A new neighbourhood is a chance to right some very old wrongs.
For generations, the contributions of south Asian, Chinese and Japanese workers who helped turn Fraser Mills into one of the largest mills in the world were largely unacknowledged, explained Coquitlam Heritage executive director Candrina Bailey.
The new roads set to criss-cross the development should be named for those workers, Bailey advocated.
“They worked for a fraction of the pay of their white co-workers, were assigned jobs that were often dangerous and dirty and returned each day to a bunkhouse rather than a home full of their children, as the francophone workers were privileged to do,” Bailey told council on Monday.
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In the area of what is now King Edward Street and United Boulevard, the first sawmill started working in 1890 only to close a few years later. Once called Millside, the area was renamed Fraser Mills following a reopening of the sawmill in 1906.
“[The mill] attracted workers from around the world and this was the early seed that established Coquitlam as a multicultural city,” Bailey said.
The mill also played a role in the founding of Maillardville.
Many newcomers, primarily French Canadians, were provided with land on the northern slope of the Fraser River and given free lumber to build their new homes.
Neighbours and farmers helped feed striking workers in the fall of 1931 after hourly wages were cut from 25 to 20 cents.
After more than two months on strike, the workers got a small wage increase as well as a lunch room and washrooms with running water.
Work at the mill could be exhausting, according to retired longshoreman Jack Singh. Singh described working there as a 14-year-old who said he was 15 to get the job.
“What an endless job. Brutal. No roller chains, nothing . . . I’d come home and just be aching,” he recalled.
Naming the streets for people who have received “very little recognition” would establish their place in the historical record as well as being a significant act of inclusion, according to Bailey.
“For over 100 years, workers of south Asian, Chinese and Japanese descent worked to build Fraser Mills and as a result, Coquitlam and the surrounding areas.”
On behalf of Coquitlam Heritage, Bailey offered to work with the city’s planning department to research the area and help choose street names.
Related: Coquitlam council approves 16-tower Fraser Mills development