At the time of this reading and review, we are just a few newborn breaths into the lunar new year of the rabbit. Lunar new year is widely celebrated in many south east asian countries, but we westerners strongly associate this occasion with one country in particular, using the common greeting, “Happy Chinese New Year” or the Cantonese equivalent, “Kung Hei Fat Choy”.
New Year’s Day parade pageantries in gold and red unfold globally wherever there are Chinatowns. Firecrackers can be heard, used to ward away evil spirits. Red envelopes and traditional meals are served up amongst friends and family. Dust bunnies are feverishly swept away before the new year is ushered in to make way for the abundance of good fortune. Whether you call it superstition or cherished traditions, they’ve mattered and are very much a part of the diaspora situated in towns and cities across Canada.
We can thank some of the first immigrants to Canada for not only continuing and sharing these yearly celebrations in their new home, but for inviting their fellow white settlers to enjoy the bounty of home made exotic dishes. Some of those settlers may have been curious, open-minded, suspicious, or plain hateful. Regardless, many came, and many generously received. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said as easily for the first couple of generations of Chinese settlers.
Lily Chow devoted much time in researching museum archives and travel to the BC Kootenay region (southeast corner of British Columbia bordering part of Alberta, Washington and Idaho states) tracking the history of countless Chinese settlers from the gold panning era, railway construction, and small town business and community development. Unearthing a balance of historical accomplishment and hardships in major cities and towns such as Revelstoke, Cranbrook, Nelson, and Rossland, Chow manages to provide an account of the discriminatory newcomer struggle whilst serving to enhance Canada’s development.
Poor wages relative to white Canadian counterparts, both experienced and inexperienced, during construction of the CP Railway, the Chinese Immigration Act’s “head tax”, voting exclusion, and a laundry list of snubs, slights, and injustices paint a large segment of the early timeline in blood and bone. Chinese workers in countless cases died for their jobs, directly or indirectly, and horrifically in a few accounts by never-prosecuted or inconclusively-proved murder. Chow makes a strong case for the roots of systemic racism that we can draw parallels to in the current state of our Vancouver Chinatown.
To understand the existence of Chee Kung Tong (Chinese Freemason Society) in each city or town, Chow delves into the despair and loneliness experienced by most early male Chinese settlers. Tongs provided a place of comfort and collective hope, and the start to many lunar new year festivities despite the oppression and poverty sandwiching the days long celebration. It is this same determination to uphold culture and tradition which leads to the later development of a youth association and dedicated basketball team as a means for maintaining community for the up and coming generation.
Part genealogical study, Chow at times lists a who’s who of prominent business and society contributors, who they married, how many kids they had, what became of their siblings if they had any, what they perished from, and where their remains were interred. Archival photos intersperse interviews and stories, at times capturing moments of pride and satisfaction.
Hard is the Journey is an engrossing read for any citizen of Canada wanting to learn uncomfortable truths of our nation’s past. Chow’s engaging approach is a mix of history lesson intertwined with personal accounts and actual news reports of the time, rife with racial slurs. What it is to be Canadian is to accept that generations past haven’t been all that kind to or accepting of all settlers. Learning how to be better can start with reading eye openers like these.
About the Author
Lily Chow, a researcher and writer, immigrated to Canada in 1967. Her book publications include Blossoms in the Gold Mountains (2018), Blood and Sweat over the Railway Tracks (2014), Chasing Their Dreams (2000), Sojourners in the North (1996). She also has written articles for Ricepaper Magazine and the Prince George Citizen. Currently, she resides in Victoria, BC.
- Publisher : Caitlin Press (Dec 16 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1773860747
- ISBN-13 : 978-1773860749