Documents, maps, and publications explore how the Canadian Pacific Railway was built and how Vancouver was chosen as the western terminus.
The exhibition also features photographs and accounts of the railway’s construction, along with vibrant posters promoting travel and tourism via C.P.R. trains and steamships. Beautiful examples of cruise ship memorabilia provide a glimpse of the style of the times.

The Fraser River gold rush that sparked Chinese immigration to British Columbia is highlighted through books and government documents relating to immigration restrictions. Chinese-Canadian cultural, social, and economic life is displayed through archival documents, photographs, artifacts, and more.

The exhibition also includes promotional brochures and posters encouraging European immigration to Western Canada and archival materials from the Clandonald colony in Alberta, a community of immigrants from the Scottish Hebrides.

Related to early B.C. hstory are rare editions of the narratives of many Pacific voyages of discovery including Valdes, Galiano, Malaspina,
Cook, and Vancouver. The exhibition also features charts recording the exploration of the Pacific Northwest.

Nine years after the California gold rush of 1849, gold was found at Boston Bar in the Fraser River. The Chinese, now unwanted in California, for the first time began arriving from America and later from China to work claims along the Fraser River in the colony of British Columbia. Most Chinese came from the Pearl River Delta region of southern China. These sojourners were almost all single men who would send what remained of their meager earnings back to their impoverished families in China.

The Chung Collection is perhaps best known for its extensive and unique collections on immigration and settlement, especially the Chinese experience in Canada and the United States. Photographs, documents and artifacts tell stories of the struggles and eventual successes of Chinese immigrants and their descendants in fields such as business, politics and the arts. The collection also contains extensive secondary sources on the subject of immigration and Diasporas, as well as novels and first-hand accounts describing early Chinese-Canadian and Chinese-American people and communities. The collection also contains material related to Scottish immigration to Canada.

The Asian Experience in North America

Head tax certificate for Jew Chew Gee

Immigration from Asia to North America began in earnest in the middle of the nineteenth century as the gold rush in California, and later in British Columbia, offered wealth to many Chinese who were struggling with poverty.

Chinese labourers were instrumental in building the transcontinental railway. The Chinese workers could be paid less to do the most dangerous jobs and often worked harder than local labourers. They were also used to break strikes. Violence and racial hatred grew. When the railway was complete, the Canadian government instituted a head tax of $50 in 1885, payable by every person of Chinese origin on entering Canada, growing as large as $500 in 1903 before Canada barred Chinese immigration in 1923. The Chung Collection contains many documents relating to early Chinese immigration and work experiences such as contracts for Chinese and non-Chinese workers, petitions to the government about Chinese rights and about restricting immigration, anti-Asian ephemera, head tax certificates, and government reports.

Despite the difficulties faced by Chinese people in Canada in the early part of the century, many became vendors and business people, establishing family-run laundries, tailor shops, restaurants, and grocery stores. The communities surrounding these businesses and homes became the Chinatowns of Victoria and Vancouver. At times, these Chinatowns were home to gambling houses, places of entertainment, and legally-available opium. Some artifacts from gambling houses and opium dens in early Chinatowns can be seen in the collection exhibition, as well as numerous photographs, correspondence, pamphlets, and other material.

Featured documents and resources

The Chinese Experience in British Columbia: 1850-1950 is an educational website combining digital collections from the Chung Collection and the City of Vancouver Archives.

Images of Chinese People and Communities in North America

Group of Chinese men in posed forest setting

Photographs offer a special insight into cultures, communities and people. Dr. Chung meticulously gathered a comprehensive collection of photographs of Chinese-Canadian and Chinese-American people and communities. Photographs depict families, Chinatowns, and various aspects of the social, cultural and work life of the Chinese diaspora. Highlights include historical class photographs from Vancouver’s Strathcona School, street scenes from the Vancouver, Victoria, and San Francisco Chinatowns, Chinese-Canadian wedding portraits, and the 1915-1918 photograph album of Jue Fong, then a Chinese-American teenager, which offers rare candid photographs from that time period.

The Yip Family and Yip Sang Company

Yip Sang, an entrepreneur, community leader and philanthropist, was born in Shengtang village, Guangdong province, China in 1845. He emigrated first to San Francisco in 1864, then traveled north to British Columbia in 1881, following the gold rush. There he gained employment with the Kwong On Wo Company as a Chinese foreman on the Canadian Pacific Railway line.

