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Lee Coy: Contractor of labor on the New Westminster Southern Railway

February 12, 2014

James Leamy, contractor for building the New Westminster Southern Railway, let several subcontracts for construction projects — bridges, cribbing, etc., — and he  also engaged labor subcontractors, notably Lee Coy, who could muster hundreds of Chinese laborers.

During the many months of digging, grading and ballasting the railbed, Chinese crews lived in large camps that followed the work on the road from Brownsville eastward and southward to the boundary line.

In the summer of 1889 a record salmon run on the Fraser resulted in a labor shortage, drawing every available hand – white, first nations, and Chinese – into the fishery and the canneries.

"The scarcity of laborers at the canneries to pack the immense take of salmon compelled Mr Leamy to allow the 700 Chinese he had on the grade go to work in the 16 canneries on the Fraser River.  Very shortly, however, Mr Leamy will resume operations with some 900 men, he having received instructions to push construction as vigorously as possible.  He has found it impossible to get enough white laborers to enable him to organize camps of these in preference to Chinese."

The large force of Chinese workers was managed by Lee Coy, a New Westminster businessman.

A  merchant of the name Lee Coy was the owner of Quong On Lung & Company. He acquired full ownership of the firm in December 1888 when he bought out the share of his partner Ching Way.

The business was located at 529 Front Street, adjacent to Quong On Wo, just down from Lytton Square. 

Lee Coy’s residence was on McInnes Street, possibly with second shop.

Lee Coy managed not only Chinese labor on the railway. In February 1890 two men engaged as sub-contractors for Lee Coy on the New Westminster Southern Railway sued him for breach of contract.

The claim of "Richard Lonsdale and Duncan Box" was for payment of wages, etc, amounting to $2,300, not an inconsiderable amount. 
At the Supreme Court James Leamy’s own lawyer appeared for Lee Coy.

James Leamy also had a claim for work performed against Nelson Bennett, owner of the NWSR.

The following year Lee Coy ran into further financial difficulty. In November it was reported that "the stock of Lee Coy, a Chinese merchant,  was sold by the sheriff" to satisfy claims of creditors.

Lee Coy must have managed through this crisis and rebounded to considerable success, only to suffer severe loss in the New Westminster fire.

In 1899 it was reported that his family were detained by immigration officers on arrival in Victoria from the far east.  Lee Coy’s children were born in Canada, but their certificates had been lost in the fire, which also destroyed his property, valued at $18,000.

Lee Coy died in 1927.

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