One day in 1881.
Foreman: “You will be paid a dollar a day”
Old Wong: “But …why? The Whites are paid two fifty!”
Foreman: “It’s your fault that your skin is yellow! But no matter if you’re yellow-skinned or white-skinned, there’s a way you can make more money. Come join the blasting team; we need blasters to blow up mountains. How does four dollars a day sound to you?”
Old Wong wondering: “Four dollars! That’s four times more than the Chinese make – and even more than the Whites’! If I joined the blasting team, I could make one thousand dollars a year!”
The 58-mile sections of the mountains in the Fraser Canyon stretching from Yaletown to Lytton were all made of hard granite with rivers flowing in the valley underneath the sheer precipice. At least 10 tunnels had to be built for the railway, the longest measuring more than 300 meters long. The workers’ job was to drill holes into the steep mountain walls to facilitate dynamite blasting. This was a difficult and dangerous task, often resulting in serious injury or even death. One of the blasts caused a landslide, killing many workers. Old Wong shook his head while he was imagining these tragic scenes.
Without any machinery, Old Wong had no other choice, but to use chisels and hammers to conquer the hard rock. After each blast, he and his team would use shovels to make the road and level the foundations; then they would carry the rails on their shoulders, lay them down on these foundations, and hammer spikes through the rails to secure them.
From 1881 to 1884, there were around 15 700 Chinese who worked on the railway. Many of them even sacrificed their lives during the construction of railway – only to be hastily buried along the tracks. By the time this “Canadian artery” was finally completed, it was said that every sections of the railway was built upon Chinese sweat, tears and blood. The Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald acknowledged that “Without the Chinese, there would be no railroad.”