After the completion of the railway, Yip Sang settled in Vancouver, B.C. His connections with the CPR eventually led to his recruitment by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company as a Chinese passenger agent. He founded the Wing Sang Company in 1888 (the name was changed by his children after his death to the Yip Sang Company), initially an importing and exporting business. The Yip family home and business at 51 Pender Street became an iconic building in Vancouver’s Chinatown as many Chinese Vancouverites would visit the building to buy goods, to reserve tickets for a CPR steamship crossing, or to deposit their money in the Wing Sang Company branch of a Hong Kong-based trust company, for example. The Yips also acted as unofficial postmasters for the Chinese community, ensuring letters to and from family at home in China arrived.

Yip Sang was also renowned in the Vancouver Chinese community for his philanthropic work. He was instrumental in the foundation of Vancouver’s first Chinese school and first Chinese hospital, and the Chinese Benevolent Association. A believer in the importance of health, education and community leadership, Yip Sang was involved with hospitals, schools and political organizations in both Canada and China. He married four times, had 23 children who became leaders in business and the professions, and 67 grandchildren. By the end of his life in 1927 Yip Sang was a highly respected Vancouver citizen and the “unofficial mayor” of Chinatown.

Archival material of the Yip family members and the Yip Sang Company was entrusted to Dr. Wallace Chung by a Yip family member when the building at 51 Pender Street was undergoing renovations in the 1990s. Now part of the Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H. Chung Collection, this material includes business records reflecting all the activities of the Yip Sang Company, including records of passengers aboard CPR ships, and personal records such photographs, correspondence, diaries, and other documents. More archival material of the Yip family can be found at the City of Vancouver Archives.

Chinese Freemasons

Benevolent societies and associations formed an important foundation to early Chinese-Canadian society. Such organizations provided social welfare to immigrants in need and to the thousands of Chinese labourers thrown out of work after the completion of the railway. Also, they protected the Chinese against racism in an increasingly hostile white society. Ultimately, these associations became a political force and symbolized the consolidation of Chinese society.

The Chinese Freemasons were one such society. The first branches of the Chinese Freemasons in Canada were formed in 1876 in Quesnel and Victoria. Eventually, branches were established across Canada and were all affiliated under one national convention. The Chung Collection holds archival records of the British Columbia Chinese Freemasons, including correspondence, documents related to the affiliated Dart Coon Club, donation receipts, and Chinese games and herbal medicine texts.

Clandonald and Scottish Immigration in Canada

As soon as the railway was complete, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company promoted the colonization of Western Canada. The vast areas of land given to the CPR under the railway construction contract were to be settled and sold for revenue.

Immigrants were organized in groups, like the families from the Hebrides and British Isles, who, in 1926, were brought to establish the Clandonald Colony, about 230 kilometers east of Edmonton, Alberta. Given free passage to Canada, each family was provided with the basic provisions needed to start their new life in Canada.

Hundreds of town sites across the prairies followed the same settlement pattern. Under the settlement schemes, the CPR would loan the funds for the purchase of land. Settlers also became further indebted to banks so they could purchase the necessary farm implements and animals. Attracted by “The Wondrous West” they often found themselves struggling against a harsh and unfamiliar climate, forced to break more and more land to meet their financial obligations for the land debt and taxes.

The Chung Collection contains the archival material of Rev. Andrew MacDonell, a minister from the Scottish Hebrides who worked with the C.P.R. to relocate several hundred families from Scotland, Ireland and England to settle in the Alberta colony Clandonald. The documents include MacDonell’s diaries, photographs and correspondence, and include material related to the Scottish Immigrant Aid Society, and maps of Clandonald.


The Chung Collection holds one of the largest research collections on the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. Dovetailing into the collection’s documents on Asian immigration and the Chinese experience in North America, the C.P.R. portion of the Chung Collection tells the story of the building of the railway, the C.P.R. steamship services, and the experiences of travelers on C.P.R. ships, trains and planes. The collection is rich not only in archival materials originating from the C.P.R. and publications about the C.P.R., but also in artifacts and graphic material, reflecting travel and tourism in a bygone era.

Dr. Chung was first inspired to collect items on the subject of the Canadian Pacific Railway company when as a young boy he saw a poster of the Empress of Asia in his father’s tailor shop. His collection started modestly, with newspaper clippings and scrapbooks, but has now grown to thousands of rare and sometimes unique items.

