Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Jean Chong on the Commemorative art of the Chinese as the Builders of Canada

The long low whistle of the CPR steam engine runs through my family memoris, and the area where I live in Ontario is steeped in railroad history. I think that is what resonated with me when I chanced upon Jean Cheung's blog the other day.

Jean shares with the readers of her blog, the story of her discovering the statue of the Chinese workers constructing the CPR bridge. She writes:

In Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary, where I have visited and lived, there is outdoor public art which commemorates the historic work by the Chinese Canadian railway workers on Canada’s transcontinental railroad. The Chinese labourers helped build the national Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) from 1858 – 1885. Each of the profiled city monuments were independently conceived, designed and installed by different artists and local Chinese community groups at different points in time. Although there was no national coordination of this art, local community and city efforts coincidentally produced a suite of different artistic interpretations across Canada on this same historic achievement and rail line that is still with us today.

CPR recruited a total of 17,000 Chinese male labourers from China and the U.S., for half of the wages for Caucasian railway workers, which was $1.00 day. Work included dangerous working conditions that required dynamite blasting. There was always the threat of landslides and frigid cold winters in the mountain ranges in order to build rail tunnels and rail bridges across river canyons. The construction of the 600 km. rail section between Eagle Pass and Port Moody, B.C. was Toronto’s Monument: Largest Yet Furthest Away from Most Dangerous Railway Construction.When you ride north from the Toronto’s Waterfront Trail from either the eastern, Scarborough side or from the western Humber Valley-Etobicoke bike route sect ions, you can encounter Canada’s biggest railway monument by the SkyDome (now Rogers Dome) near the Union Station railway yards by the foot of Spadina Rd. The 30-ft. high artwork integrates large sculptures of two Chinese men working with suspended rail ties on rail bridge trestle.

The Toronto artwork was installed in 1989 and truly does evoke achievement on a momumental scale. It is simply named, “Memorial to Commemorate Chinese Railway Workers in Canada. When I came across it by bike a few years later, I was abit surprised. Although the most dangerous rail work was undertaken thousands of kilometres away in western Canada, Toronto had the largest monument.

Jean welcomes visitors to her blogsite, where you will find other pictures and information about the artistic commemoration of the Chinese people to the building of Canada. Please click here.

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