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Working in Chilliwack

Construction and hard, labour-intensive jobs were some of the first jobs available to Chinese immigrants in Chilliwack. In addition to working as farm labourers or as tenant farmers, some Chinese workers found steady employment in the forestry sector, working in sawmills such as the Orion Bowman sawmill. Other labourers completed civic public work projects and built roads throughout Chilliwack before the municipality banned Chinese participation in civic projects in 1914. Much of Chilliwack’s early infrastructure relied upon and could not have been built without Chinese labour.

Group portrait of thirteen men standing with fir log loaded on truck at the Orion Bowman mill

Group portrait of mill workers posing with a huge fir log at the Orion Bowman sawmill.
Chilliwack Museum and Archives, PP502117

Chinese men in Chilliwack could find work in the domestic and service sectors. Many Chinese workers found jobs as cooks and dishwashers in Euro-Canadian operated hotels, restaurants and boarding houses. Hours were often long and wages fluctuated widely within the industry.

Chinese labourers were also employed as domestics within Euro-Canadian households in Chilliwack. Domestics were responsible for cooking and cleaning for their employers family, but also on occasion assumed other wide-ranging responsibilities, such as assisting with child care for larger families. By the end of the nineteenth century, two-thirds of all domestic positions in British Columbia were filled by Chinese men.

Chinese domestic worker sitting in a chair posing for a photograph with a young child on his right knee.

A domestic worker from the household of Lister Smith holding Lister’s son on his knee.
Chilliwack Museum and Archives, P.Coll 120, File 46