Canadian Pacific Railway

The Canadian Pacific Railway was built to unite the new nation of Canada and fulfill a pledge that John A. Macdonald made to the Colony of British Columbia upon its entry into the Confederation that a transcontinental railway would be built within ten years that would physically link the west with the east.

In February 1881, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company was incorporated to spur westward construction through the rugged mountain passes and deep canyons of British Columbia to a terminus at Burrard Inlet, Vancouver. Surveys were made to decide the best route to build the line across this immense and unforgiving land and many alternative routes were proposed.

At first, progress was exceedingly slow and within a year the railway’s chief engineer and general superintendent were fired after building only 211 km of track. American William Cornelius Van Horne was hired as the new general manager and he decided that contractors should be hired for different sections of the line across the nation. Still it would take more than 10 years before track was laid on the prairies west of Winnipeg.

Andrew Onderdonk, the contractor building in British Columbia progressed eastward through the most difficult sections of line, up the hazardous Fraser Canyon, and then through Kamloops towards Eagle Pass. Onderdonk had brought in thousands of Chinese labourers under a contract labour system, paying their passage from China to the work camps on the Fraser.

The Chinese were able to lay more than 6 miles of track in a single day, but at a terrible price. The Chinese were frequently assigned the most dangerous jobs, usually involving explosives at a lower rate of pay in demanding and hazardous conditions. It was common for Chinese workers to die in rock slides, collapsing tunnels, when they fell off bridges under construction or from disease. Two men died for every mile of track that was laid.

By November 7, 1885, at Craigellachie, British Columbia the last spike connecting the eastern and western sections of the tracks was driven by Donald A. Smith and within a year on June 28, 1886 the first transcontinental train left from Montreal and Toronto to Port Moody. While the railway was completed four years after the original 1881 deadline, it was completed more than five years ahead of the new date of 1891 that John A. Macdonald gave in 1881.

After the completion of the railway, the C.P.R. promoted the settlement of the Prairie provinces through the sale of farm land. The Chung Collection contains numerous brochures, posters and other material related to the C.P.R. land settlement department.

The Chung Collection exhibition room has a slice of the Last Spike railroad track and hundreds of photographs of C.P.R. railroad locomotives and railroad stations. There are also numerous photographs taken by railroad employees and passengers as well as other material such as timetables, schedules, commercial pamphlets and other ephemera and textual records related to those who worked and travelled on the C.P.R. across Canada.

C.P.R. Steamships

In 1887 a Canadian Pacific Railway Tran-Pacific service from Vancouver to Asia was begun under the direction of Sir William Cornelius Van Horne. The purchase of the S.S. Abyssinia, S.S. Parthia and the S.S. Batavia from Cunard was the initial step in a plan to create a fleet of luxury ocean liners built to C.P.R. specifications. With the success of this new venture the C.P.R. adopted a new name for the division calling it the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company (CPSC).

By 1891, the first of the sleek, white, Empress Class of ocean liners were delivering mail, silk, tea, and passengers from Asia. Soon Canadian Pacific liners would cross both the Atlantic and Pacific, dominating first-class trans-Pacific travel with three of the most opulent ocean liners in the world: the Empress of India, the Empress of China, and the Empress of Japan. These three ships would have the prefix R.M.S. before their names to signify that they were Royal Mail Ships that operated subsidized mail service between Britain and Hong Kong via Canada.

The company began operating ships on the Atlantic between Halifax, Nova Scotia and the United Kingdom in 1903 and in 1906 the Empress of Scotland and the Empress of Ireland were built in England. The Empress of Asia and her sister ship the Empress of Russia followed in 1913. The C.P.R. decided in 1915 to make the division into a separate entity formally known as the Canadian Pacific Steamships Ocean Services Ltd. With the Empress of Canada being built in 1922 and when the second Empress of Britain was launched in 1929 by the Prince of Wales, it marked the zenith of the Canadian Pacific fleet.

The Canadian Pacific Steamships Ocean Services Ltd. had become both a major international cargo carrier and known globally for providing unparalleled luxury and comfort to its passengers on around the world tours.

The Chung Collection has thousands of photographs and related material on C.P.R. steamships with a particular emphasis on the Empress line ships. Some of the related material includes pamphlets, menus, world cruise photograph albums, clippings, diaries and correspondence from both passengers and employees of these vessels. The collection also contains photographs and souvenirs gathered by two former C.P.R. steamship employees, John De Laval, and Lawrence Crawford.

