On the Line: Stories of BC Workers

Episode 11: Chinese Farmers of "Celery City", Armstrong BC

October 04, 2021 BC Labour Heritage Centre Season 1 Episode 11
On the Line: Stories of BC Workers
Episode 11: Chinese Farmers of "Celery City", Armstrong BC
Show Notes

The small community of Armstrong, BC, just north of Vernon in the province's Interior, was once "the Celery Capital of Canada". Armstrong's early agricultural success owes much to the hard working Chinese immigrants who cultivated the city's fertile bottomlands. As many as 500 Chinese labourers lived in huts and bunkhouses in Chinatown in the winter, growing crops including celery, cabbage, lettuce and potatoes to be shipped across Canada. They faced restrictive immigration laws, a prohibitive head tax and were prevented from owning land; despite these obstacles, Chinese "market gardens" and their workers were an integral part of British Columbia's labour history. This is their story.

A bronze plaque dedicated to the Chinese Farmers of "Celery City" was installed in 2016 by the BC Labour Heritage Centre and the City of Armstrong.
FEATURED MUSIC: Theme song: "Hold the Fort" - Arranged & Performed by Tom Hawken & his band, 1992. Part of the "On to Ottawa" film produced by Sara Diamond.
"Celery Stalks at Midnight" Performed by Doris Day & Les Brown and his Orchestra, February 6. 1941.

Three Folk Songs - Williams Chinese Music Ensemble
Traditional Chinese Folk Music at Beijing's Temple of Heaven - Unknown Artist

VOICEOVERS: "Mary Jong" voiced by Yee Chung Dai
"Ben Lee" voiced by Wyng Chow
"Captain Cate" voiced by John Mabbott

ARCHIVAL CLIPS: Clips from "Armstrong Roots" Interview with Howe Lee by Burnaby Village Museum researcher Denise Fong. An interview with retired Col. Howe Lee about his family's produce business in Armstrong, B.C. (Filmed and produced in 2019 for the CCHSBC 2019 Celebration Dinner). Available on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuaqUvQ9oVI
Full interview archived with Heritage Burnaby: https://search.heritageburnaby.ca/permalink/museumsoundrecording10266

RESEARCH: Research and script for this episode by Patricia Wejr & Rod Mickleburgh.
Oral history interviews with Denise Fong, Burnaby Village Museum researcher, available online: heritageburnaby.ca

Peter Critchley, The Chinese in Armstrong Okanagan Historical Society 63rd Report, 1999

Niels C. Kristensen, Armstrong, the “Celery City” Okanagan Historical Society 49th Report, 1985

Johnny Serra, Armstrong Packing Houses Okanagan Historical Society 28th Report, 1964

Michael Kluckner, Vanishing British Columbia UBC Press, 2005

Chinese Market Gardens at Musqueam Reserve #2 retrieved at https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=21261&pid=0#.XuqsLxoprLQ.email

Sarah Ling, Elder Larry Grant featured by UBC Chinese Canadian Stories Project, April 27, 2012 retrieved at



Arlene Chan Chinese Immigration Act The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2017, retrieved at


Mary Leah De Zwart, Armstrong, BC – Celery City No More, 2016 retrieved at