Building The Canadian Pacific Railway Exhibition Has Rolled Into The Reach!

By October 8, 2014Community News

Submitted. 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 fascinating story of the Chinese labourers who contributed to the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway between Port Moody and Craigellachie. This presentation of their travel to British Columbia, their living and working conditions and the contribution they made to the construction of the railway will be experienced by thousands in Abbotsford this fall. 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 BC, and it is estimated that between 600 and 2,220 of these workers died as a result of 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. 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,” explains Kris Foulds, Collections Manager at The Reach.

The story of the Chinese railway workers speaks to our national story and is suitable for a wide-ranging audience in communities all across the country. 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. Recognition of the Chinese workers’ contribution to the railway’s construction has in recent years been a subject of great discussion following the Last Spike’s 125th Anniversary celebrations in 2010, and this exhibit joins other individuals and organizations in their efforts to educate Canadians on this significant aspect of our nation’s past. It is also hoped that this exhibit will encourage various communities to recognize the inheritance of nation-building evident in many cultures across the country.

Other exhibitions showing at The Reach Gallery Museum (32388 Veterans Way, Abbotsford) until early January 2015 include: By Land and Sea (Prospect and Refuge) by Fraser Valley born, Vancouver-based artist Marian Penner Bancroft; Betwixt and Between featuring sculptures by Alberta artist Jude Griebel and paintings by fellow Albertan, Dana Holst; and Between Madness and Delight with artist Marcia Pitch.

About The Reach
The Reach is a registered charity and “Class A” facility in the Fraser Valley that is operated by a small staff team with the assistance of a Board of Directors and 100+ fabulous volunteers. With your support, we will continue to showcase the best in the visual arts by local and international artists, preserve and share the stories of our rich and diverse cultural heritage, provide engaging quality education programming for all ages and offer FREE admission to exhibitions and a wide variety of other multidisciplinary cultural events.

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