Here is the only known first-person account from a Chinese worker on the famously treacherous parts of transcontinental railways that spanned the North American continent in the nineteenth century. The story of those Chinese workers has been told before, but never in a voice from among their number, never in a voice that lived through the experience. Here is that missing voice, a voice that changes our understanding of the history it tells and that so many believed was lost forever. Dukesang Wong’s written account of life working on the Canadian Pacific Railway, a Gold Mountain life, tells of the punishing work, the comradery, the sickness and starvation, the encounters with Indigenous Peoples, and the dark and shameful history of racism and exploitation that prevailed up and down the North American continent. The Diary of Dukesang Wong includes all the selected entries translated in the mid-1960s by his granddaughter, Wanda Joy Hoe, for an undergraduate sociology paper. Background history and explanations for the diary’s unexplained references are provided by David McIlwraith, the book’s editor, who also considers why the diarist’s voice and other Chinese voices have been silenced for so long.
About the authors
David McIlwraith has been a writer, teacher, actor, and director. During a career in theatre, film, and television, he wrote and directed award-nominated documentaries and television programs, including Celesta Found, The Lynching of Louie Sam, In Chinatown, and Harrowsmith Country Life. He has worked across Canada in the development of new Canadian plays. As an actor, he has played roles from Romeo to Prospero, and he has taught at the University of Toronto and the University of Alberta. He spent a decade searching for and then researching this first-person account of the nineteenth-century Chinese experience in North America. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, with his wife and daughter and spends summers with friends on Salt Spring Island.
Born in 1947, Wanda Joy Hoe translated selections from the diary of her grandfather, Dukesang Wong, for an undergraduate sociology course at Simon Fraser University in the mid-1960s. After serving for many years with Canada’s delegation to UNESCO, she retired and now lives in Ottawa.
Born in a village north of Beijing, China, in 1845, Dukesang Wong travelled to North America in 1880 and worked for several years on the construction of the CPR in British Columbia. He eventually settled in New Westminster, BC, where he worked as a tailor and started a family. He died in 1931.
- Short-listed, Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize (BC and Yukon Book Prizes)
"[The Diary of Dukesang Wong] puts a human face on the thousands of Chinese who came to Canada in the 19th century and gradually managed, by dint of sheer determination and hard work, to make themselves good lives."
—Asian Review of Books