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Fraser Canyon find shows Chinese Canadian past

Tips from First Nations friends led him to previously unknown mine sites and dwellings that illustrate the lost history of 19th century settlement in the Fraser Valley, said Chinese community activist Bill Chu.

A two-day trip in August took Chu to a mine site that has never been properly excavated for clues to early Chinese activity outside Lytton.

Chu, a long time anti-racism activist who has worked for years to promote dialogue between the Chinese and First Nations communities in BC, said he also learned of Chinese sites close to Lilloet and Fountain.

"We had heard from First Nations friends about evidence of early Chinese presence in the Fraser Canyon,” Chu told The Tyee, “and in August we went looking again. Outside of Lytton, we were, frankly, lost on the side of the river away from the highway when we met an aboriginal stranger who guided us to the abandoned mine. It was immense, and very sophisticated. The Chinese workers there, who the Lytton people say were working for white miners, did meticulous work. It hasn’t yet been looked at by archeologists, so I won’t say exactly where it is. Some other sites have been vandalized when their location was revealed.”

Chu says that he also visited the ruins of a miners’ dwelling that housed Chinese workers close to Lytton.

“These discoveries help reveal our history hidden in the Fraser Canyon. The myth we all came to work on the railroad and then prospered is exploded. We need to be reflected in Canadian history. So far Chinese Canadian history hasn’t been properly exposed,” said Chu.

Cole Harris, professor emeritus at the UBC Department of Geography, said what Bill Chu has found is important.

"These are not, strictly speaking, new discoveries, although they touch on a huge and fascinating area of study, important for understanding Chinese settlement in BC. Most of these placer mining projects were done by Chinese workers. Mike Kennedy in Lillooet has done some spectacular mapping of these sites and will be publishing the results in December in BC Studies," Harris said.

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