Chinese Laborers’ Secret Journey: Shipped Across Canada During WWI

A recent inquiry at the Vancouver Island Military Museum in Nanaimo has sparked research and the creation of an upcoming exhibit. The visitor asked about the “CLC,” which turned out to be the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC). This little-known chapter of history sheds light on the approximately 80,000 Chinese residents who were secretly transported across Canada during the First World War.

The CLC’s Remarkable Journey

In 1916 and 1917, the French and British governments negotiated with China to access tens of thousands of male workers from Shandong Province. These workers were needed to labor on the Western Front in France and Belgium. The British recruited them, and they were transported by ship across the Pacific Ocean to Victoria, then by train to Halifax, and finally by ship to France. The Canadian government kept this travel arrangement secret because, at the time, a head tax of $500 was charged for every Asian person entering the country.

Chinese Laborers
Chinese Laborers

Sealed Railway Cars and Unmarked Graves

Around 80,000 Chinese men endured a six-day journey from Vancouver to Halifax in sealed railway cars. They were not allowed out of the cars during the trip. Some men died along the way and were buried in unmarked graves. While their families received monthly payments, the men themselves did not receive any money.

The Legacy of the CLC

The Chinese Labour Corps played a crucial role in supporting the war effort, yet their contributions remained largely hidden. Their story is one of sacrifice, resilience, and the challenges faced by marginalized communities during wartime. The upcoming exhibit at the Vancouver Island Military Museum aims to honor their memory and shed light on this significant chapter in Canadian history.

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