The Story of Canada’s Black Railway Porters

As white people including myself who are privileged in a society that’s a direct product of racist and colonialist practices and biases, must hold ourselves accountable and recognize oppression faced by Canada’s Black community. This means listening to and elevating narratives told by Black storytellers about how racialized Canadians withstood and fought back against racist policies

Myseum of Toronto presents an excellent history of Canada’s Black Railway Porters. It accounts for the harsh conditions that they faced and their committed activism for equal opportunity. Although Canada’s Transcontinental Railway has often been hailed as a feat of human achievement, it overshadows the deserved appreciation for Black porters who served white passengers in railway cars.

Please check out the whole story on Myseum of Toronto’s virtual exhibit here. The exhibit also includes a panel discussion and reading by author Cecil Foster, playwright Meghan Swaby and performed by Peter Bailey.

We must also remember that even the world of travel isn’t immune to systemic racism. Financial accessibility to travel is a privilege in itself. The Black community continues to experience forms of racial prejudice whether both abroad and at home by other travellers. Even the very modes of transportation, as seen from Canada’s Black porters, have always functioned in ways that benefit a particular class and race.

We need to do better – start the conversations and elevate Black narratives.

*For more resources:

They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and The Birth of Modern Canada by Cecil Foster
North of the Colour Line: Sleeping Car Porters and the Battle against Jim Crow on Canadian Rails, 1880-1920 by Sarah-Jane (Saje) Mathieu

Photo source: Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Courtesy of Toronto Public Library & Library and Archives Canada/National Film Board

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