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EXHIBITIONS / Derailed / Enacting Change


Enacting Change

In 1939, a group of Porters decided to invite the American union organizers, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) to organize Black Canadian porters as a trade union. The BSCP was the main union that led the fight by porters for social and political change in Canada and the United States. Founded in New York by porters a few years earlier, the American BSCP was under the leadership of Asa Philip Randolph, an outstanding Black civil rights champion. Before that, porters in Canada had tried to form their own unions. These efforts were crushed by the railway companies. At Canadian National Railway (CNR), porters found themselves in a union which worked in league with management to keep the Black porters from working in other railway jobs reserved only for white people. At Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), porters were represented by a management-appointed association, which was intended to work with management on behalf of the porters. The porters found that in disputes around working conditions, the association tended to side with management. This meant the porters had no clout in negotiations as the association did not fully represent their interests. The BSCP stepped into this void and quickly established Canadian chapters, replacing the management-appointed associations.

Especially after World War II, Toronto would become the hot spot for union activity by the porters and their allies. One name stands out among the BSCP leadership: Stanley Grizzle, head of the Toronto chapter. In 1954, Grizzle and the Toronto Chapter paid the cost for a delegation of porters and their allies to travel from Toronto to Ottawa to meet with the government to protest the treatment of Black and other peoples of color. At this meeting, the porters called for drastic changes in Canadian immigration policies. They sowed the seeds of desegregation that would eventually bloom into the multicultural Canada of today.

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