This dramatic monologue portrays Charles Ernest Russell, a Senior Porter who is sent a letter from the civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph, to organize a Canadian chapter of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Performed by Derick Agyemang.
The legacy of Canada’s Black railway porters can be seen in the diverse cultural communities that make up Toronto, and many of the fair employment practices we benefit from today. Yet few know the history of the porters and the significant contributions they have made to the fabric of modern Canadian society.
Canada was built around the railways — known by many as the famed ribbon of steel. The heyday for rail passenger travel was the first six decades of the 1900s. During this time, widely adapted inequalities, often racial, meant that railways provided one of the few work opportunities available to Black men. Employed on the trains as sleeping car porters providing luxury service, porters experienced racial discrimination and exploitation on the job every day.
Untenable working conditions inspired the porters to fight for significant improvements. Through the formation of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), and under the leadership of Toronto-born Stanley Grizzle, porters in Canada became pioneers in the fight for fair employment practices and for wider human rights. In 1954, porters boarded a railway car from Union Station to Ottawa to begin the fight to remake Canada into a more inclusive society. They advocated to change the immigration policy to a system that opened up Canada to immigrants from around the world. 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.
Watch the full theatrical experience below, or continue on to explore the digital exhibition:
Produced by Myseum of Toronto, DERAILED is a theatrical experience based on prominent figures and moments in the history of Black Railway Porters in Canada, presented through a contemporary lens. Written and staged by Meghan Swaby, directed by Byron Kent Wong, and filmed at Union Station, Derailed is performed by Derick Agyemang, Daniel Jelani Ellis, Laurence Dean Ifill. This digital presentation was produced in partnership with zero11zero, Iron Bay Media, and Union. Funding provided by the Government of Ontario.