Travel and Tourism with the C.P.R.

After the C.P.R. laid a railway network across Canada, equipped it with more than 2,250 locomotives, and tens of thousands of freight and passengers cars they moved into ocean travel and shipping, accumulating a fleet of 100 ships and some of the world’s finest ocean liners to become a major international cargo carrier as well as a globally recognized provider of luxurious around the world tours.

The C.P.R. recognized that after it had built the transcontinental railroad for Canada it had the opportunity to do more than transport cargo. The “All Red Route” as it was known by sea from Europe then across Canada to the Pacific and Asia brought the British Empire within the comfortable reach for any traveler. The C.P.R. ingeniously began to advertise the vast tracks of scenic mountain ranges and vistas that it owned as places to visit and it built company owned luxury hotels at these destinations for travelers to stay.

Cruises were all the rage in the 1920’s and 30’s among the wealthy seeking to escape the dreary winters of Europe and North America. The most affluent were able to spend six months on a world cruise calling at eighty-one ports in twenty-three countries aboard ocean liners like the luxurious Empress of Britain. Shorter cruises took wealthy patrons to the West Indies from New York or to the Mediterranean from London. The accommodations and service aboard cruise ships of the C.P.R surpassed even their grand hotels. First class passengers were served the finest food in elegant dining rooms and danced to orchestras in the ship’s ballroom.

In the 1950’s with the growing post-war popularity of air travel the Canadian Pacific Air Lines began to take passengers to Australia and many destinations in the Far East, South America, and Europe. By the early 1970’s the shift from ocean to air travel was complete when the C.P.R. sold the last of their great ocean liners to another tour company.

However, thanks to the C.P.R.’s focus on advertising the “The World’s Greatest Travel System” the Chung Collection has many of the photographs, clippings, posters and related ephemera that were used to promote the railroad journey to the scenic mountain ranges near Banff, Alberta and British Columbia. Because the C.P.R. pampered their guests on their exotic tours giving them personalized photograph albums as a memento of every port-of-call on their voyage the Chung Collection has several of these in near perfect condition. Many of the passengers and employees kept correspondences, mementos, and related ephemera in scrapbooks that are also available in the collection along with the hundreds of photographs taken by them.

British Columbia Coast Steamship Service

The C.P.R., seeing the rich potential of coastal sea traffic, purchased the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company, which had run the first steamers on the coast under the Hudson’s Bay Company flag since the arrival of the Beaver in 1836.

After the turn of the century, the economy and population of British Columbia expanded dramatically. The CPR built up its Princess Line – the pride of the coastal service – to a fleet of thirty-two ships. These steamers plied the “Triangle Route” between Vancouver, Victoria, and Seattle. Some ships sailed further north, where they were the lifeline of many isolated ports on Vancouver Island and up the coast of British Columbia to the Alaska Panhandle. The British Columbia Coast Steamship Service was renowned for its Princess cruises through the dramatic Inside Passage to Alaska. The coastal service brought prosperity to the region and was recognized as one of the finest coastal fleets in the world.

The Chung Collection contains archival records of the B.C.C.S.S., including log books of ferries, photographs, and office documents. This records provide a rich insight into the operations of the B.C.C.S.S., from the time of C.P.R.’s purchase of the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company to the dissolution of passenger services in the 1970s.

Artwork and Images of the C.P.R.

The Canadian Pacific Railway made extensive use of the large-format colour poster in its advertising efforts. First to draw passengers to the railway and C.P.R. hotels, then later to promote its world cruises, tours of Canada, and luxurious trains and airplanes, the C.P.R. used bold design and slogans in its promotional material. Artists were recruited from among Canada’s most celebrated painters and graphic designers and included artists such as A. Y. Jackson, Norman Fraser, Alfred Crocker Leighton, Roger Couillard, Kenneth Shoesmith, and Peter Ewart.

Earlier posters promoting the C.P.R. and Canadian settlement primarily used lettering, with large slogans and lots of information onto one poster. Many later posters bore iconic images of trains and ships, sometimes even lacking text or only bearing the words “Canadian Pacific.” These posters show the prevailing graphic styles over nine decades of advertising.

The Chung Collection includes more than 200 lithoprint and silkscreen posters, as well as other C.P.R. artwork and supplemental material, including books such as Posters of the Canadian Pacific by Marc Choko and David Jones.

