Between 1881–1884, as many as 17,000 Chinese laborers from the southern province of Guangdong were hired to build the most treacherous part of the Canadian Pacific Railway through BC. About one-third Chinese railway workers perished during the job.
Rocky Railway High (Closure) is an Interactive Art Project for the symbolic return of the Chinese railway workers to their homeland (an important Chinese custom at the time).
Over the month of July, descendants of a railway worker, David Cheung and his two sons will travel by train and by bicycle along the stretch of tracks that the Chinese workers helped build.
The Cheungs will explore the region from Revelstoke, through Ashcroft, Lytton and Yale, researching histories, collecting submissions, discovering places, and paying homage to those who lost their lives building Canada’s National Dream. The trip will begin in Revelstoke and end at a Victoria cemetery where some Chinese railway workers were buried.
This week the Cheungs are hoping to visit Kamloops, Salmon Arm, Revelstoke, Craigellachie, and surrounding communities. Tentatively, on July 21-25 they hope to visit Savona, Ashcroft, Lytton, Yale and Port Moody.
A series of multi-medias artwork will be produced by Cheung based on information collected, and the organizers are hoping to also collect 5000 submissions (of writing or drawing on a postcard size form) from across the country – one for every worker who perished during construction of the railway. Without the labour and the presence of these thousands of Chinese railway workers, Canada would not have stayed one nation.
“We have all benefitted from this history,” said Cheung.
Contributions can be downloaded at www.rockyrailwayhigh.com/submission.html . All of the contributions and the artwork created by the Cheung will be shown in an exhibition in British Columbia.
Once it is finished, the exhibition will be shipped to Guangdong Province, China to be buried in a permanent site representing a symbolic return of the Chinese railway workers to their homeland.
This project is supported by the Canadian Department of Citizenship and Immigration under the Community Historical Recognition Program.