Participants in The Ties that Bind: Building the CPR, Building a Place in Canada share uncommon stories from a common Canadian past. The experiences of their ancestors, who left China in search of better lives for themselves and their families in “Gold Mountain,” have long been excluded from the telling of Canada's official history.
By tracking their families' stories through The Ties That Bind oral history project, we gain a more inclusive perspective of Canada's history. And on the 125th anniversary of the driving of the “Last Spike” that completed the Canadian Pacific Railway, Chinese Canadians are now able to reclaim their history - and have their contributions to the building of Canada recognized.
Oral histories enhance historical knowledge and understanding. They provide important source material for voices that have been omitted from the historical record. Historians, however, are conscious of the need to be careful in the way they collect and present oral testimony, which can be susceptible to the unreliability of memory, the possibility of misunderstanding and the undependability of anecdote.
Still, there is value in collecting these oral histories, as a way of reclaiming the untold stories of a common Canadian past. Chinese have been present in Canada since before Confederation; they participated in one of the greatest nation-building exercises - the construction of the CPR; they fought for Canada without holding citizenship, yet they were excluded from society and discriminated against for decades.
They persevered and now they are telling their stories.
You can hear the full accounts of descendants of the early Chinese Canadian pioneers in the Learning Resources' Audio Gallery.