On Tuesday, July 1, 2014, UARR President Gary Pieters as well as community representatives from labour, human rights, students, academics, cultural communities and across the diverse sectors, attended and participated in the Canada Day Commemoration Wreath Laying Ceremony at the ‘Monument of the Chinese Railroad Workers in Canada’ Northern Linear Park, 4 Blue Jays Way in Toronto.
The event provided the opportunity to reflect upon as well as memorialize the contributions of the Chinese Workers in the 1800s during the era from British North America to early Confederation, who built the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) that linked Canada from ‘coast-to-coast’. It is important to note that the working conditions were at worst dangerous and precarious.
While the workers achievement was remarkable, they faced significant barriers and discriminatory actions from the government following the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Restrictive measures including the imposition of a ‘head tax’ in 1885; followed by the ‘Exclusion Act’ in 1923 created restrictive conditions that existed until 1947 when the Act was repealed. The Online Exhibit The Ties That Bind: Building the CPR, Building a Place in Canada provides a good historical narrative on this period in Canada’s early history and its linkage to today’s society
In 2006, the government of Canada apologized to Chinese Canadians and the country for the ‘head tax’ that discriminated against the early Chinese Canadian nation builders of the CPR.
The history of the Chinese Canadians contributions to the building of railway is one that must be embedded into our national consciousness; taught in the school curriculum; and recognized as a significant marker in the development of our nation and its transportation linkages that in turn contributed to accelerating prosperity via inter-provincial and transnational trading relationships.
Recognition of this significant event and its connections to other diverse cultural communities that faced barriers including the Komogatamaru incident in 1914, where a boatload of Sikhs were turned back, from landing on Canadian shores due to what was then termed a requirement to embark on a ‘Continuous Journey’.
The present day circumstances of dilemma of the state of the ‘Migrant Workers’ and ‘Temporary Foreign Workers’ in Canada presents some unsettling connections to the past, where the workers faced exploitation, unpleasant working conditions and were in some cases forced to return to their countries of origins.