People pay tribute to Chinese veterans on April 22, 2018, during a Special Council Meeting where Gregor Robertson, then-Vancouver mayor, officially apologized to the Chinese community for historical discrimination, in Vancouver, Canada. (PHOTO / CHINA NEWS SERVICE)
July 1 will mark 100 years since the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act in Canada, and the descendants of Chinese railroad workers in Canada are calling to proclaim this July 1 as Chinese People's Railway Day.
At a news conference on Monday, Landy Anderson, chair of the Foundation to Commemorate the Chinese Railroad Workers in Canada, said the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act is vitally important to commemorate.
"Most Canadians refer to July 1 as Canada Day, which the Chinese community refers to as 'Humiliation Day'. We're asking every capital city of the national provinces to proclaim July 1 as Chinese People's Railway Day. That's our campaign on July 1 this year," Anderson said.
After the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway, or CPR, was completed in 1885, the Canadian government imposed a punitive head tax to deter Chinese citizens from coming to Canada. Construction of the western stretch of the railway had the most daunting conditions and it was largely built by Chinese workers.
Raising the tax twice was not enough to stop the Chinese, so the Canadian government turned to legislation to formally institutionalize racism — the Chinese Immigration Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, in 1923.
"You can't talk about the railway without the head tax, and the head tax was designed specifically to keep Chinese people out of Canada," said Anderson, who is the granddaughter of a head tax payer and Chinese railroad worker.
The Chinese pioneers who came to Canada in the 1880s to help build the railroad united Canada from coast to coast politically, geographically and economically, and the foundation calls them nation builders.
Of the 17,000 men who came from Guangdong province in South China, more than 4,000 died because of unsafe working conditions, landslides and premature blastings.
"Canada recruited them here; our first prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald recruited the Chinese people specifically to build the railway because they worked stronger, faster, harder, more efficiently," Anderson said.
"Can you imagine how hard (it was) to build a railway system in the late 1800s with the absence of technology? Can you imagine what our ancestors went through? And the discrimination they faced in the anti-Chinese society? They faced significant racism because we were a threat?"
After the railway was completed in November 1885, those Chinese people who were recruited were homeless, destitute and drifting along the tracks. They had no jobs and could not speak English. Some of them started operating laundries and Chinese restaurants.
"So, if you think about our Chinese ancestors and their bloodline, how many descendants are here and prospering in Canada today for Canada's economic success?" Anderson said.
The Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese immigrants for 24 years until it was repealed in 1947. During the exclusionary period, many wives and children in China were separated from the Chinese men in Canada. The impact of the act reverberates through Chinese families and communities to this day.
On June 22, 2006, then-Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper said the construction of the railroad was a nation-building enterprise. He formally apologized for the unjust legislation of the Chinese Exclusion Act and compensated the living head tax payers and their spouses.
"So, our goal at the foundation is to help everybody remember and recognize the Chinese labor, blood, sweat and tears and the 4,000 Chinese loggers that were lost during the building of the CPR," Anderson said.
The provincial capital cities of British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ottawa have sent the foundation support letters to proclaim July 1 as Chinese People's Railway Day.
On May 14, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement to mark 100 years since the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923.
"The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923… was a dark time in Canada's history that has lasting impacts today," the statement said. "This systemic discrimination and racist policy separated loved ones, impoverished families and reinforced prejudice against people of Chinese origin in Canada — scars that would endure for generations."