Forgotten Labour Series: Chinese camp

Map of Chinese Camp: A square structure with a water pipe leading away from it

If you have been following the Forgotten Labour series you might have been wondering where all these labourers lived? Did they live in houses on site like other staff? Did they commute into work daily like so many of us do now?

There are several records that have helped us piece these questions together, from Dunsmuir era maps to BC Archives Game Warden records to personal accounts of staff and their descendants. All of which indicate that there was a Chinese Camp located on site at Hatley Park.

In a letter written on May 6, 1914, by the Deputy Game Warden R.O.B. Fitzgerald to Provincial Game Warden A.B. Williams he wrote: “On Sunday evening on my way back from Metchosin I waited in the neighbourhood of a Chinese Camp on the Hatley Park Estate, containing about 120 Chinamen employed by Mr. Dunsmuir.”[1] Correspondence continued for several days as the Deputy Game Warden seized venison from the camp, and they sorted through the legal implications of employed residents vs. property owners with regards to shooting deer on the property.

More digging is needed to find out what actually happened there.

Frederick Charles Mann (Charlie) notes in his memoir that “They [Chinese labourers] had their own accommodation at the top of the trail, including sleeping, cooking and bathing facilitates…These men were of different tribes and tongues and sometimes there were some pretty lively ‘goings-on’ in their barracks; especially on pay days.”[2]

Examining maps from the Dunsmuir era, the camp was a structure located on the corner of what are now Wishart Rd and a small road that connects to W Campus Road. As a land marker, it would have been roughly near the property line behind Colwood Elementary School. Back in the day it would have been a service road used only by staff. Additionally, the map indicates a pipe that went out to the camp, confirming the anecdotal evidence of water to the site.

Unfortunately we have not been able to locate any photos that would give us a better sense of what the Camp might have looked like and according to our understanding the building was demolished when the estate was acquired by the Canadian Government in 1940.

It is possible that those who were employed in cook, dishwashing, laundry and house boy roles had other accommodation. However, for some this was the first place they lived after arriving to Canada. After long hours of work this was where so many laid their heads to rest, feed their bellies, cultivated a community, and persevered.

This place on Lkwungen and Xwsepsum traditional lands is resilient; now overgrown with vegetation, it holds the forgotten stories.

For questions or comments about Forgotten Labour, contact Jessica Humphries in the archives, ext. 4606.

[1] Correspondence from R.O.B Fitzgerald to A.B. Williams, May 6, 1914, GR-0446.136.2, Box 136, File 2, British Columbia Provincial Game Warden, British Columbia Archives, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.


[2] MANN FAMILY HISTORY: Per Frederick Charles Mann (Charlie) by Frederick Mann, 1985, 2017-032, Mann Collection, Royal Roads University Archives, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.