Chinese Legacies exhibit now at The Reach Gallery Museum

The show explores the story of Chinese labourers who contributed to the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway

Chinese labourers played a key role in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Chinese labourers played a key role in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The heritage exhibition “Chinese Legacies: Building the Canadian Pacific Railway” has rolled into the Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford from its home at the Revelstoke Railway Museum.

Chinese Legacies explores the story of the Chinese labourers who contributed to the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway between Port Moody and Craigellachie.

The exhibit looks at their travel to B.C., their living and working conditions and the contribution they made to the construction of the railway.

It explores the large Chinese community that prospered for many years in Revelstoke and features the Kwong family who played a prominent role in the town’s early history.

Several thousand Chinese men worked on the CPR mainline through B.C., and it is estimated that between 600 and 2,220 of these workers died from accidents, disease and starvation.

The Inland Sentinel newspaper, originally published at Yale, has many articles about the Chinese laborers, and while many people believed that their presence was necessary to construct the railway, they were greatly resented by the white population, and suffered a great deal of discrimination.

Their wages were half those of white men doing the same jobs, and they were often exploited by their crew bosses.

Once the CPR was completed in 1885, many of the Chinese labourers were left destitute. Quite a few of them settled in Revelstoke, where they worked mainly as cooks, servants, laundrymen, and laborers.

“As was the case in Revelstoke, unemployed Chinese workers found employment in communities along the CPR, including Abbotsford,” said Kris Foulds, collections manager at The Reach.

“The small, local Chinese community faded into history after our little Chinatown in the village of Abbotsford was destroyed by fire in the early part of the last century but the stories told in Chinese Legacies have a place in local history.”

The exhibit, sponsored by Dragon Fort Restaurant, includes a railway workers’ campsite diorama, a slide presentation of historical photographs, original artifacts (some on loan from the Port Moody Station Museum), and text available in English, French, and Mandarin.

Other exhibitions showing at The Reach Gallery Museum (32388 Veterans Way) until early January 2015 include: By Land and Sea (Prospect and Refuge), Betwixt and Between, and Between Madness and Delight.

For more information, visit thereach.ca.