I Am Canada: Blood and Iron
Heen’s father and grandfather have brought their family in China to the brink of ruin with their gambling habits. To solve their money troubles, Heen and his father come to Canada to build the railway — a decision plagued by disaster.
The living conditions provided for workers are wretched and work on the railway is excruciating. Transporting tons of gravel and working in tunnels about to be dynamited proves to be deadly for many of his co-workers. Soon the friction between the Chinese workers and the whites, who barely acknowledge these deaths, reaches a fevered pitch. As an added stress, Heen’s father has found some men to gamble with, which puts all of their earnings at risk.
Heen’s only solace is his journal, where his chilling observations of the injustice and peril heaped upon the workers serve as an important testament to this dramatic era in Canadian history. Some 17,000 Chinese workers came to B.C. during the early 1880s; though not all stayed for the railway’s entire construction, they formed three-quarters of the workforce.
A Note from Paul Yee, author of I Am Canada: Blood and Iron
My Aunt Lillian, born in Vancouver in 1895, told me how her father had arrived from China after the gold rush. This meant he was a shopkeeper in British Columbia during railway construction. Unfortunately, Aunt Lillian mentioned little about that time, so it was a dim foggy place in my mind. I grew up in Chinatown, where our neighbours were six elderly Chinese men. They had left their families in China long ago, and they died in Canada without ever seeing them again. When I think of Chinese workers in early British Columbia, I remember these men.
With two university degrees in history, I had always worked at bringing the past to wider audiences. This chance to write detailed and authentic history delighted me! Writing Blood and Iron merged fiction and non-fiction. The need to be accurate presented a challenge because details could not be “bent” to serve the needs of my story. At the same time, however, to get today’s young readers to read and enjoy this journal, I realized it needed story elements such as conflict, high stakes and vivid personalities. I’m very happy with the result and I hope you’ll enjoy it too.
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