C.P.R. Artifacts

First class travelers on C.P.R. steamships and railways ate off of distinctive lines of china and silverware, and had the opportunity to purchase C.P.R. souvenirs, such as dishware, picture frames and diaries to fill in the memories of their journeys. The Chung Collection contains several hundred artifacts of the C.P.R., including glass and ceramic ware, silverware, souvenirs, employee hats and badges, and more.

Many of these artifacts were salvaged from the bottom of the ocean. Dr. Chung purchased them from a scuba diver who gathered dishes which were discarded by C.P.R. steamship kitchen staff too tired to finish washing up at the end of the night. Others were purchased at antique and flea markets. The collection includes a newel post from the Empress of Japan, one of many artifacts salvaged by locals after the ship was scrapped in Burrard Inlet.

Working for the C.P.R.

Many thousands of people have been employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company since its inception in 1881. During the construction of the railway, many of these people were Chinese immigrants, working for considerably less than their Canadian and European counterparts. Chinese labourers held the most dangerous construction jobs, such as working with explosives. Two men died for every mile of track that was laid.

Since the completion of the railway, the C.P.R. employed workers as passenger agents, train operators, steamship captains, cooks, engineers, stewards, and many other occupations.

The Chung Collection contains textual records and ephemera relating to employment with the Canadian Pacific Railway, including operating rules for employees, pension regulations, examination booklets, certificates of discharge related to service on C.P.R. steamships, correspondence and scrapbooks, as well as photographs of C.P.R. employees.


The Chung Collection traces the history of the province of British Columbia from the first voyages of discovery by Europeans to the North Pacific, made by Spanish explorers as early as 1542. More than 200 years later, interest in land possession and fur trade intensified exploration and many voyages were made by Russian, Spanish, French, and British explorers. The British eventually established possession of the coast, and Fort Victoria was established on Vancouver Island. Travel narratives of explorers such as James Cook, George Vancouver, Dionisio Galiano, Ivan Kruzenshtern and Etienne Marchand show the international nature of our province’s history.

Historical documents, photographs, books, maps and pamphlets illustrate British Columbia’s political, social and cultural history. The scope of these documents include everything from 18th-century documents and books to tourism brochures from the 1950’s and 60’s. The collection includes archival records related to the explosion of the S.S. Greenhill Park in the Port of Vancouver in 1945. Another highlight of the collection includes Order in council constituting the Supreme Court of Civil Justice of Vancouver Island (1858), thought to be the first book published in B.C.


Case 15, Item 9

When the C.P.R. steamer the Empress of Japan was decommissioned in 1926, she was scrapped in Burrard Inlet. Pieces were thrown overboard and many were then collected by locals. The best known piece is her figurehead, which for a time was displayed in Stanley Park (it was replaced by the current fibreglass copy in 1960) and is now on display at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. The Chung Collection has a newel post from the Empress of Japan, on display in the Chung Collection exhibition room.

Case 6, Item 4

In 1871, Minister of Public Works of Canada Hector Langevin was sent by the Federal Cabinet to visit British Columbia with the mission to acquire knowledge of the new province and propose a site for the terminus for the Candian Pacific Railway. Langevin’s journey took him from central Canada to Chicago, then by the American Pacific Railway to San Francisco, where he embarked on the steamer Prince Alfred travelling to Victoria on Vancouver Island, and then to the mainland. Langevin’s diary documents how he came to recommend Vancouver as the site for the terminus, which had an enormous effect on the development of the city. This is an important document to the history of British Columbia and to the Canadian Pacific Railway company, and it was almost lost to the Canadian public. It was won it at auction by a Vancouver man, but he almost lost it to an American collector who wanted it for Langevin’s description of Mormon communities in Utah.

Case 8, Item 5

The Yip family history is an inspirational “rags to riches” story, in which the patriarch of the family, Yip Sang, evolves from a door-to-door coal peddler to the most successful Chinese business person of his time in Vancouver, and the “unofficial mayor” of Chinatown. This family photograph collage was prepared in celebration of Yip Sang’s eightieth birthday in 1925, prepared by well-known Chinese-Canadian photographer Cecil B. Wand. The photographs are arranged in the shape of the traditional Chinese character meaning “longevity,” with Yip Sang at the top.

Case 18, Item 10

This 1903 log book of the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company is open on display to May 15, 1903, which was the first day that the ships of the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company sailed under the C.P.R. flag. It is noted by a small sketch of the C.P.R. flag, an example of which is displayed next to the log book.

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