Chinese Railroad Worker Memorial

A brief history of how Chinese immigrants built our Canada-wide infrastructure

In 1989, the Chinese Railway Workers Memorial was unveiled in Toronto, designed by Eldon Garnet, serving as a solemn reminder of their sacrifice of thousands of Chinese labourers who toiled to build the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). 

From the treacherous heights to the harsh landscapes and climates, these workers faced unimaginable challenges to connect the nation's coasts.

During the construction of the CPR from 1881 to 1885, over 17,000 Chinese immigrants were recruited for the most dangerous tasks, including dynamiting rock faces, carving tunnels through mountains, and working at great heights on shoddy scaffolding

Chinese Railroad Workers Memorial just west of Rogers Centre, looking SW, ca. 1990. Designed by Eldon Garnet and built in 1989 with figures cast by Francis LeBouthillier. It commemorates Chinese workers who helped build the railroad across Canada:

Despite their vital contributions, many lost their lives, with estimates ranging from 600 to 4,000, often buried in unmarked graves along the railway.

The completion of the CPR marked a turning point for Chinese immigration policy in Canada.

The Chinese head tax and later the Chinese Exclusion Act created insurmountable barriers for Chinese immigrants, tearing families apart and stifling immigration for decades.

It wasn't until 1947 that the Exclusion Act was repealed, followed by a formal apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2006 for the injustices inflicted by these racist policies.

Led by Chinese Canadians and aimed to preserve their history and educate the public, the Foundation to Commemorate the Chinese Railroad Workers in Canada was established in 1982 to honour the legacy of Chinese railway workers.

Today, the memorial on Blue Jays Way in Downtown Toronto is a symbol of resilience and worker's rights.

Lead photo by


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