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Friday, June 30, 2023

Canada Day - a time for Canadians to take a long, serious look in the mirror

 

David Bouchard’s “I Am Not a Ghost”: A Story of Resilience and Heritage

Bouchard’s new children’s book I am Not a Ghost spotlights an under-appreciated but important part of Canadian history.
Bouchard Ghost

David Bouchard, a renowned Canadian author, released a new children’s book, I Am Not a Ghost: The Canadian Pacific RailwayThe work recounts the story of a Chinese man who migrated to Canada to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway. He came in search of a better life. The railway workers treated him harshly, but Amelia Douglas, a M├ętis woman, who was one of the founding mothers of British Columbia, and wife of the former governor of BC, saved him from death. This fictional but historically accurate story carries an important message and describes the racism and hardship that these newcomers to Canada endured.

The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was completed in 1885. The construction of the railway was a massive undertaking that required the labor of thousands of workers. Many of these workers were Chinese immigrants. Despite their significant contributions, the Chinese workers faced racism and discrimination, including lower wages and dangerous working conditions.

Image credit: David Bouchard

A creative process with reciprocity at its heart

Bouchard collaborated with long-time friend, Zhong-Yang Huang and his son, Sean Huang, who illustrated I Am Not a Ghost. When they first came up with the idea, they wanted to highlight the injustices done to the Chinese community.

“Yang’s input to all of this was, can this be real? Were Canadians truly that way?” Bouchard said during an interview with Cold Tea Collective. “It became clear to us this history wasn’t being shared in schools. I Am Not a Ghost is a telling where a racist is a racist, a bigot is a bigot, and a brutally harsh society has to be called out for what it was.”

No one person can represent an issue in its entirety or be the sole voice for history itself. Storytellers must work together to cultivate stories with reciprocity for the community it serves.

Together, Zhong-Yang’s artistic direction guided Sean’s illustrations and Bouchard’s writing. From this collaboration came a creative process approach that had reciprocity and inclusion at its heart.

I Am Not a Ghost is meant to spark curiosity and have people say: Did they really do that? Those living conditions were real? It is a hard reflection on who we are and what we did as a people. And I think Chinese-Canadian kids deserve to know that,” Bouchard says.

A friendship full of inspiration

Bouchard recounted Zhong-Yang’s rise to becoming a great artist: “When the Mao Revolution came to be, Yang was a young man who was sent to work in the rice fields. One day somebody in the fields saw him figure drawing and asked him, ‘Would you draw my mother?’ Yang agreed. Within a matter of months, he had a lineup of people waiting. He was given the nickname Lazy Boy because he didn’t work his garden.”

Zhong-Yang went on to become a master professor in China. In the eighties, Zhong-Yang came to Regina, Saskatchewan. Zhong-Yang had a large art show of his work, and there he met Bouchard. Despite a language barrier, Bouchard exchanged his contact info with Zhong-Yang and the two immediately became friends. The two went on to create more books: The Dragon New Year, The Great Race, Buddha in the Garden, The Mermaid’s Muse, and Dragon of Heaven: The Memoirs of the Last Empress of China.

“We taught each other many things. I wanted to learn about his culture, and he wanted to learn about mine,” Bouchard reflected on his friendship with Zhong-Yang, which has been full of inspiration and creativity.

Ghost
Image Credit: Canadian History Ehx

Remembering and reimagining our heritage

Currently, only a few Canadian illustrated children’s books directly address the racial discrimination and exploitation the Chinese endured during CPR’s construction. I Am Not a Ghost: The Canadian Pacific Railway is a needed children’s book that highlights this often untold history.

“Make this book a doorway to opening up new perspectives on how we must all remember and share our stories. Canada is still writing its story as a nation, and this book is an important part of that story,” says Dr. Brandt C. Louie, Chairman and CEO of the H.Y. Louie Company Limited and the ninth Chancellor of Simon Fraser University. Dr. Louie has generously bought two copies for every school in Western Canada. 

If you would like to read more about the Canadian Pacific Railway and the lived experiences of the Chinese community, we recommend these books. Another children’s book that is available is The Railroad Adventures of Chen Sing by George Chiang. Other higher reading level books include Gold Mountain Blues by Ling Zhang, the two books, Blood and Sweat Over the Railway Tracks and Blossom in the Gold Mountain by Lily Chow, The Diary of Dukesang Wong by Dukesang Wong, the two books Blood and Iron and A Superior Man by Paul Yee, and Ghosts of Gold Mountain by Gordon H. Chang.

See also: 7 books about identity, race by Asian authors for children

Feature Credit: Plumleaf PressAuthor(s)