Many of our people have been so very ill for such a long time, and there has been no medicine nor good food to give them. Even the strongest of us are weak without medicine to fight against these diseases, which spread very rapidly. It is such a sorrowful sight."  

—Dukesang Wong

About the translator, Wanda Joy Hoe

Wanda Joy Hoe grew up listening to stories about a grandfather she never met. Her mother, grandmother, and  uncles told stories of Dukesang Wong’s  journey from China to North America, his time working on the railway, the many roles he played in our Chinese Canadian community, and his passion for and commitment to education. They talked about notebooks he had written, diaries that told the story of his life.


A few years later, still fascinated by all these stories, she wrote a paper for a professor at Simon Fraser University. Included in the paper were excerpts taken from her grandfather’s notebooks,  and translations she had made with help from her uncles. While the original diary itself was lost, without Wanda Joy Hoe's work, this unique record of life from a worker on the CPR railroad in the 1880s would have been lost forever.

David McIlwraith, editor

About the editor, David McIlwraith

David McIlwraith  has been a writer, teacher, actor, director and documentary filmmaker.

For several years, David researched the story of the Chinese workers who built significant parts of the transcontinental railways on this continent. In the process he rediscovered what is believed to be the only known journal written by a Chinese railway worker in North America.


McIlwraith's film credits include writing and directing award-nominated documentaries and television programs, including Celesta Found, The Lynching of Louise Sam, and Harrowsmith CountryLlife.


His 2005 documentary, The Lynching of Louie Sam, about the murder of an Indigenous teenager by white vigilantes. It premiered at Hot Docs and was shown at Vancouver International Film Festival,  San Francisco’s American Indian Film Festival and China’s Guangzhou Documentary Film Festival. It was broadcast in Canada on the History Channel, APTN, Knowledge Network, CBC Vancouver and SRC. 


McIlwraith’s first film, Celesta Found,  based on the diaries of a woman living in the Eastern Townships of Quebec in 1895-1916. It premiered at Hot Docs,  was broadcast on CBC, W, and Knowledge Network, and was nominated for Best Documentary Golden Sheaf Award at the Yorkton Film Festival.  


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