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Historical Context

Digital Exhibitions → Derailed: The History of Black Railway Porters in Canada → Theme: Historical Context

The heyday for rail passenger travel was the first six decades of the 1900s. This was a time of immense change especially in the decades leading up to World War II. The North American continent was opening up for travel and business. On the northern tip, Canada continued to be knitted into a country by the railways — known by many as the famed ribbon of steel. Ontario was becoming the economic powerhouse of Canadian confederation. Toronto was also emerging as the financial capital of the country. When opened in 1927, Toronto Union Station quickly became the hub for political and financial influence. By the 1950s, the railways were making Ontario and the rest of Canada into what is called an affluent society, noted for its prosperity.

Canada’s Railways (CPR/CNR)
The heyday for rail passenger travel was the first six decades of the 1900s. This was a time of immense change especially in the decades leading up to World War II. The North American continent was opening up for travel and business. On the northern tip, Canada continued to be knitted into a country by the railways — known by many as the famed ribbon of steel.

Toronto, the Centre of an Emerging Canada
The main hub of activity in confederated Canada was Toronto and its surrounding municipalities. Initially the railways headquarters and the main business centre of Canada was Montreal, but as Canada developed and WWII came to an end, Toronto became the financial and political centre of the country. 

The Impact of World War II
During World War II, Canadian Pacific converted former passenger cars into hospital cars to transport the wounded back to their homes. In some instances the porters staffing these coast-to-coast trips were not only war veterans themselves, but also formerly war casualties.

The Black Canadian Experience
Black workers were needed on the trains as the porters (working onboard as domestics), or as the red-caps (workers who transported the luggage of passengers to and from the trains), the shoe shiners, or the labourers carrying luggage to and from the station.