Image: Name, Title, Description
Digital Exhibitions → Derailed: The History of Black Railway Porters in Canada → Theme: Enacting Change
Railway Porters Go to Ottawa
With the ending of WWII, Black people increasingly questioned their status in Canada.
Not only did Black men fight and die in the war but many of them worked on the hospitals on rails—special converted sleeping cars that transported wounded and sick soldiers returning home across Canada. All Canadians were first and foremost British subjects. This gave them many citizenship rights, such as the right to live in Canada and to have members of their family join them. With the exception of a few West Indians recruited to work as porters, Canada’s official policy was to exclude Black immigrants and visitors. Canada’s preference was for white or European immigrants. Black people took up the fight for equal treatment for all British subjects regardless of their perceived race or ethnicity.
Resolution of Immigration (Adopted by CCF National Convention, July 1954). Library and Archives Canada/Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. Image courtesy of Cecil Foster. page 1/2/3
The Negro Citizenship Association was established in 1951 to give Black British subjects a voice in Canadian society. It was an umbrella group for many activist groups fighting for the same cause. Its members were primarily sleeping car porters and their spouses, if only because at that time jobs as sleeping car porters were the only work regularly available to Black people in Canada. Stanley Grizzle was a spokesman for the association as well as being the head of the Toronto chapter of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. His brother, Norman, was also an official of the association that was headed by its founder Donald Moore, a former porter.
In 1954, a delegation of Black people fighting for greater citizenship rights decided to take their fight to the federal government in Ottawa. They assembled at Union Station in Toronto for the eight-hour trip on a Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) train to Ottawa. The Toronto chapter of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), a trade union of Black porters, helped pay the delegation’s fares. The briefs presented by Moore and Grizzle would sow the seeds that changed Canada into a multicultural society.
The delegation called on the Canadian government to stop its racist immigration policy that favoured white people. They recommended that Canada accept immigrants from all over the world. They argued for more immigrants in particular from the West Indies, India, Pakistan, China and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). These were the “coloured” areas from which Canada limited immigration to a few thousand annually. The delegates called for a special program that would allow Black women from the West Indies to work in Canada as domestic workers. The delegates also asked the government to allow large numbers of non-white immigrants into Canada. They suggested that once these immigrants were settled, they in turn should be allowed to sponsor family members to join them as immigrants to Canada. When enacted, the changes helped to fundamentally change the face of Canada, making Canada a multicultural country.