VANCOUVER -- A group of Chinese-Canadian veterans and their families are calling on B.C. to rename the Pattullo Bridge replacement so the province can stop honouring a former premier with a record of racist beliefs.

It’s time to move on from the era of Thomas “Duff” Pattullo, who attempted to block Chinese-Canadian recruits in the Second World War on the grounds that were they to fight, they would have a better chance at getting Canadian citizenship, said King Wan, president of Chinese-Canadian veterans group Pacific Unit 280.

“The name of the bridge now is for a premier in B.C. who was anti-immigrant and anti-Asian,” Wan told CTV News.

“It’s a new bridge. A new beginning. A new era. It’s time for a name change."

The Pattullo Bridge crosses from New Westminster to Surrey and has been carrying commuters since it opened to traffic in November 1937. It cost $4 million and was named for the premier of the day, Duff Pattullo, who expanded the role of government during the Great Depression.

That was only two years before Canada joined the war effort after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939.

Around 600 Chinese-Canadians volunteered to fight, including Douglas Jung. The government of the day held that he was not a citizen despite being born in Victoria. He believed his sacrifice would pay dividends for the Chinese-Canadian community.

“Some of us realized that unless we volunteered to serve Canada during its hour of need, we would be in a difficult position to ask for our rights,” Jung says in a documentary, “I am the Canadian Delegate.”

Jung was recruited for a secret mission, Operation Oblivion, where they prepared to be dropped behind Japanese enemy lines.

“They took a huge leap of faith that Canada was worth dying for,” recalled his son, Arthur Calderwood.

But to some politicians of the day, their presence was a problem. Pattullo took steps to block more Chinese-Canadian recruits, records say.

“Duff Pattullo had written a letter to Prime Minister Mackenzie King advising against allowing Chinese Canadians into the armed forces,” says the account in the book Celebration: Chinese Canadian Legacies in British Columbia.

“Letting Chinese Canadians serve would undermine justifications for denying them the same rights as other Canadians,” it reads.

Pattullo also told King about his views of Jews, the book Raincoast Jews says.

“In a meeting between Mackenzie King and the Premier of B.C., T.D. Pattullo, Pattullo advised Mackenzie King that although B.C. had no objections to taking in refugees, Jews were not wanted in the province,” the book says.

Some six million Jews were killed across German-occupied Europe between 1941 and 1945.

It doesn’t make sense to honour someone who took steps to deny access to B.C. based on race, Calderwood said.

“We should not honour politicians who are openly racist because there are other people in our history that we should honour,” he said.

Both of B.C.’s major parties agreed the new bridge should have a new name – but no names were on offer yet.

“It’s a new bridge. It’s perfectly logical to consider a new name,” said the NDP candidate running for re-election in Vancouver-Fairview, George Chow.

His rival, B.C. Liberal candidate David Grewal, said his grandfather’s experience in Vancouver as a 14-year-old immigrant in 1934 from the Punjab in India shouldn’t be repeated.

“I have intimate knowledge of how that’s affected my family in particular,” Grewal said. “The fact that we’re building a new bridge means we have to look to the future and put those negative undertones from our past behind us.”

The new bridge is expected to cost $1.4 billion and will be a project by the provincial government.