Coke ovens at Union Bay, ca. 1905. CDM 979.3.31.
For almost sixty years, a Chinese community thrived at the edge of Union Bay. Many of the men who lived there had originally come from Guangdong province to Canada to work on railway construction and later located to Union Bay to work for the Dunsmuir’s Union Coal Company.
Some men were trimmers, who would climb into a ship’s hold to spread the coal evenly as it fell through chutes from the coal cars. Others worked as rakers, pulling coke from the sulfurous, searing-hot coke ovens with heavy rakes. These jobs were tedious, grueling and dangerous.
Over one hundred men lived in this community in the 1890s. By the 1950s, only a few remained. The last resident of Union Bay’s Chinese neighbourhood moved to Cumberland in 1961. The site was cleared to become the present-day location of the Union Bay Community Hall.
Most physical traces of this community are now gone, but the enormity of industry achieved and sacrifices made by these men who sailed to Canada over one hundred years ago is not forgotten.