OHS Canada Magazine

For every mile of Canadian railroad built, three Chinese workers died: B.C. government

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July 4, 2023
By OHS Canada

Health & Safety

Photo: Government of British Columbia

It’s estimated that for every mile of railroad track laid in Canada, three Chinese workers died, according to a statement by Mable Elmore, British Columbia’s parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives.

Elmore made the comments on Chinese Railroad Workers Memorial Day, which is marked annually in Canada on July 1.

“Between 1881 and 1884, more than 17,000 Chinese railroad workers came by ship from California and China to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. During construction, Chinese railroad workers were given the most difficult, dangerous tasks,” she said. “While white workers were paid $1.50 to $2.50 per day with their provisions provided, Chinese workers were paid only $1 a day and had to pay for their own gear and food.”

That mistreatment of Chinese Canadians continued throughout the turn of the century. On July 1, 1923, pressured by the B.C. government, the federal government enacted the Chinese Immigration Act (often referred to as the Chinese exclusion act), which barred nearly all people of Chinese descent from entering the country. The act was in place for 24 years. It left many people separated from their families; some were never reunited. In 2006, the Government of Canada apologized for the injustices caused by the act.

“This piece of Canadian and B.C. history cannot be forgotten. That’s why today, as we mark Canada Day, we also remember the sacrifices of the many Chinese Canadians who were hurt by this racist piece of legislation and the long-lasting impacts the Chinese Immigration Act has on the Chinese Canadian community,” said Elmore.


“While we have come a long way in 100 years, racism and anti-Asian hate still exists in B.C. We all have a role to play in addressing racism, and it starts by learning about the history of the province and the injustices many racialized communities and Indigenous Peoples faced and continue to experience today.

B.C. is developing new anti-racism legislation that will be introduced in 2024. Building off the Anti-Racism Data Act, which aims to identify systemic racism through the collection of race-based data, the upcoming legislation will hold government accountable for addressing the gaps and barriers in government services and providing supports for those negatively affected by racism, the province said.

“Today, the country’s first Chinese Canadian museum opens to the public. The Province has invested more than $48.5 million in the museum to support the Chinese Canadian community in telling their stories and providing a space for everyone to learn more about the contributions and experiences of Chinese Canadians,” said Elmore.

“I would encourage all British Columbians to take some time to remember the Chinese railroad workers and the families who were impacted by the Chinese Immigration Act. To ensure the racism and discrimination that Chinese settlers experienced never happens again, we must all commit to standing up against racism and building a better, more inclusive province.”


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