top of page


After lengthy delays, on February 15, 1881 the railroad received approval for construction.

With funding approved, the next major hurdle was hiring workers.

Chinese workers on the Canadian Pacific Railway
(Image D-07548 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives)

Chinese labour was used to build the railroad, and later to maintain it.

Chinese workers were crucial for building the difficult western sections and were employed to build the most challenging and dangerous segments. Several thousand Chinese came from the coastal areas of the United States where they helped build the American transcontinental railroad, but the majority arrived directly from southern China.


The Chinese were brought in to start building in the west heading east through the treacherous terrain of the Rocky Mountains. At the same time, European labourers began building the eastern section moving west. Of the 9,000 railway workers used, 6,500 were Chinese Canadians.

Chinese workers were paid $1.00 a day, and from this $1.00, they had to pay for their food and gear. White workers were paid $1.50 to $2.50 per day and did not have to pay for provisions. As well as being paid less, Chinese workers were given the most dangerous tasks, such as handling the explosive nitroglycerin used to break up solid rock. Due to the harsh conditions they faced, hundreds of Chinese Canadians working on the railway died from accidents, winter cold, illness and malnutrition.

Chinese at work on C.P.R. (Canadian Pacific Railway) in Mountains, 1884 (Library and Archives Canada

Credit: Boorne & May/Ernest Brown collection/C-006686B)

Chinese Canadians experienced discrimination and segregation in education and the professions. In September 1922, the Victoria School Board separated Chinese Canadian students into a segregated school. Professional societies in British Columbia practised anti-Chinese discrimination by excluding anyone whose name was not on the voting lists. Because Chinese Canadians had been disenfranchised, they could not become professionals such as lawyers, pharmacists, engineers or doctors in British Columbia until after 1947, when Chinese Canadians finally reacquired the right to vote.

(source - BC Government)

the museum panels

These 12 panels are on permanent display at the CPR 374 Museum. They tell the story of the hard work, contributions, and incredible sacrifices of the Chinese workers who helped build Canada's national railway.

CPR 374 Outside (1)
CPR 374
CPR 374 (2)sm
CPR 374 (1)
CPR 374 Ocean to Ocean (1)
Burnaby railway park
CPR 374 Miniature Train - Pruden
CPR 374 Red bricks

The site is under construction, please check back for updates

Signup to stay informed on upcoming events.

Thanks for submitting!

bottom of page