Montreal's Black Porters : A Legacy to Celebrate

Type of resource
Montreal's Black Porters : A Legacy to Celebrate
The author explains how, by the 1880s, Black employees of Canada's national railways were restricted to the job of being porters. The idea of Black-only porters on railways was institutionalized by George Pullman's Palace Car Company, who wanted to romanticize overnight rail travel for middle-class White passengers. Pullman's marketing strategy promised travellers Black servants like the upper classes had, if only for the length of their train ride. The author points out that for most of the company's 101-year existence, the Pullman porter was one of the very best jobs a Black man could aspire to, in status and eventually in salary. However, given the two-tier segregated system on trains, where Black employees were limited to railway jobs as porters, the working life of a porter was a fundamental contradiction: he had the best job in his Black community and the worst on the train. By 1917, porters in Montreal began to organize themselves under the Order of Sleeping Car Porters (OSCP), the first Black railway labour organization in North America, but were not allowed membership in the much-larger, Whites-only Canadian Brotherhood of Railway Employees and Other Transport Workers (CBRE) union. That barrier came down in 1921 when the CBRE deleted the Whites-only clause from its charter and accepted Montreal's OSCP as an affiliate union, known as Local 128. In 1945, the OSCP became the first Black union in Canada to sign a collective agreement with a White employer.
Quebec Heritage News
Vol. 16
no. 1
Winter 2022
Williams, Dorothy W. “Montreal’s Black Porters : A Legacy to Celebrate.” Quebec Heritage News, Winter 2022.
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