James Pon’s grandfather filled my mind during this rail trip from Montreal to Toronto last month. It was he, along with hundreds of other Chinese workers, who built this railway–although on the other side of the Rocky mountains.
Last month, I wrote an obituary on James Pon.
To promote awareness of the Chinese contribution to our country, he established a group to erect a statue commemorating the unification of Canada through the building of the railway by Chinese workers.
James was actively involved and became the symbol for the Canadian Government’s 2006 Redress for Head Tax and the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act.
While researching James’s obituary I came across this Earle Birney poem. The excerpt wouldn’t work on the page in the Globe so I’ll share it here instead. And I’ll remember sitting by the window, watching the landscape shift into green, and toasting the Pons.
by Earle Birney
They tickled her with shovels, dug pickaxes
Into her scales and got under her skin,
They lowered them with knotted ropes and drew them
Along the face until the lines were strung
Between the juts. Barefooted, dynamite
Strapped to their waists, the sappers followed, treading
The spider films and chipping holes for blasts,
Until the cliffs delivered up their features
Under the civil discipline of roads.