Rediscovering the Diary
When David McIlwraith began research on the stories of the contributions of the Chinese to the founding and building of Canada, he believed that contrary to common opinion, he could find first person accounts by the men and women who had made those contributions. After searching in both China and Canada for more than two years, he found a university assignment written in the 1960’s which included translations from a diary written between 1867 and 1917. The diary’s author was a man named Dukesang Wong, a former tutor in China who worked on the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway from 1881 to 1886, became a tailor in New Westminster, BC, and died in Vancouver in 1931. His diary is the only record by a Chinese railway worker known to exist.
“When gold was discovered in the lower Fraser Valley in 1857, and in the years that followed, tens of thousands of miners from around the world joined the gold rush. Amongst the hopefuls were a large group of Chinese from San Francisco who arrived in Victoria by boat in June 1858.
Soon after, more Chinese came from California and directly from China, seeking riches both from digging gold and creating businesses that provided services to other miners. Even when the prosperous period of the gold rush ended in the 1860s and British Columbia faced adverse economic conditions, Chinese continued to migrate to what they called “Gum San” – Gold Mountain – a name they used for California, British Columbia and the Australian colonies. Although the discovery of gold in these places sparked global gold rushes, the name “Gold Mountain” lasted long after the gold was gone.
The mostly male Chinese migrants often worked alongside and sometimes married into First Nations communities up the Fraser River and throughout British Columbia. They sought a better livelihood by building early industries such as market farming, logging, fishing and mining, and providing services through businesses such as general stores, cafés and laundries”- Government of British Columbia
Building the Canadian Pacific Railway
“Chinese labour was used to build the railroad, and later to maintain it. Over 17,000 Chinese came to Canada from 1881 through 1884. Several thousand came from the coastal areas of the United States where they helped build the American transcontinental railroad, but the majority arrived directly from southern China. While most of these arrivals worked as labourers on the railroad, exact numbers are unknown.
They encountered a hostile reception in British Columbia. The province already had a sizeable Chinese population following the gold rush in the late 1850s, and racism towards the Chinese was widespread. Newspaper articles and editorial illustrations of the time repeatedly portrayed the Chinese in a degrading way. Many feared that Chinese workers, who were willing to accept lower wages, would take jobs away from white workers. Also, the Chinese culture was abhorrent to white Canadians who did not understand Chinese cultural practices in areas such as dress, living conditions and even funeral rites.” - Multicultural History Society of Ontario
"I am truly alone amid the dying. The leaders of the white people demand money – our poor savings – taken from we who have so little, given to those who are not so taxed."—Dukesang Wong