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What is that?: Monument pays tribute to nameless Chinese railway workers

Last Updated May 27, 2016 at 12:34 pm EDT

The Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira

What is that?: Toronto sculptures explained is a new series looking at a different sculpture in the city every week. Have you seen a piece of public art in your daily commute and wondered what it was about? Me too … so I’ve decided that I’d learn a little bit more about my own city and share it with you.


Memorial to Commemorate the Chinese Railroad Workers in Canada | Blue Jays Way and Navy Wharf Court

After learning what this sculpture is about, it seems to rise above Toronto’s tallest tower which acts as just a back-drop.

The Memorial to Commemorate the Chinese Railroad Workers in Canada stands in the railway corridor at Blue Jays Way and Navy Wharf Court.

The Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira
The Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira

The monument is dedicated to the 17,000 railway workers who came from China to build the Canadian Pacific Railway between Alberta and British Columbia between 1880 and 1885.

More than 4,000 of those workers died while building that railway.

The Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira
The Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira

The description etched into the monument is in both English and Chinese.

Those who survived had no way of getting back to China, the description reads, and “thousands drifted in near destitution along the completed track. All of them remained nameless in the history of Canada.”

The monument features two workers lifting timber using pulleys and ropes.

The Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira
The Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira
The Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira
The Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira

The Chinese Canadian community paid for the monument, built in 1989, and commissioned artist Eldon Garnet to create it and Francis Le Bouthillier to sculpt it.

The inscription at the Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira
The Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira

The boulders at the base of the sculpture are from the Canadian Rockies, provided by the Canadian Pacific Railway and Fording Coal Company Limited.

The Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira
The Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira

Two of the boulders have plaques on them, with each containing an inscription. One reads “Rich the hand which holds the stone of memory.”

One of the inscriptions at the Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira
The Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira

People often leave flowers at the bottom of the monument. I wonder if they see the second inscription. I didn’t.

“One by one the walking vanish.”

Wreaths at the Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira
The Chinese Railroad Workers Monument in Toronto CITYNEWS/Diana Pereira