Canadian Railway porters were drawn from every segment of Black communities in Canada and abroad. As a result, porters reflected the characteristics of the breadth of Black life in their personal lives. Porters had their individual ambitions, tastes, values, and ways of thinking. What united these diverse individuals was their job as porters and that for Black men, working as porters was the only employment readily available to them. They were united in the fight to change these circumstances. Out of the wide array of characters that worked on the “roads,” there were many notable porters that stand out for leading the fight for change and for citizenship rights for Black and other peoples of colour.
Keep scrolling to meet some of the porters who played crucial roles in this movement.
Today, the porters’ advocacy and activism continues to influence Canadian society and our city. Their impact on our labour, immigration, and multiculturalism policies has shifted our country, and set the stage for a Toronto that is now recognised as one of the most multicultural and multiracial cities in the world. This is a part of Myseum’s award-winning digital exhibition, Derailed: The History of Black Railway Porters in Canada.
After World War II, Toronto native Stanley Grizzle emerged as the leader of the Toronto chapter of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP). He became the key spokesman for the porters on an array of social, political and economic issues.
Donald Moore was born in Barbados and immigrated to Canada where he worked as a sleeping car porter, but he found the working conditions difficult and demeaning. Eventually he established a small business in Toronto but he continued to be a main spokesman for the Black communities.
John K Crutcher
John Crutcher is one of the lesser-known heroes of the struggle by porters for citizenship rights. He is associated with two incidents in particular by the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to change working conditions for the porters.
Jamaica-born Harry Gairey was called the “Grandfather” of the Toronto Black community. Gairey led the fight for a change to Canada immigration policy. Gairey chartered the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) train in his name that took the black porters delegation to Ottawa in 1954.
George Garraway would create history for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) and Black people across North America. He was the first porter to work as a conductor in Canada.
In 1939, Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) porter Charles Ernest Russell was brought before management in Montreal on the charge that he was sleeping on the job on a cross-Canada run. This was a major accusation that could lead to hefty demerit points that cumulatively could lead to his dismissal.
Winnipeg-based Lee Williams was a Canadian National Railway (CNR) porter who led the fight to change Canada on two fronts. First, he had to fight his own union, the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway Employees.
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