This Week in History
Toward A Better Future
This story was initially published in 2002
On May 15, 1858, a Chinese miner who had gone with some prospectors from California to explore the Fraser River returned to San Francisco, where he confirmed that there were impressive gold deposits in British Columbia. This news sparked the first wave of Chinese immigration to Canada.
In 1860, more than 5000 Chinese were in British Columbia searching for gold, generally working on abandoned mining concessions or for Euro-Canadian land owners, who were often distrustful and intolerant of other races. Despite these poor working conditions, some made extraordinary discoveries. In 1860, a miner named Ly Wing found gold nuggets worth over $5000.
Many Chinese who did not take part directly in the gold rush opened restaurants and laundries to serve the growing population of miners. Others worked to develop communications in British Columbia by helping install telegraph wires or build roads. Still others worked as servants, cooks or seasonal workers in canneries. When the gold deposits were exhausted, the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway became a new source of work for the Chinese miners, which sparked a new wave of immigration in the 1880s.
Despite prejudice and difficult working conditions, the Chinese made Canada their home. Victoria's Chinatown and Chinese Construction Workers on the Canadian Pacific Railway have been designated respectively as a site and an event of national historic significance.
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