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Porters’ Legacy

Digital Exhibitions → Derailed: The History of Black Railway Porters in Canada → Theme: Porters’ Legacy

This dramatic monologue portrays Stanley Grizzle, a porter, activist, politician, and citizenship judge as he reflects on his accomplishments and looks to the future. Performed by Daniel Jelani Ellis.

The legacy of the porters and their struggles is seen in the diversity of cultures in Canada, in the multi-lingual speeches, in the diversity of religions, and in the rights of any Canadian to be recognized fully as a citizen without regard to race, ethnicity, place of birth, religion, sexuality or any other form of social discrimination.

Their legacy is also reflected in the efforts by Canada to seek reconciliation with the First Nations People. A delegation of mainly Black porters that went to Ottawa in 1954 demanded the full recognition of the human dignity of Indigenous peoples. Similarly, they championed the cause of fair employment, including equal pay for work of equal value, and for people to join unions of their choice and for non-white Canadians to seek political office.

With their success, the porters helped to change Canada fundamentally. Most of all they helped to break down racial barriers among Canadian citizens. Former Porter Stanley Grizzle for example, was among the first non-white Canadians to enter active politics.

Today, non-white Canadians can aspire to hold offices of Governor-generals, Lieutenant-governors, Prime Ministers, Premiers or Cabinet Ministers. They can also aspire to be leaders in business, sports, entertainment — in all sectors of the economy and all segments of society. Porters were the midwives of a modern Canada that is no longer officially a racially segregated “White Man’s Country”, but a more diverse and inclusive Canadian society.

Immigration Policy
Porters demanded that Canada adopt an open immigration policy. They also advocated that immigrants from all parts of the world should have equal opportunity to immigrate to Canada based on the country’s needs and the newcomers’ commitment to their adopted country.

Labour Policy
After World War II, Asa Philip Randolph, Stanley Grizzle’s mentor in the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters, had pushed the United States government to set up a commission on racial segregation. This led to efforts to implement “fair practices” in such areas as employment, housing, accommodation, banking and other forms of public life.

Uniting the Unions
On April 23, 1956, members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) were among the delegation that attended a special convention in the Coliseum of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. The convention was called to bring unity among different fractions of the Canadian labour movement.

Multiculturism Policy
When Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau announced in 1971 that Canada was officially a multicultural country, he was signaling a clear break in Canadian history. This was the beginning of a new country — a modern Canada — with the goal of the providing social justice to all Canadians.