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Chinese-Canadian Genealogy

Resources for Canadians of Chinese origin who wish to learn more about their personal connection to Chinese-Canadian history.

Railway Construction

In the early 1880s, many Chinese workers were recruited for the construction of the B.C. section of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Chinese labourers were initially hired between 1880-1881 from the U.S., and about 1500 came to B.C. from San Francisco and Portland. To recruit these workers, the construction company used the services of the Lian Chang Company, a company established by a San Francisco businessman of Toisan origin, Li Tianpei. The company had offices in Victoria and Hong Kong.

Lian Chang and several other companies, both Chinese and non-Chinese, subsequently undertook the recruitment and transport of thousands of railway workers directly from Hong Kong. These workers were unaccompanied by their families and about 8000 arrived in Victoria during 1882. Chinese railway workers endured very harsh conditions, and it has been estimated that at least 600 died during railroad construction.

Unfortunately, the likelihood of locating information on ancestors who worked on the construction of Canadian railroads is remote. This is true not only of the Chinese, but also of others who were employed in railway construction. There is a Canadian Pacific Railway Archives, but its holdings relate to the operation of the railway, not to its construction. The contractors who built the railway and the sub-contractors who hired railway workers on their behalf, were usually not Canadian, and it is doubtful that their records have survived. The genealogical search is further complicated because, in the case of the Chinese, labourers were not hired as individuals, but in large groups of perhaps one thousand men.

Although you are unlikely to find specific information on an individual Chinese ancestor's role in the building of the railway, Julia Ningyu Li uses numerous archival photographs to provide a vivid visual impression of the experience of early Chinese railway workers in her book Canadian Steel, Chinese Grit. The author also includes a series of "Our Family's Story" articles, derived from taped interviews with Chinese-Canadians whose ancestors included the following railway workers:

Name Page numbers
Yip Sang 18-19
Cheng Foo 48-49
Pon Hincheng 110-111
Tan Qiaodong 132-133
Liang Shiji 147
Mark Yin-pow 156-157

 

The Ties That Bind is an online virtual exhibit exploring the history of the Chinese in Canada from before Confederation, during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway and beyond. The exhibit uses archival research and documents along with the testimony of Chinese-Canadians descendants. The following individuals are included in the exhibit:

Descendant Ancestor
Alexandria Sham Sum Yong Tai
Brian Joe On Lee
Larry Kwong Loo Ying Tow
James Pon Pon Hin Cheng
Judi Michelle Young Yong Hong Yon
Ron Lee Lee Duck
Keven Jangze Cheng Ging Butt
Stan Fong Lum King Fong
Cindy Leong Willy Nipp
David Wong Sam Kwan and Kwan Chu Wing
Kwoi Gin Suey Kee Gin
David Chu Chu Chong Pung
Landy Ing-Anderson Ralph Lung Kee Lee

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