Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Enduring Hardship: The Chinese Laundry in Canada

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Enduring Hardship: The Chinese Laundry in Canada

Article excerpt

Ban Seng Hoe, Enduring Hardship: The Chinese Laundry in Canada (Gatineau, Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization, Mercury Series, 2003), 86pp. Paper. ISSEN 1707-8970: no. 76.

Only those of us of a more than certain age will effortlessly associate the words 'Chinese' and 'Laundry,' and even then, owe that less to experience than to George Formby - whose words are quoted here though, if memory serves, not exactly. Dr Hoe's account of the spreading and supercession of a service industry that was inevitably evident when established, essential to customers, and a begetter of minimal material returns to its practitioners before being rendered superfluous by domestic washing machines and new textiles, complements and documents an exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

In contrast to other aspects of the frontier process, the Chinese laundry progressed from West to East. If it persisted altogether more than did the initial immigrant call for gold rushes and railway construction, it was an occupation that, in a less spectacular manner, proved equally demanding and gruelling. The Chinese laundry, an unexpected by-product of the ending of those other demands for unskilled labour, made its way East in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Success indicated that it met a need; provision by the Chinese demonstrated that other communities flinched at the conditions the work imposed and the financial returns it provided. …

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